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HDTV - the home experience

COW Blogs : Mike Cohen's Blog : HDTV - the home experience

I am spending this week with my parents in Florida. As a good semi-retired couple they dutifully purchased a 60" Sony rear projection LCD tv upon moving into their new home. Perhaps the problem is Comcast digital cable, but here are my observations:

1. There are not many HD channels.

2. On the HD channels, not all of the content is HD.

3. Some commercials are in HD and look awesome. Local commercials and most national spots are non-HD with crappy sound. This is not a criticism of commercial producers, but merely an indication that HD has not fully taken hold even on the networks.

4. Live HD shows probably look awesome over the air, but digital cable adds so much compression that it can be unwatchable. Might as well watch the SD version. For example on July 4 we watched the Macy's fireworks show on NBC. NBC had artists perform on top of Rockefeller center, which was nicely done, good lighting, jib, helicopter shots, the whole shebang. But the compression killed it for me. I try to point this out to my dad and others, and most people do not notice. Is the problem with Comcast or is it the problem of multiple up and down linked satellite feeds?

5. Non-live broadcasts are better, but still lots of compression artifacts in areas of motion.

6. Broadcasts of questionable format. We watched the Concert for Diana 1-hour NBC boil down, which was recorded on the DVR. It was letterboxed 4x3, just like on the SD VH1 live broadcast. However the NBC logo was indented from the left, indicating it was an HD signal at some point, protected for 4x3. Comcast gives no indication of what type of signal you are watching. One would think that an HD signal would not be 4x3 letterboxed. It looked pretty good, but not crystal clear.

7. A side note, we watched the CBS Boston Pops special at 10:00 eastern time. Normally I have watched this on A&E, and sat through the hour of bad one-hit wonder pop singers, followed closely by the 1812 overture, Stars and Stripes forever and fireworks, usually with Kris Kristoferson or some horrible on-camera host. Well this year (2007) CBS started their broadcast 7/8 of the way through the 1812 overture, then put Craig Kilborn of the Late Late Show center stage wearing a bright yellow Boston Police rain jacket. He attempted to make some July 4th humour. Poor attempt. Then came the part of the broadcast for which, hopefully, some CBS executive will lose his job over. John Mellencamp, fresh from the plastic surgery clinic, performed one of his patriotic songs. Apparently the sound mix for the Boston Pops and Craig Kilborn's microphone were routed directly into the satellite truck. The sound mix for Mellencamp and his band was non-existant. I think there was an on-camera mic somewhere which picked up some of his voice. The guitars were silent, and the Boston Pops drowned out any other sound. Then came the Patriotic sing-along, featuring the Boston Children's Choir. Again, there was no apparent attempt to mic these kids, or the audience for that matter, so all we heard were the Pops. Don't get me wrong, the Pops are great. Then more Kilborn banter and R-O-C-K in the USA, wth a similar poor sound mix. Towards the end of the song, Keith Lockhart and Kilborn chimed in for the chorus, and their mics were at full volume, further drowning out anyone else. Finally Star and Stripes forever, normally immediately following the 1812, was the finale. Oh wait, let's get Craig Kilborn on the air one more time to introduce the fireworks display, featuring poorly mixed canned music. Shame on you CBS.

So after about a minute of fireworks featuring more compression artifacts than I could bear, I switched to the HD movie channels, which all seemed to be running a You, Me and Dupree marathon. So I wound up on the regular Showtime for Superman Returns in SD. I stretched it to fill the screen, and watched/slept through the whole movie. Unfortunately a good sound system and a big tv could not save this movie.

If any readers work for CBS, Comcast or Bryan Singer productions, forgive my ranting.

Thanks for reading,



Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jul 5, 2007 at 6:02:42 amComments (4) hd


Thanks for the review. I
by Jacki Schklar
Thanks for the review. I don't want to see You, Me, and Dupree. So I guess I don't need HD.
Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular
by Vince Hancock

Dear Mr. Cohen,

I have to admit, I'm currently quite LD, rather than HD.  I have an antenna that's about two rungs higher than coat hangers attached to my television set.

I'm writing to say thanks for adding the note about the CBS telecast of the annual Boston Pops concert.  I was greatly confused about what I saw.  Why the 1812 Overture at the start of the program?  Why bother with canned music when the bandshell is filled with live musicians?  In case you have any more thoughts on how this strange broadcast came to be, I'm putting together a few clues over here:

A Boston Pops Mystery:  Fireworks and Frowns

Thanks again,

Vince Hancock

Bear Lake, Michigan 

by Tim Wilson

Having said all that, I agree that HD is far, far from a reality in the world we actually live in. Maybe 10% of commercials, barely that for local newscasts (which all feature SD from the field -- not sure I've seen ANY HD from the field yet). Very much agreeing that many HD channels have little HD content.

There's also a lot of HD that hardly anyone is seeing, like the HD feed of The Food Channel.

On one hand, it's ironic that there's so much noise about HD production in The COW. On the other, HD has been well accepted as a non-broadcast format for years and years.

This is all a looong way from settling.

Any indeed, my experience with Comcast isn't stellar, although far from the worst....

Yeah, but....
by Tim Wilson

I can't remember where I wrote about it, but I noted that the folks at ESPN HD admitted that only 10% of their non-studio programming -- that is, THE SPORTS -- is in HD.

Compression artifacts are a way of life. I see them in SD too. Even in DVDs with fade to black. Also true of HD over antenna. Worst of all over DirecTV, still the most common way of watching HD....but even there, every bit as bad for SD, if not worse.

This is going to get much, much worse as people view SD and HD content through Apple TV and other itv venues.

That said, the only thing in the past, I dunno, maybe 3 years that I've watched in SD is Battlestar Gallactica, 5 episodes of Seinfeld reruns, and one or two IFC and Sundance offerings a month. (Tons of indie movies on the HD channels...although been thinking about a blog entry on one of those IFC movies I saw recently....) Oh, and Red Sox spring training games. We refer to spring training as SD season.

Of course NESN (New England Sports Network) has been a pioneer in HD programming. Every Red Sox and Bruins game (I don't much watch the latter) has the clearest picture and sound that you'd agree is stunning -- much, much better than even the Super Bowl. The Red Sox sold for the highest that any sports franchise ever has, by a long, long shot -- and the TV channel brings in more revenue. Enough that the Yankees created their own channel modeled after it. (Losers...but you can look it up.)

Even if we didn't watch the Red Sox (my wife is into it every bit as much as I am, and sometimes more), every one of my favorite shows is in HD: House, Lost, Heroes, Sopranos, Weeds, Bones, on and on. Seriously, other than BG, not one of my faves isn't in HD. So the not enough HD programming isn't an argument that flies for me.

Here's a short list of movies, both old and new that I've watched in the last month or so, in no particular order: Dirty Dancing (sorry, love it), Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Die Hard, Matador, An Inconvenient Truth, Capote (unbelievably good -- I was shocked), Crimson Tide. Hustle and Flow, Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai, Underworld Evolution (how can this be so bad? sucked sucked sucked), Monster House (better than most Pixar flix), A Life Less Ordinary (another weird fave, but I love it), Miami Vice (yawn), Go (another all time fave), X-Men 3, The Last Boy Scout, The Big Bounce (stupid but fun), 16 Blocks, The Golden Child....

BTW, all but a couple of these are mastered straight from film to HD. Bless Showtime for calling out their upconverts by name. But they're nice upconverts. TNT's upconverts (Buffy, Angel) are baaaaaad.

The list above doesn't include movies I wound up deleting because it was clear that I wasn't going to get around to watching any time soon. Getting the idea? I have more HD that I WANT to watch than I could possibly watch in a lifetime. Thank gods for DVRs.

One of the things I like best about DVRs is going back and watching my favorite HD commercials. The one for vitamin water set to "Under Pressure" is gorgeous, the "whiteboard" UPS commercials are among my all-time faves (have a blog entry about those in my head), and so on.

So I'm going to respectfully disagree on all counts but the first few. Like with music, though, expect more compression than less over time...until we have enough space/bandwidth that we don't need it....but our tolerance for it is such that there's no financial incentive for anyone to do anything differently....



I have a passion for my job, which entails training for medical professionals such as surgeons, nurses and administrators, not to mention various industries.

Technology is great, but how you apply your skills is what pays the bills.

Years ago I canceled my Media 100 support contract upon discovering what a treasure trove of helpful advice can be found on the Creative COW website. I am proud to be a part of this fantastic community.

In my blog I talk a little about media production, a lot about travel and workflow, and occasionally about cooking, nature and my four-legged friends.

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