I Want My HDTV!

3 minute read
Chris O'Malley

Long before he was my grandfather, Grandpa splurged on an expensive piece of new technology called a television because his beloved Detroit Tigers made the World Series. My not-so-beloved Dolphins didn’t make the Super Bowl this year, so I didn’t follow suit and buy a pricey high-definition television (HDTV) set. But I borrowed one for my Super Bowl party to preview my generation’s TV transition. The early verdict: a helluva TV, but not much HD.

One does not tread lightly into HDTV. Just handing over the credit card for a TV that costs $5,499–the price of my Panasonic 56-in. projection set–takes some effort. A set-top box that can tune in the new digital signals adds an extra $1,499.

Making room for this monument to television is no small matter either. The corner of our living room, which my wife had reserved for a baby grand (insert your own marital discord here), was cleared for the HDTV’s landing, which required three men and a truck with a hydraulic lift.

With the thing in place only three days before the big game, I went to work trying to get a high-definition signal. I got none. No Miami stations have started broadcasting in HD yet and the cable-TV industry hasn’t even settled on a standard. My satellite dish wasn’t any help, either. DirecTV shows one channel of HDTV, but nobody sells a decoder that can tune it in. Aaargh!

Confused? It helps if you’re old enough to remember the early days of color TV. Buying a color set didn’t instantly colorize all your favorite programs. That took years. Likewise, there are very few programs being broadcast in true HDTV–even in the 26 cities that already have digital TV.

As it turned out, my digital dilemma was moot. Fox chose not to broadcast the game in HDTV after all. Apparently the network is waiting for a bigger event, like a live Mars landing or the final episode of The Simpsons.

Super Sunday scored big with my friends and neighbors anyway. Even without HDTV, the gridiron never looked better–thanks to the jumbo screen and a hidden upgrade that effectively doubles the standard analog screen resolution. The casual consensus: the best TV picture they had ever seen.

Films recorded on digital videodiscs look even better. Many of the hundreds of movies available on DVD are encoded with the boxy TV version on one side and the original theatrical wide version on the other. So a wide-screen set that’s ready for HDTV is also ready for DVD. A Samsung DVD player plugged into my Panasonic HDTV splayed the train wreck in The Fugitive gloriously across the full wide screen.

Even DVD pales beside real HDTV, however, as I learned when I finally drove to Miami last week to see it demonstrated in all its vivid, eye-popping detail at an electronics store. Too late for the Super Bowl, but, hey, there’s always next year.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com