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It's worth it

In case you had any doubts, HDTV is the way to go

Posted: Monday November 1, 2004 12:28PM; Updated: Monday November 1, 2004 3:56PM
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Pete McEntegart: The 10 Spot -- Mon., Nov. 1
Truth & Rumors: C-Webb's next team: Knicks?
Chris Ballard: A few NBA predictions
Lang Whitaker: High definition -- only way to watch
More Blogs: Cannella | Bradley | Elliott | Wertheim
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As I sit here on my couch writing this week's column, I am staring squarely into the future. Well, not exactly squarely, because it's more of a rectangle, actually. Either way, I'm looking at a 30-inch Toshiba HDTV.

Physically, it's very different than my trusty old 27-incher. Much like Tony Siragusa, it's wider than it is tall. While it has a flat screen, it isn't thin, just more 2 feet deep from front to back. Even when it's turned off, it just looks cool, like a space-age oven. It's almost like a miniature movie screen.

As a dedicated, unapologetic sports fan who spends much of my life sitting right here on this couch, staring at light dancing behind a glass screen, I have decided that the experience does matter. If I can't be there in person, I want the next-best thing. And I kept hearing that this high definition television stuff was just that.

So I bit, not really knowing what I was getting into. The first thing I learned was that this thing weighs about as much as Siragusa. I live in a fourth-floor walk-up, so with each step I reassessed my decision to move to HD. I then had to get a new cable box with a built-in HD converter. Once I got all that handled, I hooked it up a few Saturdays ago just in time for the Tennessee/Alabama game on CBS.

Immediately, I discovered that Verne Lundquist has hair on the top of his head. I don't know if I'd just not been able to see it before or what, but in HD, it turns out that Vern has a lick of hair that springs from the center of his scalp and does a neat little curl before ducking back under his headset. I've watched Vern for years, but had never noticed that detail.

The more I watched, the more amazed I was. Football and baseball fields weren't just green; they were vividly shaded patches of emerald, jade, kelly and chartreuse, each blade visible. The gap between David Ortiz's front teeth seemed as wide as the Charles River. Because the picture is wider, you see more of the action. Wrinkles become visible. You nearly can read the warning stickers on football helmets. Yesterday during the Eagles/Ravens game I noticed a hot dog wrapper on the field. My assistant Sam stopped by to see the TV and said, "It's like getting contacts for the first time."

And then there's Desperate Housewives in HD, the wonder of which words cannot begin to describe.

Because I didn't understand the technology behind it, I called my friend and frequent golf partner Scooter Vertino, who produces the NBA on TNT (which will be broadcast in HD this season). He mentioned resolutions and pixels and a bunch of stuff that I still couldn't comprehend. He did say that an HD camera is about 20 pounds heavier than a regular TV camera. (I figured that must be because there are more definitions inside it.) When they broadcast an event in HD, they use two cameras for the main shot of the court -- one for the regular feed, one in high def, with the wider screen showing more surface area. He then went on to talk about lines and technical stuff.

Finally, I said, "So basically, an HD broadcast is just a whole lot clearer than a regular broadcast."

"Well, yeah," Scooter said.

The only problem I've found is that there's not much HD programming available right now. I live in the biggest city in the world and subscribe to the biggest cable system in the city (disclaimer: Time Warner Cable, owned by SI's parent company Time Warner). Even though I get about 300 channels, there are just nine in HD -- the major networks, TNT, HBO, Showtime and PBS. I don't even get ESPN in HD, though I'm willing to bet that Paul Maguire still begins every sentence with "Folks, let me tell ya" even in HD. While the picture is undeniably beautiful, right now there aren't that many pictures worth watching.

To find out when this might change, I contacted my main man Mark Cuban. Besides being The Benefactor and owning the Dallas Mavericks, he also co-owns an HDTV channel called HDNet. I asked Mark if there will come a day when all TV will be in HD, pointing out my current predicament.

"Absolutely," Cuban said. "HDNet and HDNet Movies get added to TWC in NYC on Nov 4. And just like all music switched from AM to FM, all TV will go to HD, or it will just disappear."

I noted to Cuban that since HDTV was more expensive than standard TV, I thought it might take a while to catch on.

"Then you aren't paying attention," Cuban said. "You can buy an HDTV for under 400 bucks for a 27-inch set. You can't even buy a big screen that's not HDTV capable, and the prices have fallen like a rock. A 50-inch big screen that used to cost $5,000 or more can be had for under 1200 bucks now."

Is it worth the dough? If you're a sports fan, absolutely. Every major sports event is now broadcast in HD, and once you go in, it's hard to go back. A few years ago I bought a standard 27-inch TV, which I thought was great and all, until I got into this HD stuff. For once, size doesn't matter. It's all about the quality, kids.

Something I Learned this Week in an NBA Locker Room

Sixers players Andre Iguodala and Sammy Dalembert are being plagued by an unknown teammate who throws used athletic tape and other trash into their lockers at the team's practice facility. Dalembert thinks he knows who's doing it, but won't say at the risk of being branded a "snitch." Also, Sixers sharpshooter Kyle Korver's cell phone rings a remarkably faithful version of Eye of the Tiger.

Game of the Week

Someone sent this along the other day. Seems pretty simple, until you get to about Level 10. Hope you're better at it than I was.

Beanball of the Week

Loved this story. During the Red Sox victory parade, a baseball flew from the crowd toward one of the rides. Derek Lowe made an attempt to catch the ball (he missed it, of course) and the ball drilled Pedro Martinez in the forehead and then ricocheted 15 feet into the air.  I'm guessing there are way too many suspects out there wanting to get back at Pedro (Derek Jeter and Einar Diaz immediately come to mind) for the police to narrow this one down. Luckily, the fans celebrating in Boston didn't go crazy or anything.

Lassie of the Week

Our recurring theme of dogs going above and beyond the call of nature, um, recurs this week with Faith, a 4-year-old Rottweiler that called 911 when her owner fell from a wheelchair. Qyntel Woods better hope she doesn't get his number.

Lego of the Week

This has absolutely nothing to do with anything, other than to demonstrate why the Internet is so fantastic. Go here to learn how Legos are made. Just thought this was cool.

Adaptation of the Week

I've been pretty upset for a while about this new Farrelly brothers movie, Fever Pitch. It's based on Nick Hornby's amazing soccer memoir of the same name, which was already turned into an excellent movie in England years ago. (It reruns on the Independent Film Channel all the time.) The Farrelly brothers are remaking it as a story about the Red Sox, but because the Red Sox won the World Series they're now having to rewrite the ending. Which explains why Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore were making out on the field after Game 4. That's gotta suck: these poor fans wait 86 years for a championship, and Fallon gets to go on the field.

Costume of the Week

The Tron Guy has returned with a new outfit, this from a cartoon I've never heard of but equally funny.

Over My Head of the Week

I knew Georgia Tech was good for something. Here a few enterprising students detail how to install the Macintosh OS on your Xbox, which probably has Bill Gates spinning in his billion-dollar palace.

The Week Ahead

NBA Action -- The greatest league in the world tips off this week, and I'm looking forward to Saturday night, when Dwight Howard faces off against Emeka Okafor.

The Dirty Birds -- They're back. After ESPN devoted 10 minutes on Sunday morning to why Michael Vick wasn't able to pick up the West Coast offense, he went out and shredded the Broncs yesterday, passing for 252 and two TDs, and rushing for 115 more. Ladies and gentlemen, the Michael Vick Experience is now reopened. More importantly, my fantasy team needed the jolt. Thanks, Mike.

Lang Whitaker is the online editor at SLAM magazine and writes daily at SLAMonline.com. He's still waiting for Fox Sports World in HD.