News, Weather, and Sports

Last week the local ABC affiliate in Los Angeles, KABC, became the first station in California (or so they said) to broadcast their local news programs in high definition. That includes the midday, late afternoon, early evening, and late night editions. And while that might not raise hosannas for a station whose idea of news includes shameless plugs for what's coming up that evening on Dance With the Stars, when you've got endless hours of news time to fill, what do you expect—an in-depth analysis of what's happening at city hall?

But I digress. A local newscast converting to high definition is an important event. And their in-studio offerings look sensational. If they don't quite give off those looking-out-the-window vibes, they're close. But as with ESPN HD, most of the on-location reports—those ballroom moves, the latest local shootings, the occasional mudslide or two—are still in standard definition. But it's a start.

This development also got me cogitating (writers cogitate a lot) on how high definition might impact local news coverage. Will anchors have to retire at 29, or when the first crows foot appears, whichever comes first—in much the same way as MTV has seriously limited opportunities for singers who look anything less than hot off the griddle? Will stations invest in the equipment necessary to provide full HD coverage of all local news stories? Will the networks provide them with HD feeds of important national and international developments?

And will people care? It will be interesting to check the ratings for KABC's newscasts in a few months to see how they've changed. I hope they go through the roof, though there are probably not enough HD sets yet, even in LA, to produce more than a minor ripple. But even a couple of points mean big bucks in the broadcast business, and might be enough to inspire other local stations to follow suit. Every little bit helps in the march to high definition world domination.

Changing channels for a moment, Michael Fremer beat me to cyberspace in his blog on last week's Super Bowl. I agree with him that the game itself has looked better in previous HD broadcasts. As I've noted here before (in commenting on games during the regular season), I found the medium and close-up shots excellent, but the long shots of the field, as the teams lined up for each play, still didn't meet the full resolution I expect from high definition. The edge transitions just didn't look crisp, nor did shots of the crowd.

But it's certainly possible that my cable company was futzing with the bandwidth. I've said it before: If broadcasters, cable companies, satellite providers, and, yes, even some future internet HD download service can find a way to screw up the quality of high definition to make more money, they'll be happy to do so. This is exactly why I feel so strongly about the need for high definition on a single, affordable, high quality, HD optical disc packaged format.

As for those Super Bowl commercials, my favorite was also the Busby Berkeley-style Berger King spot. If you missed it, you'll probably be able to catch it again in other programs. I also liked the Budweiser stadium card-section spot. Bud dropped a wad of cash judging from the number of commercial slots they bought. They must have been under the delusion that viewers might actually find the time to buy and use their product during the game.

While I was happy to see so many of the Super Bowl commercials in high definition, I was disappointed—but not surprised—that at least half the car commercials were in standard definition. It's as unbelievable to me as it was to Michael how a company can drop over a million dollars (or whatever it costs this year) for a few seconds of airtime, probably as much again in the production budget, and then skimp on the extra pennies (comparatively speaking) that an HD commercial will cost. Is it possible that ad agencies have ongoing relationships with certain production houses, and if the house they work with (and perhaps have a contract with) hasn't yet gone HD, they simply settle for what they can get? If so, they're guilty of either ignorance or laziness. Notice to all advertisers of future major events: If your ad agency doesn't at least provide you with a proposal to do the next premier commercial in HD, particularly for a product as visually arresting as a new automobile, get a new ad agency.

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Ralph Hunter's picture

Tom, Where is the rest of the Sony VPL VW100 review? I am very interested in your testing and calibration. There has been significant forum discussion on convergence issues and setting contrast with the auto iris. Mine doesn't seem to have a serious convergence issue (at least from six feet and out) but I am thinking of getting it professionally calibrated because the red us undersaturated in all settings and modes. If I get red right blues are oversaturated. Looking forward to your Part II.

Kevin Larrowe, Baltimore, MD's picture

Tom- In the recent Newsletter you wrote, "And just how much danger is there of pirated copies made from the analog outputs of next-gen players anyway? If the next-gen discs are available at reasonable enough prices, why would anyone want to buy an analog-domain knock-off?" I've got to discagree with you, based on my observation of human nature. Today, some people buy DVDs made from handheld camcorders in crowded theaters to get the latest movies at less than movie admission prices. I don't understand it, but they do. Today, there are about 250 million analog TV sets in the US that will not show any difference between a 1920x1080 picture and a 960x540 picture because the picture must be down-rezzed to 480i show at all. The audience for counterfeits will be price driven, not quality driven. I don't think counterfeit sales will be large, but it will be larger than the Studios want, especially if they bump next gen DVD prices up as Sony has announced. Thanks for letting me vent my thoughts.

Kevin Larrowe's picture

KABC is in the #3 TV market. How long will it take for local news broadcasts in HD to get to the rest of us in the mid teen and higher markets?

Dennis's picture

I have to agree with Kevin on this one. The studios just don't seem to have their finger on the public pulse these days. If you think about it, CD's are still priced at 15-20 dollars in many cases. This is a format that has been around for over two decades and the studios have made their fortunes. Well before this time, 8-Tracks and Cassettes were in the sub 10-dollar range. If AOL and Other ISP?s can pull off free disks for over a decade which include their entire working on-line program. I?m sure the studios could cut the cost of a music CD at least by half. In a world where it cost a 16 year old 30 dollars to take a date to the movies and 25,000 for a car that's safe to drive. Many people will not care about what a video looks like. And to that end, if indeed they may be inclined to go to the movies, to have a "preview" before making this decision would be an option many people would opt for. That alone could make or break a film if the film isn't what it's hyped up to be. Not everyone thinks like we do.

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