Sunday, February 4, 2007

The Sorry State of HD Television

I attended a Superbowl viewing party at a friend's house today.  No, the screen wasn't larger than 55" so the NFL doesn't need to worry.  I don't happen to have an HDTV at home yet so this is one of the few times I've seen the programming.  What I saw doesn't make me want to run out and buy a set and upgrade to HD cable anytime soon.  Sure, HDTV can be beautiful.  We've all seen the 1080i demos running at the stores.  It's gorgeous.  The XBox 360 looks very beautiful on an HD set also.  HD-DVD (and to a lesser extent, BluRay) also look beautiful.  Serenity if HD is a wonder to behold.  However, television--at least via Comcast cable--still isn't there.  The content is often over-compressed and there seems to be no real desire to get it right.

I saw two football games in HD this year.  The first was the NBC broadcast of the Seattle-Dallas playoff game.  The quality of the video was terrible.  When the picture was still, the quality was quite good.  However, as soon as it started moving a little (which it tends to in football), the quality fell through the floor.  There were all kinds of compression artifacts to be seen.  The picture looked very muddy.  I can't quite tell what the problem was but I suspect that someone was compressing the signal too far save bandwidth.  The graphical cuts were, however, quite gorgeous.  Still, this was definitely not something I'd go out of my way to experience. 

The second game was today's Superbowl.  This one they seemed to have good footage of the game.  The pictures of the field were full of detail.  No muddying here.  However, whenever they overlayed graphics, they were upscaled SD pictures.  Whether the picture was a cut scene, an overlay with a picture of a player, or even the score, the contrast in quality jumped right off the screen.  The edges were blurry and there were obvious scaling artifacts.  How anyone could let this happen in the Superbowl is beyond me.  How hard can it be to author the graphics in HD and downscale them for SD?  Several of the commercials too were upscaled 480i video and it showed.  Why you would spend $2.6 million for a Superbowl commercial and then make the video look bad for your most affluent audience?

If they can't get the NFL playoffs and especially the Superbowl right, what does that mean?  It means that it isn't worth their time.  If it were, they wouldn't let this kind of garbage show on the air.  HDTV is still very much in its infancy still.  Too bad.  I was hoping it would be better by now.


  1. "The XBox 360 looks very beautiful on an HD set also.  HD-DVD (and to a lesser extent, BluRay) also look beautiful."
    I never understood this. Blu-ray and HD DVD have the same mandatory codecs. You can use the same exact source file when burning to an HD DVD or Blu-ray so how can one be lesser than the other in terms of quality?

  2. You are right, BluRay and HD-DVD should look the same.  Last I checked, which admittedly was a while ago, HD-DVD's were looking better almost across the board.  While both have the same 3 video codecs (MPEG-2, H.264, and VC-1), HD-DVD discs are currently using VC-1 whereas BluRay discs are using MPEG-2.  This probably explains most of the difference.