I’ve been hearing about HDTV since college. This was before the days of DVD, so they were telling us that one day we’d have television with Laserdisc quality picture on each station. Of course, I actually owned (and still own) a Laserdisc player, so I knew what I was missing. Man, this was going to be awesome.
It has turned out to be less than great. It turns out that the high definition commission, or whoever it is who regulates high definition broadcast, has yet to settle on a standard. I have my high definition TV (in fact I’m sitting typing this in front of it right now–thank god for Wi-Fi) and I have my HDTV cable box, but I only receive three high definition stations. As you’d expect, the stations are up in the 170’s somewhere, and completely inconvenient to access. I have a 16:9 widescreen TV, so the HDTV pictures are supposed to work well with this aspect ratio… of course they don’t. Each station uses a different format, and each show on each station seems to use a different format. In fact, you could be watching a show, and the commercials in the show will be in a different aspect ratio.
So, what does this mean to the viewer? It means that one minute you could be watching a program that essentially looks like a letterboxed movie and the next minute you could be watching this thing that takes up just the middle section of the screen, with blackness all around it. The picture itself looks pretty nice, but the constantly changing aspect ratio is horribly annoying.
So, I’m not sure what we’ve learned here other than the fact that HDTV isn’t quite ready for primetime. I just want to warn you not to expect miracles is all. Assuming your local cable provider carries HDTV and is touting it as the second coming of the VCR, be aware that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. When you go to Circuit City or Best Buy or wherever and they tell you that you definitely need HDTV, consider carefully if it’s something you need right now. After all, it’s cool having HBO in high-def (watching The Time Machine right now) but I really don’t need to see the 11:00 news anchor’s hair in all its high definition glory.