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As Long as We Remember...

January 10, 2006

Reflections in High Definition

Edward Lulie III

We have a kitten, endless energy and an incredible drive to play and explore. She is fascinated by our new HDTV.

When a nature show was on she jumped up to stand bewitched with her nose to the screen wondering how to get to those birds jumping and chirping just inches in front of her. Maybe in the next generation of technology she can do just that. HDTV is just great; my wife loves the nature shows while I am convinced that the best thing on to watch is (what else?) FOOTBALL.

It only took 10 seconds to be convinced the sharpness, field of view and incredible detail of High Definition Television (HDTV) is the way to watch football. The clarity is just amazing; you can see things that you wouldn’t get to see with seats on the 50-yard line.

You don’t need much more than a HDTV with an HDTV tuner and a UHF antenna to pick up HD broadcasts locally. You may not know that local stations have several extra channels broadcasting in HD, including some radar and weather channels that you can not get on regular television.

Once you have seen the expressions on the players’ faces as they line up to play it is very hard to accept watching the small blurred images you’ve been used to on regular television (SDTV, Standard Definition Television).

Now you can admire the grainy cracks in the ancient monuments of Egypt, or enjoy that wide receiver pulling down a 45-yard pass for a touchdown. It is up to you to choose and the choices are increasing as stations are moving up to HDTV.

There is still the difficult decision of deciding what to watch. The pain comes from having to watch one network. It seems to me that CBS is the worst offender, hands down, as advertising pigs.

You don’t get a choice if you want to watch most Ravens games and the agony of having to watch has little to do with the quality of the game being played. The network that makes HDTV much harder to watch is CBS.

Of course, you could choose reruns of “This Old House, Demolition Edition” or a PBS rebroadcast of some decades old BBC production.

Still if you want to watch football (and most Ravens fans are gluttons for punishment) then you don’t get a choice. CBS, the C stands for Commercials. I won’t tell you what the BS stands for. Okay, I will; it stands for Broadcasting Shamelessly.

Back in the early 1990s they claimed “We’re Looking Good.” Right! They spend half the time obscuring their football broadcasts with bottom crawlers and endless moronic self promotions. When they aren’t promoting themselves, CBS is happily ignoring the game to simply run commercials; the only reason the game is on CBS at all is so they can sell advertising. That’s okay; it’s how it works.

Yet, couldn’t they limit the number of times they repeat the ads? Twice a game is plenty, 12 to 24 is just too much. The NFL – if it could lose the lust for cash for a second and consider the long term viability of their product – might be very wise to insist that the entire game, all the plays, must be shown. No more missing the game action just so CBS can replay that CSI ad for the 20th time.

The long term viability of football as the All American Game is never included in that calculation in these days of management, Enron style.

Okay, I’m biased. I pretty much wrote off CBS some time ago; by my lights CBS hit their high time back when it broadcast “Garfield and Friends” in the late 80’s and early 90s. That ended the only show I can recall watching on the “We’re Looking Good!” network. What nerve, “We’re Looking Good” as a self promoting ad. I suppose it’s better than “We Stink Up the Airwaves,” but then that would be true.

Seems that CBS caters its programming to a target audience of New York City and Los Angeles. “Red State” audiences are a mystery to the CBS brass; “Flyover Country” is a place they just don’t go – or understand.

So, I guess it’s asking a bit much to expect the Brass at CBS to understand football. Their understanding seems limited to the bottom line; just how many advertising dollars can be shaken out of NFL games.

As long as management can get that bonus, why should they care if the long term viability of the product is ruined by endless interruptions and bad programming; as long as the execs get their bonus money – who cares that the customers are headed for the door.

Still the ultimate problem with HDTV remains the same. Even on CBS the picture quality, when not obliterated by advertising, is wonderful. Yet, as before HDTV arrived on the scene, the problem is still that even with 200 channels there isn’t anything really worth watching.

Now my kitten could watch the High Definition nature channels all day, but even she would turn up her nose if that nature scene was obliterated by a large vending machine pretending to play football (no fees to pay that actor; clever idea, eh?).

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