Adventures in High-Def

Photos by Michelle Hood Normally, you'll find the former bat biologist Jeff Corwin and his TV crew keeping one step ahead of stampeding elephants in Botswana or some place equally exotic. But on this stifling day in late June The Jeff Corwin Experience is on location in New York City doing a show about how wild animals adapt to urban environments. Unfortunately, a family of turtles that Corwin had hoped to coax out of their shells appear to have been stolen from a Central Park pond, so we end up taking a subway ride down to Bryant Park in Midtown, where the City has asked a falconer to use his birds to frighten away hordes of pigeons that are monopolizing the park. During the ride, Corwin compares the luxury of staying in a New York hotel with the tent he had to share with a mongoose (and his pregnant wife) in Kenya. When we arrive at the park, though, he's in dire need of a public restroom - some amenities are more forthcoming in the wild.

If you've checked out the whimsical Corwin recently on the cable and satellite channel Animal Planet - where he's often seen holding snakes up close to the camera (director of photography Mauricio Velez has learned to point his 2-million-pixel Sony high-definition cam "just out of striking range") - you've probably noticed that his show is letterboxed. For the last year, The Jeff Corwin Experience has actually been produced for high-definition TV, but Discovery Networks has been showing it in standard resolution on Animal Planet. The images are still widescreen, so they have to be shrunk and letterboxed to fit a standard squarish TV. To see the program with all its fangs - and hear the 5.1-channel soundtrack - you have to plant yourself in front of a widescreen HDTV set tuned to Discovery HD Theater.

How do you like being the poster boy for HDTV? When I talk to my mom [who watches the letterboxed Animal Planet version on a conventional TV], she says, "What happened to your show? There are these black lines all around you. Did they get a cheaper camera, or is something wrong?" Actually, it's the same type of camera they shot the latest Star Wars on, and when you watch the show in high-def it's unbelievable. I remember when we first got the camera, we sprinkled dust in front of the lens and you could see the individual particles.

The challenge is to get high-def shows out to people so they know this technology is available and they can have a much more rewarding and entertaining time watching The Experience. HDTV is magic.