Sunday, 28 May 2006

Standard definition high definition

One of the reasons we were contemplating cable despite the stupidly "impressive" cost was content (namely, football). We recently addressed that problem with the internet.
Another reason, though, was picture quality. The place our house is located in is somewhat problematic, off the air reception wise, and as a result we forgot how a clean TV picture looks like over the last two and a half years. Channel 9 is mostly black & white, 10 comes and goes, 7 is decent, ABC has all sorts of interruptions, and SBS is as stable as one of John Howard's none-hard-core promises (and probably most of his hard core ones, too).
Some year and a half ago we got this TV antenna technician to come and have a look. He stood on the roof with his equipment, breaking a few tiles and trying to assess the recption scene. Basically, his conclusion was that our measely small antenna was a rather futile exercise and only something that could rival the Eiffel tower might give us a slight chance for some proper reception. The cost was rather scary, so we politely told him to replace the broken tiles (he managed to break a few more doing that) and fuck off.
Since then we didn't do much about it other than base our viewing on rented DVDs, which at $5.50 for three films come in very cheap. We'd have to watch 24 rented DVDs a month (which we don't) to get up to the cost of cable's cheapest package, and that doesn't count installation fees and all sorts of other cable related expenses nor does it count the fact we can't watch that many films. But the bottom line is that we were happy.
Then, recently, the internet came along, offering us a great source for pretty much everything we want to see on TV. There's no longer a need for our lives to be dictated by commercial TV.
And the last breakthrough came last week while we were at Aldi: As one of their special weekly product offers, they had an $80 standard definition digital TV box. That's a box that receives digital high definition transmissions and downgrades them into standard definition quality so we can watch them on our standard TV. There's definitely nothing fancy about it: it only provides a composite picture output, although sound options include PCM and Dolby Digital.
We took the dive: We had no idea whether our crap reception would provide us with a high definition picture or whether we're going to face a frozen frame, but we decided that at $80 we can take the gamble and in the worse case sell the box on eBay.
We were successful! The box works like a charm, and the picture is perfect. That is, when the picture is there, because from time to time you do get some signs of pixelization, and from time to time you do get freeze frames so bad it's unwatchable. Luckily, it seems like reception problems strike the commercial channels first, while the bulk of our TV watching is SBS and ABC (the only thing we watch on commercial channels is American Dad and Family Guy, on channel 7 at Thuesday nights). Lest we forget, the World Cup is on SBS soon, and it would all be available on great quality widescreen!
Digital TV doesn't mean great picture quality only, it also means that you get friendly menus and programming information. It means you can easily find programs you're looking for, and in the week we have this box you could measure how we watch more TV because it's easy to locate programs (the fact you can see a proper picture helps, too).
It's funny to see how the commercial channels, that specialize in broadcasting shit brain numbing material, also treat their viewrs like shit when it comes to their high definition broadcasts. Almost nothing they show is in widescreen, despite the fact that most of their programs was originally shot in widescreen. I'm talking about things like feature films. On the other hand we have ABC and SBS, that show everything in widescreen other than stuff that was originally shot in 1.33 which is shown with black stripes at the side - as it should.
Anyway, a worthy $80 investment, even if once we get a genuine high-def capable monitor we'd need another box for proper hi def quality. Together with DVDs and the internet, we have now totally revolutionized our TV watching habits. Goodbye, commercial TV - hope you'll sort out your ways soon, because you're about to become extinct!

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