Do You Dream in HD?

Back in the day when dinosaurs roamed the earth the question was: “Do
we dream in black and white or colour?” Pondering the advent of colour
television and film, this question wondered if it was really all that
big a deal.

Well, of course it was, as the Wizard of Oz amply demonstrated. But the
question must now be rephrased to suit advances in technology: “Do we
dream in SD or HD?”

In North American we’re currently undergoing a transformation from ancient NTSC “standard definition” broadcasting (SD) to high definition (HD) television.

On paper, this migration sounds less than impressive. Basically, there are lots more pixels on a wider screen (2,000,000 vs. 480,000) and you get multi-channel stereo audio (Dolby Digital). This doesn’t sound like quite as dramatic a change as black and white to colour.

But, y’know… it’s better. Like, way better.

I caught an NHL game on CBC last week. I’m not a hockey fan, but this broadcast gave me the opportunity to compare HD to SD, head-to-head. The CBC hasn’t totally completed the conversion of their live broadcast equipment to HD so, from shot-to-shot, they’d switch back and forth between HD and SD content.

On-ice action was typically HD and you could see the players’ eyes bulging out of their sockets when they’d get slammed against the boards. It gave me a new appreciation for the pain these guys feel.

On the other hand, the SD goalie net-cam, never a bastion of video quality, now renders as a reflection in a spoon that somebody just used to eat a Dairy Queen sundae.

HD television is relatively new, and you need a special set-top box to receive it over either cable or satellite. Of course, to view HD content in all its glory, you also need a large-screen television that’s capable of handling the higher-resolution signal. Your garden-variety CRT won’t cut it.

So, to get into HD, a significant investment is required. But, y’know, it’s worth it.

This will sound funny, but the program that really demonstrated the hypnotic power of HD to me was CBC Kids’ Nanalan’. Puppets aren’t for everyone, but this show about a lime green toddler named Mona who spends days with her Nana while her mom goes to work is the perfect exhibition of HD’s quality.

Consider this: with puppets you’re pretty much in close-up view of relatively small objects, with perfect lighting all the time. So Nanalan’ is a visual celebration of fabric textures, tiny object details and eye-popping colours.

Like, I always knew Mona’s Nana had bad taste, but in HD her house is the Palace of Kitsch. Then the polished glean of Mona’s black eyes combined with the fuzzy finish of her skin elevates her to a new level of cuteness.

Of course, grown-up shows rock in HD, too. My dad and I watched House this week. It’s an American program about a surly, sarcastic doctor with a limp.

The level of discernible detail was distracting and all I could think about was how actors
should be very afraid of HD. Every wrinkle, stray hair, eyeliner mis-stroke, and pimple was there on my screen. You could make out the corneal details in the hyper-blue pupil of Dr. House’s eye.

There are a few problems with HD, of course (other than the fact that it’s really expensive to get into).

The first problem I personally have is with my television watching habits. They used to be under control.

Now pretty much every spare moment I have is spent surfing the HD channels for no reason other than to just admire HD.

The other major problem with HD is that it makes everything else — including DVDs — look like total crap. And I’m talking serious, total crap. I don’t wear glasses, but I’m sure SD is what it’s like to need them. And DVDs, once fabulously crisp and clear digital visions, are now blurry blotches of muted colour and ghostly motion.

Which brings me to the major problem with HD: there’s no going back.

After a few weeks watching HD television content I can’t bare to watch anything else. Luckily there’s plenty of quality content being produced for and broadcast in this new medium.

As for dreaming, I don’t think my brain is capable of generating images this clear. But I may be mistaken, as you actually have to sleep to dream. And I haven’t done that since HD hit my household.

First published in the Yukon News on Friday, November 18, 2005

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