OK, show of hands: who got a new HDTV-ready flat-screen this year – maybe just in time for the Big Game? Yeah, me too. Too bad. If only Santa, the FCC, you and me had done our physics homework…
High Def, it turns out, actually isn’t. It’s just a tiny bit higher than low; and, sadly, not nearly high enough at all.
As Galileo showed, nearly 300 years before the birth of television, what you see depends on entirely where you sit. I’m not referring to the saleman-celebrated off-axis viewing performance of your new electronic fireplace. This is about something bigger and deeper. As with other forms of recreation, size actually does matter – but only up to a point. And it’s not, by any stretch, the whole story.
At about the same time Robert Laird was inventing (some would say simply improving upon) television, Albert Einstein was dismantling Isaac Newton’s Universe. Einstein, you see, was anti-gravity. He cut the rotten spot out of Newton’s apple – namely, that the force of gravity should operate over large distances, but doesn’t seem to. This force, Einstein showed, is really farce. It doesn’t exist. We’re simply seeing the effect of the curvature of space around massive objects. Even to the point of gravitationally lensing the images of things on those massive objects’ far-sides (relative to you) right round to where you can see them, albeit stretched-out and broken up into bits and pieces.
That massive new flat-screen on your wall draws you near and shows you images and events from the far-side of human imagination and of the actual universe too. And it claims to do so at between two and six times the resolution of your old tube TV (if you’re looking at a true HDTV signal). Trouble is: the screen’s larger. 42 inches diagonal; maybe 50 inches… Oh no, did you go even bigger??
But dude, your couch and your recliner are still in the same place! And your room didn’t magically expand. So, instead of a better picture, you now stand a better chance of seeing individual pixels – at the expense of a cohesive image. Despite it’s supposedly higher resolution, your new magic window could actually be showing you a fragmented Universe.
The problem is the HDTV spec itself. It’s way too low. It’s not really “high definition” at all. It was conceived decades ago in the ancient, analog, Asian world of last century where apartments were petite and viewers sat right up close to their diminutive TVs. Today’s “HDTV” of 1080 viewable lines is actually a small-screen spec. Too bad yours is bigger.
Worse, most of the programming you’ll be watching isn’t even true HD. And much of it may come to you clipped, crunched and noise-ridden courtesy of your pre-HD analog coaxial cable or via badly blasted broadcast.
Despite (in fact because of) its big size, there’s a shockingly narrow window of distance at which your new monitor will be tolerable. I suggest you stay within 6 to 7 feet of a 42-incher; 7 to 9 feet of a 50-inch; no closer than 8 feet but no further than 12 feet of a 62, etc. Plot the curve for yourself to get values for larger or smaller screens. Any way you view it; it’s a damn small sweet spot.
Should old acquaintance be forgot? Maybe now you’re feeling nostalgic for the way your old 27 inch CRT’s picture took a few moments to congeal – giving your left hemisphere a chance to downshift into full couch-potato stupidity. Gonna miss the warm, cheery glow. Not to mention its actual warmth: CRTs are so bright in the infrared that they make pretty good space heaters. That oft-overstated threat of stray X-ray radiation; That always-unstated but ever-present threat of vacuum tube implosion…
Just over the event horizon – say 4 years from your electronics showroom –HDTV screen-resolution will at least double, maybe quadruple. Your computer’s monitor is halfway there already. A few high-end digital cinema cameras are as well. Gordon Moore’s Law has seen to it that the cost (so perhaps the price) will drop like a stray proton into a black hole. And energy efficiencies will improve; we’ll all be green-guilt marketed into buying them.
One likely implication of all this: both HD-DVD and Blu-Ray (based on the 1080 spec) are doomed before they get off the ground. Your cable, phone, wireless and computer providers are all conspiring to kill them. Leave Earth for a few days on the Starship Einstein at close to the speed of light, and time slows down for you. Come back in a few decades Earth time and you’ll see that box-packaged, disc-delivered video became the 8-Track cartridge of the 21st century.
So it’s: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me!” Those bastards got us with a screen size that’s too big, based on a resolution that’s too low. Let’s not let them sell us the matching set of coasters, shall we?