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Is High-Def TV slow on the uptake because it misses a key point?

By Andrew Pollack on 08/12/2004 at 08:09 AM EDT

High definition tv has been around a while now but seems slower on the uptake than other entertainment technologies. Its admittedly expensive still, but there hasn't been a huge demand for low end HDTV either. If there were, smaller screens and receivers could clearly be built.

I suggest that it may not be entirely price holding back consumers. Sure, its nice to look at. The picture is crisp and its fans claim its nothing at all like watching tv is now. I think this misses the point. There's a place where technology gets "good enough" for most people and advances aren't going to be worth spending as much to all but the biggest enthusiasts. The human brain is very very good at filling in missing information. The very poor quality images we see on television are a great example of this. I suspect that for most of us although we'd clearly see the better pictures, it wouldn't really add all that much actual joy to the viewing. The story doesn't change, and a lot of what we perceive is already being filled in by our own brains. If anything, the higher resolution requires less of our internal personalization and may even detract a little bit in a subtle way.

Think I'm wrong? Consider the lowest resolution story imaging technology. Books. Most of us still like them. The parts of the image left out allow us to self-customize the characters based on those we know.

I'm not saying we won't all at some point have HDTV -- but I don't think the general demand is going to drive a dramatic increase in people willing to spend > $500 for a television. The budget for a "nice new tv" will remain pretty much the same. HDTV will get widely adopted when it falls into that budget for enough people. Until then, it will remain a luxury item for those with spare cash or those for whom tv is excessively important. Like the guy living in the beat up trailer where we can see through the open curtain a 6' wide flatscreen tv going 7 days a week.

-- Andrew

There are  - loading -  comments....

My own thoughts on this are...By David Bockes on 08/12/2004 at 09:28 AM EDT
I think your theory of a technology being good enough for the masses is on
target. We've seen that play out time and time again (ex. VHS vs Beta). HDTV
will get there not so much due to demand but supply. I do disagree with your
statement that "Books. Most of us still like them." I wish it were different
but book readers are in the minority these days. Book sales are down and
continue to decline. I know very few people who read for pleasure anymore.
While I'd like to claim that I still pick up a book, I don't. Not sure why, I
love reading. I don't know if it's due to laziness or lack of time. I still
read a few magazines, but even that has slowed down. At this rate I'll be only
reading USA Today and bitching about how long the articles are. It's the
dumbing down of David. Must be something in the water or perhaps I can blame
My own thoughts on this are...By Gryehawk68 on 08/12/2004 at 11:05 AM EDT
Once you get used to HDTV, there really is no going back. It looks so much
better (especially on Sports) that you really will notice.

The real problem is that it's expensive to produce HD content. And since there
is less content out there, there's not an overwhelming desire by the masses to
go that direction.

My cable company currently has my local affiliates, several movie stations,
ESPN, PBS, and HD PPV movies, all in HD. They are wonderful to watch.

The problem I have now is that I'm waiting for a really good HD recorder a la
TiVo. Once HD Recording is easy, I'll never go back to reg def again.

My own thoughts on this are...By Carl on 08/13/2004 at 07:24 AM EDT
Doesn't Tivo have a HD recorder now? I thought I read somewhere they do.
Maybe it's a HD Tivo in a satellite box?
My own thoughts on this are...By Carl on 08/13/2004 at 07:26 AM EDT
This is kind of the same reason lots of people are still running Word 97, it
does more than enough for them and they can live with it, and when it comes
down to it, a document printed from word 97 looks the same as a document
printed from word 2003.

Having said that, the pitcure quality of American TV has always sucked, whenev
er I go back to the UK, I can never get over how much clearer the picture there
is, and thats wihtout cable just regular rabbit ears.
Here's why HDTV will become the standard...By Rock on 08/13/2004 at 08:29 AM EDT
And it isn't a technological reason, either.

The FCC is basically forcing TV stations and production companeis to switch to
HDTV-based broadcasting. Why? Because they can send HDTV, which is digital, in
a much tighter bandwidth than conventional TV. And once the FCC gets everyone
switched over, they will get to sell the RIGHTS to the new bandwidth that is
opened up. This is why the FCC has mandated that TV stations eventually switch
over in the not-too-distant future (2007? I don't have the info in front of me
right now). Remember, right now they US Government licenses use of that
airpsace for free - and as a result Americans get free broadcast TV. But now
with everything going wi-fi in various incarnations, the government sees huge
untapped licensing potential for that bandwidth - hence the forced switchover
to HDTV.

OK, here's a quick HDTV FAQ I found...

BTW, I do agree that technology gets "good enough"; but in this case the
government doesn't seem to think it is.

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