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The myth of HDTV

Marketplace Staff Jan 26, 2007

KAI RYSSDAL:
All over the country thousands of football fans are facing an important choice, not over who will win the Super Bowl, but whether they should upgrade their TVs in time for the big game. According to a survey from the Consumer Electronics Association, half of all current high definition television owners bought them to watch a specific sporting event and the Super Bowl was the number one reason. But for many people, high def TVs are not only expensive, they’re downright confusing. Brian Cooley is with CNET.com. And Brian let’s start, I guess, with a really simple question. What does it mean when a television is high def?

BRIAN COOLEY:
The very essence of high-def TV is more lines of picture. So your eye is less able to detect the lines and it looks more like a window than an artificial electronically delivered picture.

RYSSDAL:
So listen, the whole HDTV thing came up because one of our reporters, Tess Vigeland, actually bought a brand new HDTV, soon discovered though, a lot of what’s out there isn’t in HD.

COOLEY:
You know, there is still a large amount of programming that you’re going to flip across with your remote control that’s not high definition. I mean that’s absolutely the case, but there is no denying that in the next couple of years there’s going to be a major increase in the amount of high def programming. And in the next handful of years, it’s a high def world.

RYSSDAL:
So with the sets, in particular on the consumer end, I mean it’s not like there’s something wrong with the sets, they’re just not getting the right signals.

COOLEY:
People are doing two . . . one of two major mistakes. First of all they’re bringing home a high def TV and they expect it to make everything high def. It doesn’t make anything into anything. It can only reflect as high a quality signal as you give it. Secondly, people notice that they’re high def TV is wide screen, they virtually all are. So they force the TV to fill the screen, to stretch. Well a lot of programs are not wide, they’re narrow. And when you stretch them to fill a wide screen they look absolutely awful.

RYSSDAL:
All right, so I have this vision now in my head of somebody having just gone to the store, bought an HDTV set, brought it home and hears this broadcast and says, oh all right, now I need to go and make it narrow, not wide. And he’s probably facing an instruction booklet that’s 50 pages thick. And I mean, if you’re not technical is this a smart consumer move to buy one of these?

COOLEY:
You know, the vast majority of folks who buy these go through a learning curve that’s not too painful to figure this sort of stuff out. It varies by television. There’s no simple rule of what to look for. There’s no label on the front of the set that says I’m an automatic switching TV. So I wish I had a simple band-aid answer saying going buy a TV that does this and it will automatically always make itself look good, but the more modern the television, the more high cost, unfortunately the television, the more it has those kinds of features built in that a stripped down or no name set might sacrifice.

RYSSDAL:
Brian Cooley from CNET, thank you so much.

COOLEY:
Thank you, Kai.

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