Searching for HD…51 hours, 3 cities, dozens of HDTV’s and no HD

December 6, 2006

Flat-panel televisions are popping up everywhere. The problem is hardly anyone of them are actually being used for HD. Television sets with built-in digital tuners capable of 720p, 1080i, 1080p (trust me, it means a really really really really clear picture…really) are hung all over the place. So why isn’t anyone watching HD on these HDTV’s? I really don’t know.

My impromptu search for HD started Saturday night while I was out to dinner with my family at our local Mexican restaurant. While I was up paying the bill at the bar, I noticed a nice new 42” LG with ESPN playing. I asked the proprietor how he liked his new set. He loves it, “going to get one for home, too.” Pointing at the screen he said to me, “Isn’t HD great?” I didn’t have the heart to tell him he wasn’t watching HD. To him, he has a flat panel and that means HD. Searching for HD…

Sunday afternoon en route to Raleigh-Durham, I found a half dozen HDTV’s at our local airport. The problem? Again, no HD. Dozens of people were crowded around watching Sunday afternoon football on HD sets that were not playing the HD broadcasts. Analog in HD made the players look like Dorf. Dorf on football anyone? Still in search of HD.

Sunday night I arrived in Raleigh, NC, the home of Capitol Broadcasting. The birthplace of HD. I’m still searching for HD. Maybe I was too tired but I don’t recall any flat panels at the airport. At the Marriott Crabtree I found a regular old 35” RCA in my room. At least the game looked OK. Analog on analog isn’t that bad… Remembering that the concierge was open until ten, I headed up there for some cheesecake. They’d remodeled since I was there during the Stanley Cup and now they have a 55” Samsung flat panel, a beautiful television. There were a few road warriors like myself gathered around watching Football Night in America on NBC…only in analog on a digital television. No HD.  Still searching…

Monday blew by and I found myself taking the last flight from Raleigh to New York, which happens to stop over not so briefly in Philadelphia (Note to self: Don’t wait for the last flight to New Yorkwhilst in Raleigh). Even LaGuardia airport has gone digital for their televisions. Hoping to catch the end of the Bears game (and Brian Greise finally at the helm) I found a bar. Lots of HD sets, but still no HD. How can so many people, so many businesses, so many places with HD-capable sets all be NOT using the television for the very purpose it was developed? While the Bears hadn’t smartened up enough to put Griese under center, they clearly had the game in the bag. Off to the hotel.

As the cab progressed towards the city, the city where so much content is created specifically for HD, I couldn’t help but wonder if HD would ever take off. Are people simply satisfied that their new set is thin? Or that they can hang it on the wall? Are we doing such a bad job educating consumers that they have no idea what HD actually is? Are the cable companies behind this? Shouldn’t the antenna guys be promoting their tools as the very best way to get HD?

It is always a relief to come out of the mid-town tunnel. Even the worst cabbie now has to demonstrate some form of control over the car. Digital televisions/flat panels are turning up in store windows for the holiday season. They’re everywhere. Clearly, HDTV has gone mainstream.

Still, is it really HD if people aren’t using them for HD? Nope. It’s just a fancy, thin, flat and funny shaped monitor. Still, once you actually see HD, it is hard to switch back to analog. Just ask anyone who has made the switch. My journey over the last 51 hours had put me in several cities in front of several HDTV’s. There is hope. As I rolled past 30 Rock (and the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree), I noticed a huge crowd not looking at the tree, but looking into one window in particular. What did my wondering eyes see? Five HDTV’s ALL cranking out crystal clear, 1080i in all its glory of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. People stopped. People noticed. HDTV done right is truly a sight to see.