Thursday, March 10, 2011

Why broadcast in HD?

Much has been made in the past decade about High-Definition (HD) broadcasting. It was touted as the biggest advancement in television since color TV. I remember first seeing a High-Definition broadcast during some incarnation of the Winter Olympics as I wandered through the Rochester, MN Best Buy store. I am fairly certain that the local NBC affiliate, KTTC, wasn’t yet broadcasting in HD (this may have been as far back as 1998, more likely 2002) but they had a handful of many-thousand-dollar plasma televisions showing the most kick-ass picture that I had ever seen on a TV. I know it was a hockey game being broadcast but beyond that I can’t remember anything else.

Fast forward about a decade and I actually own two HD sets. But I still only receive a handful of channels -- mainly the local Twin Cities signals - in High-Def. This is one part my own frugality (I refuse to pay an additional $7.95/month for a box from Mediacom which forces me to use their shitty remote and make room for a clunky, ass-ugly box) and another part the fault of the companies broadcasting the very content we watch. The first local affiliate I received was KARE-11. KSTP, FOX 9 and WCCO followed within a year but then things stopped. It took another year of so before Mediacom Cable started re-transmitting High-Def signals for KPXM (Ion) and WFTC just arrived on my TVs a few months ago along with WGN. I’m still holding out for KSTC (45) and that’s where the story really begins.

KSTC-45 has the rights to the Minnesota Timberwolves, Minnesota State High School League playoff games and the Minnesota Wild. While I haven’t caught either an NBA or NHL game on KSTC I did pass by and watch a few seconds of a high school hockey state playoff game last night. To put it bluntly it looked like shit.

The picture was best described as muddy and grainy, the audio sounded like it was first being passed through a bucket of thick Mississippi River mud and I could barely read the scores in the graphics bar at the top of the screen. And to top it all off, it was still being broadcast in standard definition (the old not-widescreen 4:3 aspect ratio).

Why, in 2011, are any sports being shown not in full widescreen high definition? I am not sure if this is an issue with the broadcast equipment being used by the folks producing the high school games for KSTC or if the fault lies with KSTC themselves.

I do know that a huge amount of responsibility lies with Mediacom, my cable television provider, for not granting its customers access to the last broadcast television station in the Twin Cities not available in high definition. The other gripe about the lack of high definition broadcasts lies, again, with cable providers. They are viewing the advent of high definition not as a way to provide a better experience to their viewers but instead as yet another way to profit. Why should I, as a customer, pay any additional money per month for what is essentially a duplication of services? Both of my televisions, equipped with internal QAM tuners, receive unencrypted HD signals. The logical thing for cable providers to do is send those HD signals from all subscribed packages to customers’ televisions unencrypted. They already do this with the shitty analog version of every channel I subscribe to, I just want the digital (and HD) version in the same way. My television (and every decent TV sold in recent years) supports this and it would remove a huge burden from the cable companies. They would no longer have to supply clunky Motorola cable boxes to receive the signal. Things could go back to a simple plug and play format -- the way they were meant to be. Even new TVs still have a co-ax input so it’s a logical process.

And if Mediacom -- and other cable providers -- would just loosen the reigns a bit they’d have happier customers instead of angry people like me who just want to watch some Minnesota Wild playoff games in full widescreen high definition.

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