Wednesday, May 17, 2006

33 Months and Counting: What's Changed?

Once again, it's the 17th, 33 months until the current "hard" date on which analog broadcasting is supposed to cease. As I did last month, I'm going to use the 17th (or soon thereafter) each month to recap developments affecting the various players (laid out in my first few posts) in this story. Not a huge number of significant developments this month, but here's what we have.

THE PUBLIC - Like last month, I haven't seen any new surveys regarding public awareness and attitudes towards the transition. One thing I would really like to see is a poll of consumers who have bought the 4:3 digital SDTVs which have replaced analog sets in the 25"-to-30" range (see the MANUFACTURERS section a few paragraphs down). Have they been checking out the digital broadcast stations, or sticking with the ones they know? If they have been checking them out, what do they think of downrezzed, letterboxed HD programming? Are they zooming or stretching it to fill their screens?

My May 6th post noted new public-awareness campaigns by the National Association of Broadcasters, plus a joint effort by the Consumer Electronics Association and the National Cable Television Association.

BROADCASTING - Another relatively quiet month in this area. My May 1st entry reported on a couple of articles that taken together point toward a Spring '07 HD conversion of PBS' Newshour With Jim Lehrer, which could actually make it the first HD nightly newscast. Hopes for a local (I'm in the Boston area) breakthrough in HD news are being put further on hold - to update my comments in last month's recap, an AVS post by Bob Yankowitz of our local CBS affiliate confirms that plans to convert CBS owned-and-operated news operations to HD are still on hold, and also mentions that Boston is likely to trail Chicago in this process.

PROGRAM PROVIDERS - An interesting article appeared in CableWorld on April 17th (just too late for me to notice it for last month) interviewing nine cable heads, and asking them about their five-year plans. A sobering note - only one (Jerry Kent of Cebridge Connections) mentioned HD at all. There's two ways you can take that - either they think HD will be so ubiquitous in five years as to be standard and unexceptional and boring, or that even after the transition it will still be a niche product (again, see my note on digital SDTVs in the MANUFACTURERS section).

On the non-cable front, HDBeat has articles on the roll-out of local HD stations by DirecTV and Dish Network. And Verizon's FIOS, with its impressive roster of HD channels, still continues its slow rollout.

HD NETWORKS - As far as I know, no new networks were announced in the last month. Those of us suffering from the high repeat-rate on networks like Discovery HD Theatre, PBS HD and the INHD Networks might take a little comfort from the fact that INHD is adding a new programming block.

MANUFACTURERS - Last month in this space, I gave my opinion that the new "digital SDTVs" may do very well in the 25-30" range against HD sets of similar size. On May 14th, I took another look at the big-box Sunday supplements, and this certainly appears to be the case. As I've said before, I wonder about the effects on HD programming if most people end up watching it downrezzed and letterboxed on a 480i screen.

I did finally get around to talking about next-generation DVD formats, mentioning the further confusion it's likely to cause the public, who may get their first real introduction to these formats as part of the videogame experience. (Thanks to Rodolfo La Maestra of HDTV Magazine for correcting some bad info in the latter article). There's also word from HD Beat of a possible HDMI cable for the Xbox360.

GOVERNMENT - When not busy trying to clean up the airwaves, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has some sensible concerns about the viability of analog cable post-transition.

That's all for now!

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