High Definition Television — HDTV — has been available for several years in the USA and in February 2009 all broadcast television stations will be required by federal law to broadcast their signal in HDTV.  If you haven’t yet tasted HDTV with your drooling eyes — just wait!  HDTV is coming soon to a television near you and the definition is superb and sparkling.


If you have an older television, and you currently use a standard antenna to
watch over-the-air local broadcast stations — you will need to buy a new TV, or buy cable service or set up a
satellite dish — or you can get an HDTV converter box for your television.  The federal government is making that easy for you to do with a coupon program.

You can find some great deals on HDTV sets right now.  We were able to get a fantastic deal last week on a new LCD HDTV with a built-in DVD player. 

Just buying an HDTV set isn’t enough, though, to watch a show in HDTV.  You also need to get an HDTV signal and you do that by calling up your cable company and having them bring you an HDTV converter box. 

We called Comcast to have them install an “HDTV cable box” — that just happens to cost an extra $6.00USD a month.  Ahhh… the perilous price of better beauty is not cheap!

No less than five component wires connect our HDTV to the new HDTV converter box.  The sound and images are spectacular.  Musical performances are given new depth and life.

Sporting programs also come alive as players shimmer in the afternoon sun.

You’ve never really seen a baseball game on television unless and until you watch one on HDTV.  The players become 3D magicians as they bolt from the screen and into your living room.  You can see the sweat beading on their faces.  You entire field of view is filled with rich detail you never knew was there. 

The Yankees and the Mets never looked so great on their HDTV broadcasts and I cannot imagine that attending a baseball game live-and-in-person would ever be a more intimate or detailed experience than an HDTV presentation.  Reality becomes Hyper-Real when you watch with HDTV.

HDTV isn’t all grapes and glory.  There’s a “Secret Underworld” of HDTV programming that exists on the interactive on-screen menus of your cable box.  To find HDTV programming, you have to hunt around a bit and click through a lot of junk to find the HDTV shows and movies and news programs. 

Once you go HDTV you don’t ever want to watch “regular” television again, so you spend a lot of time looking for the HDTV equivalent for your previous pattern of watching.  Most over-the-air broadcast stations have an HDTV equivalent — as do all the major premium cable channels like HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, Encore and Starz. 

Closed Captions are also an interesting feature of HDTV in that they are handled differently than regular TV.  When you watch a regular TV program, your television set instantaneously interprets and processes and presents the Closed Captions for viewing.

HDTV uses a different delivery system for Closed Captions.  The HDTV cable box does the processing of the Closed Captions because there is so much more information being fed down the same cable wire that it takes a cable box CPU to process the data into captions. 

You quickly begin to see the “television-interpreted” Closed Captions are smaller and harder to read while the HDTV Closed captions — “cable-box-interpreted” — are larger and easier to read, but slower loading into view.  It can take up to a minute for Closed Captioning to show up on an HDTV broadcast and that means you’re stuck a bit waiting to see if a show you want to watch is actually Closed Captioned or not.

You should also be aware that if Closed Captions are important to you on HDTV, you need to make sure your cable box is properly set up to deliver them to you.  Your local cable company will likely brush off your request to set up the box to process Closed Captions with an excuse that all cable boxes are the same, but experience yields an opposite answer. 

There are backend ways you can find online that explain how to program your cable box to show HDTV Closed Captions — the process is legal, simple, and usually consists of pressing a pattern of the buttons found on the front of your box to access the programming interface.  If you choose to program your box, you should be careful to press the right buttons because you can completely disable your box if you hit the wrong key sequence.  

Our HDTV cable box was set to show Closed Captions, but only on “C2” instead of “C1.”  C2 is Spanish.  C1 is English.  Our cable box’s “language” was also set to “secondary” — which meant all spoken interpretations or printed captions were in Spanish and not English.  Finding the fix online took longer than actually programming the change in the cable box.

When you finally get an HDTV television, you will wonder at how such a fantastic technological leap into the future can be so intimately beheld by your eye in the privacy of your own warm darkness.

16 Comments

  1. David!
    Looks brilliant! i think we’re a few years away from hdtv broadcasting here.
    a few years back, i chose to shoot one of my commercials with a HD camera with mixed results. thankfully the DoP had worked with the equipment before and knew how to light for it. it was a good experience for us though the benefits didn’t really carry through to the viewer because standard definition transmission and recievers don’t really do justice to hd footage.
    hd is great for cinema, sports and other live entertainment. but the way hd renders details means that much more work for make-up artists!

  2. You’re right about the detail being bad for close-ups, Dananjay. I saw a list somewhere that ranked the “beautiful” women on the HDTV scale. Terri Hatcher was in last place for looking the worse and first was Marcia Cross.
    We wouldn’t have HDTV unless we had the feds backing it and insisting on it. It’s extremely expensive to convert from the current system to HDTV. The government started it by requiring all of the educational channels to “go HDTV” first — and many of them yelped at being forced into the HDTV crosshairs without enough federal funding for the conversion! The answer from the feds was basically, “Find a way to do it, or we’ll pull you license.”
    Movies look okay on HDTV — but the REALLY GREAT movies and TV shows are shot with HD cameras. You can immediately tell the difference between film and HD — and HD rules film.
    George Lucas has said the future of movies is HD and that the film projector is out — he shoots everything in “digital” HD now — and movie theatres will one day be giant TVs that will stream HD content directly from the movie studios. That will save time and processing and cost — but who’ll pay for it? The theatre owners don’t want to pay for the HD conversion and the studios aren’t going to pay for it… and so… here we are… a stuck in the almost-future…

  3. I wonder what kind of high speed data delivery network would be used to stream a movie from one place to another – certainly not a standard cable system! Imagine how quickly they’d go over the 50 gb tier. 🙂

  4. Good point, Gordon! I’m sure they’d use an encrypted VPN tunnel through a private network or maybe even a satellite feed of some sort. I guess you’d “feed once, play forever” at these theatres so the movie would be sent down overnight and then replayed at will. There might even be a timebomb in the code that would erase the movie after a certain number of showings or by a pre-agreed to drop-dead date.
    These private networks are fascinating. Comcast claims their VOIP home telephone service is better than Skype or Vonage because they don’t send your call out into the internet wilds to lose quality and quickness. Comcast “delivers” your voice call inside their proprietary pipes until the last handoff to the local phone company. That’s why cable companies claim their phone service is just as good or better than your local landline.

  5. I’ve had both landlines of the traditional sort and the comcast sort and they really are comparable although in a blackout only one works and it’s the traditional landline – so long as you have a wired phone! 🙂

  6. You’re right about blackouts, Gordon. Beware of fancy new phones that require an AC plug, though! Chances are your landline phone won’t work if the electricity is out.

  7. Hi David,
    film and hd both have their distinctive looks. and this is as much because of their strengths as their limitations. but while people have learned to work wonders within the limitations of film over a period of time, it hasn’t happened yet with hd. but it’s obviously just a matter of time.

  8. Dananjay —
    Yes, film has a grainy look while HD digital tends to “tear” on equipment that isn’t up to snuff.
    That will change, though. It’s funny how many new TVs today have a “film” mode to give regular TV that “movie look” but there’s no comparable “HD mode” because you can’t add what isn’t there: The tremendous, glimmering, HD detail.

  9. David!
    yes, it’s not difficult to get a faux-film look. but there are a lot of fundamental differences between the way light gets registered on the organic medium and the sensitivity of the compounds and the way hd video technology captures images. in fact, a lot of research in hd is in trying to get it to stop looking like video and more like film. hopefully one day hd can bridge the divide and become a medium that embraces the best of both!

  10. Dananjay —
    When HD started there was a movement to make it look more like film, but in the USA at least, the next wave is to let HD look like HD because it is a much finer and more detailed image. We aren’t used to seeing that sort of crispness and it throws people off at first, but HD is definitely the way to go because film grains out too much when it comes to getting really precise sharps.

  11. It is an HD Dimension, Katha! And it glimmers and glitters! The Olympic trials were on in HD this weekend and watching those bodies flying in the air during the gymnastics competition was incredible!

  12. The Olympics will be an ongoing fascination, I fear, Katha. I am entirely besotted by the idea of having them in China and I can’t wait to see that landscape in full HD glory!