Why Don't They...

Broadcasters are getting serious about HDTV, and for that we're all grateful. But some of them, and their sponsors, still don't get it.

If our local PBS station, KCET on Los Angeles, is any indication, PBS seems to be happy with standard definition widescreen DTV, with only one or two programs a night in full high definition. Perhaps a grant from one of those ubiquitous promotional ads that open virtually every show (PBS now has more advertising then Discovery HD) will do the trick. Or else more donations from "viewers like you."

While I'm picking on PBS, why does KCET state, on its website's high definition page, "For HD set owners whose cable providers aren't yet offering digital cable…" Listen up PBS, HDTV is digital, but digital cable, as it is generally defined by cable companies, is not the same thing as DTV or HDTV. With most cable providers, you must specifically request (and usually pay separately for) their DTV and HDTV service; you do not automatically get it if you sign up for "digital cable." That also applies to their premium stations. Just because you subscribe to HBO, for example, does not mean you will get HBO in high definition. You must specifically request the HD version—and generally pay extra for it, depending on the cable company.

Hey, TNT HD, your high def stuff looks great, but most of the time you're giving us standard definition, 4:3 programming stretched to a 16:9 aspect ratio (and not too artfully, either). Stretchy, standard def commercials, too! X-Files fans, in particular, take note. The X-Files DVDs (not among the best-look looking transfers) look better than TNT's fake high definition versions.

We're still well short of the day when all major sporting events are broadcast in high definition. And has anyone else noticed that most of those HD football broadcasts we do get are using edge enhancement on the long shots of the field from the press box? Medium shots and close-ups look great, but the custom of cranking up the sharpness on the full-field camera," a holdover from standard definition days, has got to go.

And you, over there, from ESPN. The HD you do looks great, but your attempt at decorative proscenium window boxes to dress up the still too-frequent standard definition broadcasts on your "high definition" channel merely reminds us that you need to invest in more HD equipment before you'll really deserve the name ESPN HD.

Please, HBO, it's time to stop panning and scanning your cablecasts of 2.35:1 films to 1.78:1 so they fill the screen. That nasty habit began when TV shops didn't want to deal with those nasty black bars. But your audience is, we hope, a bit more sophisticated than that. You have carried a few true widescreen presentations of such films recently. Start doing it all the time.

And to the major networks who are also doing this Pan & Scam trick. Your audience is perhaps more interested in a full screen than an accurate representation of the movie, but give it a try.

When are some of you smaller channels going to give HDTV a shot? In particular, the Sci-Fi channel, which currently broadcasts many widescreen series (my current fav Battlestar Galactica among them) that look embarrassingly worse on cable than on their DVDs.

Finally, when are advertisers going to realize that some products demand HD commercials. Toilet bowl cleaners and denture adhesives, maybe not. But cars, cruises, and any manner of visually arresting products, definitely yes. And the only excuse for a standard definition ad for a high definition television is that the intended audience probably doesn't have an HD set yet! Thankfully, some advertisers have smartened-up, and for the upcoming Super Bowl, at least, we're promised more HD commercials than ever. I predict that far fewer toilets will be flushed in those four premium hours than ever before.

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Jeffrey's picture

I couldn't agree more! Too much "HD" programming looks pathetically like standard def, especially with the scalers/processing in modern HDTV's getting good enough to make some non-HD channels look fairly decent on medium sized screens. It would absolutely thrill me to get the Sci-Fi channel in a quality HD feed from my cable company. After all, wouldn't their target audience be largely made up of technology minded folks (to be polite..). Seems such a natural choice that I cannot understand why they were not one of the early HD providers, let alone still resisting HD.

Brandon's picture

couldn't agree more with you! Sci-Fi being my vote to go HD next (if done right). I would like to add to the rant if I may. the government should stop dragging its feet and allow analog to go away.

Richard's picture

Thanks. I thought I was the only one who noticed HBO pan and scan 2.35:1-and the resolution doesn't compare to a DVD through an SDI output.

Dennis's picture

I agree that we should be moving faster in regard to HDTV, after all any set worth owning at this stage has been ready for the format going on five years now. Even so, channels like KCET do not have the funding (cash flow)as do some of the other stations. That and in my experence while watching KCET, high tech programing doesn't seem to be all that important while watching John Denver Live, the target isn't your typical home theater junkie... In general, the better things are the more they cost. And that cost will always be passed down to the comsumer. Regardless of how we feel about HDTV, not everyone wants and or can affort the new format. Small steps will get us there I believe and we will all have something to look forward to as each station climbs on board.

Michael Lomker's picture

SCI-FI is one of the few reasons that I have cable television. Most of their programs are letterbox already, so the move seems so obvious to me. I wouldn't care if most of their content was upconvert--I still consider that better than the picture that I receive today (their channel is always on the analog tier). I applaud TNT-HD for having a wonderful channel--it is one of the best channels for HD and you don't have to pay extra to receive it. They do play a disturbing number of cop/lawyer drama programs but sometimes the movies blow me away!

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