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Who wants HDTV? Part 2

Sat, 11/30/2002 - 7:00pm
Walter S. Ciciora, Ph.D., Recognized Industry Expert on Cable and Consumer Electronics Issues

Latency is a technical term used in cable propagation studies, but it applies elsewhere in life as well. My column appears every other month, and two columns ago, I wrote about "Who wants HDTV?," and got several strong e-mail responses. But I got them after I had already written and submitted the next column. So this is the first chance to reply; just a little latency!

First, thanks for the e-mails. It's always good to get feedback. We all can learn from feedback, sometimes in unexpected ways.

I went back and reread what I wrote in that article. Then I reread the e-mails–there were an even dozen. Three e-mails contained useful information and well-reasoned opinion. The others were simply emotional rants by very angry people. In at least two cases, the anger was so intense that the e-mail was almost incoherent. I could picture the author yelling at me, almost foaming at the mouth! Both types of e-mail are important because of what can be learned from their messages.

Surprisingly, about half of the e-mails seemed to come from CED online readers who are not in the cable industry. One accused me of being biased with: "Obviously, your salery comes from the cable industry." (I think he meant "salary.") I haven't had a salary in about a decade and don't ever want one again, but that's the subject of another column someday. (I would think a cable-centric viewpoint is fair for a magazine like CED.)

The rants came from people who spent a lot of money on early systems and are angry that HDTV has progressed so slowly. They seem to feel that the June article I wrote contributes to the slow progress by bad-mouthing HDTV. I doubt that I have anywhere near that impact! But I think that the politicians in Washington had better be careful how they treat television owners and viewers. If these e-mails are any indication, citizens take their TV very seriously and don't want it messed with. And of course, Washington is contemplating messing with all of our TV usage–analog, digital, cable, satellite and broadcast. There are 300 million analog TV receivers and about half that many VCRs. Congress had better be careful before messing with those, or they will get not just e-mails, but votes for their opponents.

Let me be clear. I love HDTV. I want to buy one as soon as it is safe and as soon as there is adequate programming that fits my interests. Until then, I'll stick with my two TiVos and my 10-year-old, 35-inch direct view tube set (which seems to have plenty of life left in it).

What do I mean by "safe"?

There are currently several hazards to purchasing a new HDTV or DTV receiver or display. All of these hazards are political, not technical. We don't know how the copyright, broadcast flag, "analog hole" and similar issues will be resolved. The recent draft bill even implied an end to analog connections on displays and receivers. These hazards leave doubts as to what will be available for viewing on these displays once the laws and rules are in place. My big worry concerns the restrictions I might suffer if I bought one of these devices today. Not only might a few thousand dollars be lost, but what would I do with the thing after I replaced it with one that complied with the new rules? I couldn't give it away because it would be just as impaired for someone else. I might get in trouble with the law if I dug a hole and buried it; it probably has toxic stuff in it.

There are other questions to resolve before making the big (dollars, physical size, and weight) purchase. Importantly, which display technology should I choose? Issues of contrast ratio, black level, color temperature, color spectral gamut, comet trails, contouring, damaged pixels, screen burn sensitivity, display life time, color fading with age, and maximum resolution all become worrisome.

In trying to make at least a preliminary decision on display technology, I've spent some time in high-end video stores. I've been shocked at how bad ordinary resolution looks on an HDTV display. The result is intolerable. My conclusion is that I need to have the HDTV display in a different room with appropriate seating at the correct viewing distance. When watching ordinary resolution television, I will use the existing display, with seating at its proper viewing distance. The two displays are very different and require different situations. It may be that the HDTV display needs lower lighting for full impact.

I consider myself an "early adopter." I have a huge pile of personal computers of various vintages with loads of software. I've got a variety of other techno-gadgets, some of which fizzled and should be tossed. So why am I a bit slow on the uptake with broadcast DTV (I have DirecTV and would have digital cable in addition to analog cable if it was available in my area.)? The main reason is because the display is so big. If I pick the wrong one, or it is rendered obsolete by a political ruling, I can't easily get rid of the thing and replace it with a new one!

I would suggest that angry HDTV owners, would-be owners like myself, and others with concerns write their representatives and senators and let them know how they feel.

A good place to get e-mail addresses, phone numbers and snail mail addresses is: http://www.visi.com/juan/congress/

By entering your zip code, you can get the contact information for your representative and senators. Many of the entries have a great deal of additional information.

While I have very little influence on how all of this turns out, these folks have much more. The biggest negative, however, is that you will likely get endless solicitations for donations to their political campaigns!

Have a comment? Contact Walt by e-mail at: Walt@Ciciora.com

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