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High Definition Versus Standard TV

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It’s 2013. Analog television is a thing of the past, and we have all switched over to digital. For years, analog signals could vary in strength based on your location and antenna, but after cable standardized that, all channels mostly looked the same. As high definition (HD) becomes more persistent and prevalent, though, does it put lower definition, known as standard (SD), at a disadvantage?

I think so, for sure. When most of the major networks, like ABC, FOX, CBS, NBC, USA, HBO, Showtime, Comedy Central, TNT, SyFy, FX, and the like are transmitted to my house in crystal clear clarity, why would I want to tune into something that looks fuzzy and old?

I refer, of course, to those channels still not offered in HD. These may vary by location. In my area, IFC is one network I really wish I received with a better quality signal. It’s frustrating to watch Portlandia when its fuzzy, especially when I can change the channel and get such a better picture. Ditto for the excellent British series Misfits, which I get on Logo, in SD. I’ll just wait for the Blu-rays.

The HBO and Showtime packages I have annoy me because I pay so much for a couple dozen channels, but only three of each are delivered in HD. I can tell you, I don’t even bother to record movies that aren’t on one of those three channels. Why even get the rest? Because they are part of a “package,” the magic word cable companies use to charge us extra money for stations we don’t want or need, since the a la carte option isn’t available, which could be a whole other column.

I do think this puts the SD channels at a significant disadvantage. I may be one person, but I’m sure it’s a trend many are moving towards, especially those casual viewers that don’t follow as many shows. If I were a channel surfer, I’d just stay in the 900s, and not go outside of that range.

The Internet has spoiled us, giving us instant access to everything however we want it. Our current generation is used to being able to access everything, and when the cable companies only give us SD versions of certain channels, those get forgotten and overlooked.

It’s funny because I still watch older shows and movies. Many of them are on DVD, and may not be in HD. But because they are from a different time, I just accept the difference. Portlandia could be viewed in HD, if I lived in a certain market, so getting a lower quality is annoying. Friends has never been in HD, so I will watch an old installment and accept it.

Even better, though, is how many old shows and movies are being updated and re-released on Blu-ray. This trend means that even things made in the era before the current awesome level of clarity are being converted, making them look better than ever. If I can watch Disney’s Peter Pan, made in the 1950s, and it looks superior to the signal coming in from my cable provider on a show filmed in 2012, it makes the comparison even more ridiculous.

How long before all channels are HD? This is the solution, the one that has to, and certainly will, happen. Any network that doesn’t convert will be lost to modern television watchers. Cable companies that offer more HD options will gain more subscribers. It’s definitely a trend many people want.

Funny enough, as technology improves, our patience shortens. HD has not been around long at all, and yet, SD is already becoming a thing of the past, something many people don’t want. While other conversions in history have taken much longer, it seems the lifespan given for switching from SD to HD is a scant few years.

Now, if only screeners of episodes sent out by studios for review could be in HD. Even online viewing sites are all SD. I can’t remember the last time any I received were HD, which is why, unless I have an article that needs to be done in a timely fashion, I don’t even seek them out anymore. And don’t even get me started about releases of seasons of shows that used to be sent out on Blu-ray that were instead provided on DVD this year to save money. But that only affects a small, isolated portion of the population, albeit one that is even more into TV than the normal person.

Does my strong preference for HD, to the point where I go out of my way to avoid SD, make me a TV snob? Or is it just part of how the world of television is evolving? Should I be more patient, waiting for some networks to be delivered in a modern format? Weigh in on the comments below.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for and, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website,
  • Victor Lana

    Are you a TV snob? I think not. You are paying for a service and it should have a standard of excellence. Nothing wrong with that.

  • Igor

    It’s pretty well known among engineers that the cable TV signal has extra compression that degrades it from the original.

    Thus, here where I have HDTV Over-The-Air TV direct from broadcast towers the signal is much better than cable. So I don’t have cable, and I don’t want it.

    Another good reason for watching PBS!

  • Costello

    A snob? No, but complaining you don’t get free stuff the way you want it does make you look like a petty narcissist considering all the problems in the world. Tell the families of the Newton massacre how rough life is dealing with low grade DVDs

  • Jerome Wetzel

    Costello – Well, most things sound petty if you compare them to something like that!

    I try not to complain too often, but it would be nice if they sent quality stuff instead of lower grade. Though they are not “free.” I work very hard on my writing and make very little money, and if I didn’t do all the work I do, I wouldn’t get them.