Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Living in the Future - Day #1

After standing in line for forty minutes at the Comcast office waiting to pick up the new cable box, I went home, hooked it up, and proceeded to watch nothing for 40 minutes. Well, not “nothing” exactly, but starting for that long at a menu bar that reads “This channel will be available shortly” makes one lose all sense of time and self. So, after trying to call Comcast for another hour* I got someone to actually turn on the service and proceeded to figure out if this whole thing was worth all the effort and expense.

The first thing that you notice about watching HD television is all the details you never noticed before. Naturally, you never noticed them before because you really don’t care about them to begin with – they are the insignificant details that make absolutely *no* difference in what you are watching, but now that you can see them, you can’t stop looking at them. It’s sort of like that day all men recall when the first girl to “develop” showed up at school with boobs. It’s not like you had never seen her before, and it’s not like you were particularly interested** in actually talking to her, but suddenly there were boobs and you couldn’t stop looking at them! It was a whole new dimension to something which had heretofore been relatively unremarkable.

It’s *exactly* the same thing with HDTV. I found myself sitting there watching Rudy Maxa go on and on about traveling in Ireland and all I could really register was “Wow, I can see *every* single strand of hair in his beard…”. Frankly I have no idea what exactly he was talking about because I couldn’t tear my eyes away from his facial hair. Maybe Public television had artfully combed it into some sort of hypnotic pattern that would command me to sit down and keep watching. If they did, it totally worked.

The second thing you notice about watching HD is how crappy anything on the tube that *isn’t* HD looks. Seriously, once you start, it’s really hard to go back. Sure, there are some programs that are still going to be worth my time, but I found myself getting pulled back to network programming, which are the only ones who've really pushed the switch and offer most of their shows in HD. I watched CBS for the first time in years before figuring out where the HD Discovery Channel was hidden. This was the biggest surprise for me because I’d been making do with my old TV for years too and hadn’t ever noticed a problem before. But now that my new screen is bigger, all the bad parts of 480-line resolution that I used to be able to unconsciously sweep under the rug suddenly becomes glaringly obvious in 1080 lines of resolution.

The third thing you notice about watching HD is how light your wallet feels. Because in addition to the TV itself, there are innumerable things you need*** to make it actually work. For example, there is a special cable you have to buy called HDMI cable. Because apparently regular cables don’t have enough bandwidth to carry all the data needed to make a picture and even component cables can’t handle it as well. So you have to go out and spend another $100 for ONE SINGLE CABLE****. Mercifully, Amazon has them on sale for about $60, but still – that’s a lotta change for a single cable. In addition to that you’ll probably have to upgrade a bunch of your equipment. Not just the cable box, but other things like your DVD player. Even if you don’t jump into the HD-DVD vs Blu-Ray format war there exist regular DVD players that can use fancy algorithms to “upconvert” regular DVD’s into something closer to high-def playback. They don’t really cost any more than regular DVD players at the moment, so if you’re going to replace yours soon, be sure to get one that can upconvert until they settle which format will win – an argument that will most likely be settled by the porno studios yet again.

Until then, you’re probably fine sticking with what you got, because once you go to HD you’ll never want to go back.

* Half-hour of getting hung-up on by their infernal “Press 1 for English…” voice menus plus another half-hour sitting on hold once I got through
** Or capable
*** As well as some stuff you “need”.
**** And it’s not even made our of unicorn hair or diamonds or anything!

1 comment:

KC said...

I never knew that about porn/beta/VHS. But I should have realized it because in the olden days (haha), I worked at a video store that had both Beta and VHS versions of all the released movies, except.... you guessed it! Porn. The porn vids were all in a small room at the back of the store and were all on VHS. It was a popular spot with guys. Especially on weekends.

I've not seen HD yet.