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High Def Jams

Watching sports on HDTV makes me better than you

Posted: Tuesday July 19, 2005 3:35PM; Updated: Wednesday July 20, 2005 11:21AM
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HD Sports Power Rankings
1. Football
You get at least 5 yards extra on both sides of the line of scrimmage, enabling the Xs-and-Os freaks to figure out the coverages at the time of the snap. The cheerleader shots aren't bad, either.
2. Basketball
You'll know right away who should get credit for that tip-in, and it's nice being able to see most of the court at once. Dick Vitale still can ruin the broadcast, though.
3. Hockey
It's great being able to see the puck for a change, but you might have to adjust your settings if the white ice gets too bright.
4. Baseball
You'll gain more appreciation for the exploding sliders and nasty splitters thrown by major-league pitchers.
5. Boxing
Blood, spit , sweat ... you'll see more of it than you ever wanted to.
6. Golf
It's terrific with the scenic courses (i.e. Pebble Beach, Augusta), but it doesn't make Jim Huber any less maudlin.
7. Tennis
It still feels like I'm watching Pong. The robotic men's circuit is unwatchable in any format, but women's tennis can be a sight for sore HDTV eyes when Maria Sharapova is playing.
8. Olympics
The Athens Games are being reshown in HD, but the only added benefit is you get to see a lot more empty seats.
9. Horse Racing
Your HDTV won't help you hit that trifecta.
10. NASCAR
Yep, they're still turning left.

They tell me Tiger Woods put on a great show Sunday at the British Open. I'll have to take their word for it because I couldn't watch the final round for more than five seconds. That's how long it took to realize the telecast had one fatal flaw that even His Tigerness could not fix: It wasn't in HD.

That's short for "High Definition" for all of you dinosaur sports fans out there who are still not familiar with what we like to call "modern technology." How is that Model-T holding up, anyway? You figure out the Hula Hoop yet? Back away from the Rubik's Cube, man, you're scaring me.

I know that sounds condescending but I feel pretty safe in assuming the majority of those reading this column don't have HDTV and that mere fact makes me a higher life form than you. (Not a god, necessarily, but at least a minor deity of some sort.)

There are 12-13 million American homes currently equipped with HD television sets but only one-third of those are getting HD programming, says Bruce Leichtman of The Leichtman Research Group, Inc., a television consulting company. That means only about four million of approximately 105 million American homes are equipped for enjoying our real national pastime -- watching TV -- in its full glory. That's not even 4 percent! If you are a part of this ultra-exclusive club, I offer a hearty congratulations as we bestride the narrow world like a Colossus.

As for that other 96 percent, you have my condolences.

Yeah, it's that good

HDTV is the best luxury item to come along since central A/C. It's so good that I've watched the regrettable sci-fi flick The Core at least three dozen times only because it's broadcast into my 51-inch widescreen television in razor-sharp detail. The movie doesn't have much going for it other than an impassioned performance from two-time Academy Award Best Actress winner Hilary Swank and some sleek CGI work. But thanks to the HD quality, that's more than enough. (Starship Troopers isn't bad in HD either, but all bets are off if Boogie Nights comes on.)

Movies, along with sports, are the two main reasons consumers invest in Hi Def TVs and pay extra for the service.

"I'd say right now it's a 50/50 split between sports and movies," says Sean Badding of the Carmel Group, another TV consulting firm. "Loyal sports fans are not price-sensitive as most consumers are. They are willing to spend the extra dollar. The same thing can be said with moviegoers; the diehards are not so price-sensitive."

If you've never seen an HD broadcast, just think about how finely detailed your highest-grade DVD looks and realize that HD is way better. If you want a more technical comparison, consider that regular television, or standard-definition programming, has a maximum of 480 visible lines of detail. HDTV is capable of rendering 1,080 visible lines. The sound quality is better, too, provided you have some type of surround sound setup.

When you watch a football game, you can count the individual blades of grass on the field. If it's snowing, you can discern the shapes of the snowflakes. With hockey, you can see the puck for once. You'll get so spoiled watching sports in HD that you will think twice about attending an event live if it is being broadcast in HD.

The revolution will be televised

Life isn't all peaches and cream for us HDTV viewers. Heck, it's not even strawberries and cream -- NBC didn't bother showing Wimbledon in high def. The same can be said of ABC's treatment of Tiger's British Open win, as well as NBC's U.S. Open coverage. There are only so many hot dog-eating contests, Flugtags (don't ask) and cheesy sci-fi B-movies I can digest before wanting something more substantial.

But the key to the growth of HD programming, Badding says, has less to do with the available shows than the price of the hardware. Once the HDTVs drop below the $1,000 mark (the average spent on each set last year was around $2,000, according to Leichtman), there will be a widespread transition to HD in American households.

The shift in programming is well under way. Badding says the majority of NFL broadcasts will be in HD within 18-24 months. (DirecTV is offering a package that includes 125 NFL broadcasts in HD this season.) He predicts the NFL will be the first league to go all-HDTV, with the NBA, baseball and hockey following suit in that order. The combination of affordable hardware and overwhelming amount of programming will create a perfect storm for the transition to HD.

"The demand will be there and the economics will be there," says Badding, who estimates 11 million homes will have a fully operational HDTV setup by 2007.

In the meantime, I just hope they start showing this Tiger Woods guy in HD. I hear he's pretty good.

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