Monday, 9 October 2006

High definition, Aussie style

While at our friends' place yesterday, aside of the usual serving of great food (and I also got to take home with me a bucket full of fresh olives - ate a pile of them tonight), we also got to see our first demonstration of live high definition off the air TV transmission in a controlled environment.
I emphasize the controlled environment bit, because in shops they do control it and they definitely play the better signal on the TV they want to sell you; and often they would have some dedicated thing they got from the manufacturer playing there.
Anyway, what was my impression of this high definition? And how did it compare to our digital standard definition at home?
Well, the first observation was that my friends TV was probably not calibrated. I thought that black level, more commonly known as "brightness", was set high, creating grayish rather than black blacks. That's a common "out of the show room" problem, because manufacturers set their TV's up to be as bright as possible so they'd catch our eyes in the show room when we compare them to the rest of the crop.
But that aside, the high definition quality was a major disappointment. On our friends' plasma it didn't look any better than the SD we get at home! The reason is well known, it's just that I only got to witness it now: the Australian definition for high definition is very lax; it doesn't need to be that "high" to pass as high definition here.
Instead of broadcasting at 720p (which most high-def capable monitors can handle) or 1080p (and let the set top box down-convert the signal), they seem to be broadcasting at 480p. Which is better than the SD quality of 480i, but not much better; 480p is what you can get from a cheap DVD player if you set it on progressive scan, only that off the air broadcasts are severely more compressed than DVD's; one high def station does not necessarily equal its peers.
What amazes me the most about it is that it shouldn't really be that much of an effort for the broadcasters to transmit at 720p instead. It's just purely a "let's not make an effort because we can get away with it" thing.
Call me naive, but I am hoping that something would get the Australians stirred up enough to replace the current government; if not Iraq or refugee policy or the AWB scams, maybe shit TV would do the job. At least there's no need for us to rush and get an high def set top box.

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