In-Your-Face Football Page 2

My party invitation announced a 6:00 p.m. start time. Right on schedule, a wave of guests poured through the front door and placed covered dishes, beverages, and an ever-growing pile of desserts on the kitchen tables. ABC kicked in their HD coverage just prior to kickoff, which gave us the opportunity to see and hear the national anthem sung in glorious Dolby Digital 5.1 with a 720p image. And then came the game.

About an hour into the game, my kitchen looked like Grand Central Station at rush hour, my guests having completely encircled the center-serving island. People moved from room to room to check out the various screens and socialize, voicing opinions on their favorite commercials and the chance that the Oakland Raiders might make the game competitive against Tampa Bay.

As I wandered around the house cleaning up and checking signal feeds, I noticed crowds forming in the living room with the 42-inch Samsung plasma, in the dining room with the 43-inch Samsung RPTV, and in Veterans Stadium with the little Optoma HE56 plugging away on that Da-Lite screen. First-time guests migrated to the permanent theater, the only place they could hear the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that ABC always provides with their HD telecasts.

Even my cat Isadora found the viewing environment in Veterans Stadium to her liking, taking over one of the folding chairs for nearly half an hour. Several of the teenage guests huddled around the retro Zenith HD monitor in the front hall, and a steady stream of surprised guests left the bathroom after seeing HDTV (high-definition toilet video) for the first time.

Some of the first-timers would come up from the main basement theater from time to time to refresh their plates and drinks, their eyes looking slightly glazed. If you've been watching football on a 27- to 36-inch direct-view TV for years, it can be quite a shock to sit 12 feet from an 82-inch HD image with 5.1 channels of surround sound flooding your senses. Some coffee and high-octane chocolate cheesecake or double-chocolate brownies usually snapped them out of it.

On more than one occasion, I had to explain to my technically inclined guests that the HDTV signal they were enjoying was (1) off-air, (2) free, (3) not through digital cable, (4) not through satellite, and (5) available in their own home if they invested in an HDTV and a rooftop or attic antenna. This took some patient repetition on my part; but, eventually, they got the message.

Media Attention
Over the years, I've learned that a little public-relations effort goes a long way. About three weeks prior to the game, I started sending out e-mails to local news media, and the result was an article on my party plans in the local paper, The Intelligencer. This writeup appeared in the paper's Sunday Life section the week prior to the game and featured pictures from previous parties, as well as a description of the HD displays I'd be setting up later that week.

The second payoff came just before halftime when local NBC affiliate WCAU-10 sent a cameraman to shoot some B-roll video of the party for a short piece on that evening's 11:00 news. After the cameraman helped himself to the cornucopia of hot finger foods, the chili, and the mountain of desserts, he wandered from room to room capturing the party's excitement. One group of fans in the basement even broke into a spontaneous cheer for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Oddly enough, despite my lobbying, I couldn't get WPVI's own Action News department to send a crew to videotape the event. You'd think that 54 people watching eight HDTVs that were displaying their Super Bowl coverage might have gotten someone's interest in the newsroom, but it wasn't to be.

All Good Things Come to an End
As the game wore on and it became evident that Tampa Bay was putting the rout to Oakland, guests started heading home. Some had small children and school to deal with the next day, while others were concerned about the snow that had started to fall during the second quarter. Most of my guests stuck around to see the halftime show in 720p, featuring Shania Twain, No Doubt, and Sting. (Boy, did that sound great in Dolby Digital 5.1.)

My informal exit poll revealed that the Veterans Stadium theater with the little Optoma HE56 was the crowd's hands-down favorite. At one point, there were nearly 15 people in this room that I had originally set up to accommodate no more than five. The Samsung 42-inch plasma and 43-inch DLP sets were also popular, and the retro and bathroom HDTV setups would no doubt be points of conversation for weeks.

As the fourth quarter drew to a close, about a dozen guests had already left, and I was already wrapping up food to send home with the remaining guests. As soon as the game ended, it was easy to break down the 43-inch Samsung DLP set and load it into Steve Panosian's SUV so that he could depart with his son, Steven. The LCD TVs and their associated set-top tuners also packed up quickly.

Even so, it took another eight hours to remove the rest of the screens, set-top boxes, wiring, and antennas, not to mention clean up all of the remaining litter, vacuum the house, clean the floors, and bag up a pile of trash and recyclables. It was (as usual) a lot of work, but everyone had a great time.

More importantly, several guests got to view HDTV for the first time in all of its flavors—through front projectors, a rear-projection TV, a plasma monitor, a flat-screen direct-view TV, and a handful of LCD TVs and monitors. When my guests asked, I provided the retail price for each of the products, and more than one guest was happy to hear how much the price of HD monitors and TVs has come down in recent months.

Who knows, maybe one of my guests will invite me to their home in 2004 to watch the game on their HDTV, and I'll be able to follow the game for a change.