Killing The HD Goose

Think of high-definition television as a golden egg: A bit of video magic which has conjured up billions of dollars in consumer electronics sales, brought tens of thousands of new subscribers into the folds of HD-heavy platforms and caused the launch of 16,255 new feeds in cable and telco systems across the country in just the first four months of 2008.

HD, in short, is one hot item. Never mind that most Americans can't tell the difference between HD video and the old analog pix of yesteryear. Never mind that millions of HD households have the set but not the programming. Never mind even that HD may be only a passing phase on the way to 3D TV Nirvana.

HD is ... and will likely remain for many years ... a vitally important part of the video programming landscape. We found out just how important it is a few months ago when our parent company, Media Business Corp, launched a website known as (This website, which shows users the HD line-ups from all video providers serving their ZIP code, is how we happen to know how many terrestrial feeds have been added so far this year.) Shortly after launch, we began to hear from consumers who are curious about what HD they can get. We began to hear from retailers looking for ways to help their sales. And we began to hear from HD bloggers eager to enlighten us on the ins and outs of HD service.

Some of that enlightenment has been discouraging. Of course, we've always known that HD video comes in many forms and formats, some of which are brilliant and some of which are considerably less than brilliant. But from what we've been hearing, and from what our research tells us, the rush to add HD services has lured many providers and programmers into a kind of faux HD-land. Bloggers and consumers are complaining about over-compression wherein some operators are cramming three HD channels into the space previously used by two, thus causing softened images and even blocking. Bloggers and consumers are also complaining about the insidious stretch-o-vision wherein a signal is "stretched" across the width of an HD screen in a poor simulation of the actual product.

Many of the very biggest names among programmers and platforms are guilty of various forms of faux HD. (You know who you are.) And maybe, for now, they can get away with it. But as HD continues to spread, consumers are going to get a whole lot smarter. Give it a little time and HD aficionados won't be the only viewers who can spot "fake" versus "real" HD quality. As that happens, we hope that multiplatform players will start insisting on the crisp, clean video quality that makes HD shine. Otherwise we run the risk of letting faux HD kill the goose that laid the golden egg.