- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 2, 2004

The nation’s turtlelike march toward HDTV domination sure is a head scratcher.

Take a country obsessed with television, introduce a new technology that makes current televised images look blurry by comparison … and watch the visual revolution commence, right?

Not so fast.

Thanks to an imperfect storm of economic forces and government foot-dragging, the revolution has been delayed. A mere 4.1 million digital TVs were purchased last year, according to Jeff Joseph, vice president of communications with the Arlington-based Consumer Electronics Association. (Roughly 88 percent of those digital sets were HDTV-ready models.) Currently, 12 million households have an HDTV set, a market penetration of less than 10 percent.

Phillip Swann, president and publisher of Arlington-based sites www.onhd.tv and www.tvpredictions.com, says the two major obstacles are price and programming.

“Right now, you can go in and get a 52-inch set for $1,299,” says Mr. Swann, whose onhd.tv features a cheeky list of celebrities whose mugs look better — and worse — in high definition (see sidebar). “That’s not bad, but it’s been a while to get to that price point. In the minds of most consumers, HDTV is still too expensive.”

Price may be moot as long as too few networks program enough HDTV-friendly shows. Fewer than 20 networks now broadcast in high definition, Mr. Swann says. Why shell out double or triple the cost of your current TV set to catch only a handful of programs that take advantage of HDTV’s marvels? Moreover, the quality of those broadcasts continues to vary, a further disincentive to would-be HDTV converts.

The recent Olympic coverage showed how frustrating such programming can be, Mr. Swann says. NBC couldn’t justify the costs involved in broadcasting the games live in high definition, so it did so only on a delayed basis.

The network promises the 2006 Winter Games will be a different story, but even the limited glimpses offered this year showed just how wondrous HDTV visuals can be.

HDTV can sell itself to gadget fiends and tech heads, but that doesn’t necessarily convert into mainstream appeal.

Digital-based HDTV serves up a whopping 1,080 horizontal lines for us to view, compared with a regular analog set’s 525. Programming quality can change those numbers and how they look on screen, but industry experts say HDTV can offer images at least five times more detailed than those of today’s sets.

Those numbers aren’t complicated, but the overall TV scene sure is. Just walk into any electronics store and ask to see the latest and greatest television sets.

You’ll be bombarded with plasma, LCD and rear-projection models, plus standard cathode ray sets and a half-dozen other innovations that could cause Regan-style head spinning.

Add to that the differences between analog television, the current standard, and enhanced-definition television, the next step up, and the HDTV picture gets even muddier.

Did we mention some HDTV sets come ready out of the box, while others require the purchase of an HDTV receiver?

Consumers can often predict the path of the technology du jour. The latest gadget hits the scene at an obscenely high price and then, as the months tick by, the prices gently drop to a more accessible level. But with several different television media flooding the market, Joe or Jane TV viewer might cling to their old sets like Linus clutching his blanket.

The government hopes to make the transition to HDTV easier by mandating all television signals adhere to digital systems by the end of 2006.

Few believe that deadline will be met.

Still, there are those who paint a more optimistic picture of HDTV’s near future.

Scott Miller, regional manager for Myer Emco, the local home-electronics chain based in Gaithersburg, contends that the HDTV programming dam has all but broken.

Mr. Miller says customers are greeting news that cable and satellite television companies are serving up more HDTV-friendly programming by buying these new sets with abandon.

“The sales are without question taking off,” Mr. Miller says.

Big sporting events such as the Super Bowl remain tried-and-true reasons to invest in new televisions, and the same holds true for HDTV, he says.

Even major NASCAR events cause customers to race over to his shop.

Anyone who has seen an HDTV set in action knows just how beautiful its images can be. What football fan wouldn’t darn near drool to see his or her favorite team score a touchdown in all the clarity and color modern technology can provide?

Despite the many fumbles, HDTV, it appears, is progressing downfield.

Maybe the revolution will be televised — in high definition — after all.

Some beautiful people look even better in HDTV

Anna Kournikova — Her skin is glistening and luscious. It’s easy to see why her matches sell out despite her limited talents.

Catherine Zeta-Jones — The star of “Chicago” and “Traffic” is absolutely gorgeous, and it shows in high-def. Pity the aging Michael Douglas when he has to stand beside her in the high-def broadcast of an awards show. (See list below.)

Charlize Theron — At the Oscars, Miss Theron was glowing under the HDTV lights. This woman is gorgeous, and whoever made her look so horrific in “Monster” deserved one of those Oscars.

Sting — Isn’t it enough that this guy has all that musical talent? In his 50s, Sting still looks great in high-def.

Scarlett Johansson — The “Lost in Translation” star has the skin of a porcelain doll and looks incredible in high-def.

While some look worse

Cameron Diaz — The actress has had a terrible acne problem since high school; her cheeks and forehead are spotted with unfortunate pockmarks. Miss Diaz looks like a different person in HDTV.

Michael Douglas — The actor was once considered a Hollywood sex symbol. Now, in HDTV, he looks more like his old man, Kirk Douglas — and looks even older standing next to wife CZJ.

Britney Spears — Though still in her early 20s, the pop tart looks about 10 years older in high-def. Her face is puffy, and she’s starting to show wrinkle marks around her lips, reportedly from a cigarette habit.

Brad Pitt — Like Miss Diaz, Mr. Pitt had a terrible skin problem in his younger years. The impact is clear in high-def. He’s still a good-looking guy, but he doesn’t look like one of People’s “most beautiful.”

Jewel — The singer looks great in still photos and music videos, but she looks terrible in high-def. And someone should help her with makeup. It looks as if it were done by Ringling Bros.

Source: www.onhd.tv

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