Democrats & Liberals Archives

Get A Move On

I got my first glimpse of high definition television a handful of years ago, while I was getting started at Baylor University in the Telecommunication Department in my major.

The clarity, the color and the detail was simply incredible, especially by comparison to standard definition. At times, it was almost literally like looking through a window. Looking at that television, I knew that no standard television picture would ever look satisfactory again. At the time, it was anticipated that the changeover would already be done much earlier. At the time.

Everybody's dragging their feet, really. Electronics manufacturers won't drop the price until enough consumers are buying the sets. Consumers won't buy more of the sets without the content to watch on it. Broadcasters and more importantly cable companies won't put out more content until they sense the technology has penetrated further.

What's the big deal?

The signal for digital televisions is not backwards compatible with analog televisions.

Your analog television doesn't have the equipment on board to interpret the digital television signal. A black and white television could still receive the color television signal when that transition was made, so when they stopped broadcasting by the original standard, people with obsolete televisions weren't left out.

But that won't work here. An analog television sees only static when it looks at an high definition signal. When the time comes, and the changeover is complete, analog TV owners will have two options: change televisions, or buy a set top box to interpret the signals. The analog TV channel licenses will end up getting sold back to the government for other uses.

Essentially the authority to enforce standards rests with the government. The limited resources of our airwaves are licensed to private hands by the government, with conditions set on their use.

Folks don't seem to have their affairs in order here. Running two transmitters rather than one is expensive, as is running the production pipelines for both. The changeover will add expense, but from there, one only has to support one transmitter, one production pipeline. Only problem is, few in the business are really leading that leap of faith, and taking that risk. Some choose to stall, rather than make their balance sheets look bad for a technology that has no definite horizon.

I'm not always one for simple points, but I have one here: The FCC needs to send a clear signal that the latest deadlines are the real ones, and there will be no more extensions, and that the time for transition is set. This will give the bean counters managing the affiliates and the networks the motivation to work all the necessary changes, and make their final choices on how they want to broadcast. It will give the electronics manufacturers the content to draw customers, and with such demand justify drops in prices. It will also give the American people the full dividend of this advance in technology, rather than the piecemeal benefits of it.

What are the benefits of this transition? One example germane to our discussions here may be electronic newsgathering. HD video will have a wider frame to compose in, greater detail in shot, which will benefit both closeup detail and the clarity of images taken at a distance, and much richer color, which brings the real world out there to more distinct life. One thing for sure: the results will not be boring.

Posted by Stephen Daugherty at June 5, 2005 5:00 PM