Saturday, July 16, 2005

HDTV: Wait for it.

Now that I have a shiny new HDTV-ready, 50" DLP monitor, I've been investigating my options for getting actual HDTV programming. The short answer is, I have no good options right now. Looks like I'm stuck with 480p from my DVD player and up to 1080i from my Xbox-- both analog, though I am thinking about upgrading the former to an Oppo OPDV971H (DVI output at 720p via Faroudja DCDi).

If you don't know or care what I'm talking about, you can stop reading now. Go gawk at Yahoo News' most emailed photos or something.

The long answer is, it looks like my best bet is to wait for Dish Network to get their shit together. They have a well-reviewed DVR out now, the 942, but their plan to broadcast local HDTV channels nationwide depends on transmitting those new channels in the more compressible MPEG-4 format, which won't happen until next year at the earliest. All their current hardware only does MPEG-2, and subscribers will have to upgrade to new equipment to receive the new channels when they become available.

The DirecTV situation is even more heartbreaking, because they've got a nice HD DVR, the H10-250, with TiVo's software, but the two companies are on the outs because DirecTV wants to push their own DVR technology. It's a shame because I love our current, standalone Tivo Series2, and the H10 can be hacked to use all the Tivoweb goodies. But the H10 is also MPEG-2 only, and like Dish, DirecTV is upgrading to MPEG-4 Real Soon Now.

The biggest problem with both of those satellite options is that I wouldn't be able to get my local HDTV stations, including the broadcast networks-- ABC, NBC, FOX, UPN, etc.-- unless I use an OTA antenna, which I am loath to do. Why should I have to mess with an unsightly cactus from the 1950s on my roof? Both Dish and DirecTV plan to offer "local into local" (LIL) HDTV service via their new MPEG-4 birds, but neither has announced an actual timeline, and the Congressional quagmires around the broadcast flag and an analog TV shutoff date are only making things worse.

As I keep saying: It should not be this hard to watch TV.

Anyway, after having ruled out both satellite options, I reluctantly turned to my local cable TV monopoly provider, Comcast. I'd heard some co-workers raving about getting HDTV over cable with the new, dual-tuner Motorola box, but Comcast's web site wasn't giving me good information about which channels were actually available in HD at my specific address in Mountain View. So I emailed customer service with my address, and got this response:
At this time, the only local channel I'm showing that is being broadcast in HD format in your area is 702 KTVU - (Fox).

Comcast is committed to deploying HDTV service. We are working to provide as many high definition channel broadcasters as possible. Here are some of the factors involved with expanding our high definition lineup:

-the negotiation and contract process required to obtain the rights to carry a specific high definition broadcast, such as TNT-HD and HD-Net.

-the increased bandwidth resources which are required

-the relatively low number of subscribers (currently only a small minority of customers have high definition compatible television sets)

We will continue to explore additional HD programming opportunities as more content providers make plans to offer their programming in HD format.

We appreciate the fact that you took the time to let us know what is important to you. We hope to expand our high definition channel lineup as fast as we can. Unfortunately we are unable to provide specific details regarding the launch of new channels at this time...

That's great. Thanks for nothing.

So it looks like I'm sticking with SD TV for now, which is fine-- I can count on one hand the number of programs I watch on the broadcast networks which would be available in HD anyway. My favorite shows are on cable, and those channels are in no hurry to switch over to HD. ("Dear Comedy Central: I demand that you broadcast The Daily Show in HDTV or I'm going to stop watching!")

Sure, it would have been nice to see the new fall shows in HD, but the bottom line is-- for me, anyway-- it's still all about the content, not the presentation. I don't really have any desire to sit in front of the TV for hours, gaping at HDnet just because it's showing pretty pictures. Yes, I'd like to watch Gilmore Girls in HD, but is it necessary? No. Is it worth all the hassle and expense? Hell no.

I love TV, but I don't love it that much.
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