Colbert’s in HD? So What.

Here’s another “what’s new” in the new year item. My two favorite late-night TV shows are now shown in HD – The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. In case you didn’t know the latter show is pronounced “Cole-BARE RAH-pour”, as both “T”s are silent. From this you might guess that the show is a little different than your average show. While The Daily Show makes fun of how the daily news is covered, The Colbert Report makes fun of, well, The O’Reilly Factor and shows like it.

The character that Stephen Colbert plays nightly is hardly humble or reflective. So with typical bravado, Colbert announced on his January 4th show that the Report was now in High-Def. “My opinions will be crisper, [and] my anger more saturated”, said Colbert. He proceeded to demonstrate that people watching in HD were getting 15% more show. He then chided those who watch in Standard Definition that they didn’t get to see the really cool stuff on either side of the screen. “Nobody tell the ‘Standard-Defs’ about what they’re missing”.

The larger point of this is that going High-Def does mean more picture on your screen. Previously, I was watching Colbert with black bars on the sides. Now I can see the coffee mug and the box of tissues, and it was so worth it paying for that new HDTV. But seriously, The Daily Show and Colbert were two of the final holdouts of the 4:3 screen ratio. Now the only thing that I watch with any regularity that isn’t in a 16:9 ratio is WRC-TV News from Washington D.C. Doesn’t sound like that’s going to change any time in the near future despite WRC having the areas highest rated newscast.

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
High-Definition Upgrade
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Economy

A little Blu-ray salve for my wounds

Red2Blu website pic
Red2Blu website pic

Here’s a deal from Warner Bros. Studios that is intriguing. In their effort to get me started on my Blu-ray library, they are offering to let me buy the Blu-ray version of movies that I have purchased on HD-DVD format. You remember HD-DVD right? Their “upgrade” (teehee) program works pretty simply. I Select the HD-DVD’s that I own and want to upgrade, mail in just the cover art from the original, pay $4.95 for each HD-DVD (though some titles, like Blade Runner are $14.95) and wait for 4 weeks to recieve the Blu-ray discs.

You can upgrade up to 25 discs. I have about 10 discs that need the upgrade ( I just love that term in this context. Imagine if the same deal occurred when VHS beat Beta and they called it an upgrade). I’m estimating that I’ll spend about $75 with shipping costs (which is $6.95 for the entire order), so it’s relatively reasonable. However, I’m somewhat reluctant. Spending $75 isn’t trivial these days, especially when I’ve got the movies and the player and I can even rip them to my hard drive. I haven’t purchased a dedicated Blu-ray player yet. I own three Blu-ray movies and to play them I use a Blu-ray drive in my PC hooked up to my HDTV. Switching to the Blu-ray versions of the movies will only encourage me to purchase a dedicated player sooner.

What this will do is get me thinking about my movie collection, and specifically the future of my collection. Not that I haven’t been trying to figure that out for the last several years. Where do physical discs fit into the future? I’m still working on that one. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

What is HD video? Even Mark Cuban gets it wrong

Tekzilla screen grab

Mark Cuban has lots of ideas. His best one was back in the late ’90s when he decided to create a webcasting business that was ultimately sold for millions of dollars to Yahoo! Cuban may well have another great idea to save Internet video, but I’ll leave commenting on his ideas to a possible future post. Mark should know something about HD video. He is the Chairman of HDNet, a cable television network that broadcasts exclusively in high definition (HD).

HDNet is one of the few networks that has original HD programming, and by that I mean an independent network broadcasting exclusively in HD. HDNet’s Dan Rather Reports is an example of original HD programming. Depending on who your cable provider is, you may or may not have HDNet available to you. Without getting into the sordid details about why, you likely will have either HDNet or a network known as Mojo available with your cable or satellite provider, or with fiber-optic systems such as Verizon’s FiOS, or AT&T’s U-verse.

So Mark Cuban started a business and is one of the leaders of a company that produces HD video. It is with that knowledge that makes this statement so confusing:

100pct (sic) of the internet video that you see offered on the net as HD, is not HD. Plain and simple.

He then offers the following definition (of sorts):

What is HD video ? HD Vidoe (sic) is video you can watch on a screen of ANY size and say…”that looks good, almost as good as it can get “.

My purpose here is not to picks nits, but if that is his definition of HD video, then by who’s standard do we define “looks good” and “as good as it can get”? Look, there are lots of sites, services, and networks trying to distribute HD video on the Internet, or at least what they self-define as HD video. I should also point out that high definition video on the web is mostly a buzzword, and Cuban’s definition doesn’t help.

Here, let me define HD video. It is digital video that is represented by the minimum dimensions of 1280×720 pixels (720p). Now was that so hard? You can also take a look at the Wikipedia entry for high definition video for many more details. Having tendered those definitions, it should also be said that like all things digital, there is a quality factor that can affect how good HD video looks.  It is generally represented by what is known as bit rate. It is also something that most directly relates to the fudge factor that gets used on some supposed HD video sites. Again, the details start to get way too complicated in terms of what makes good (and bad) HD video, so let’s just stop before we hurt ourselves.

What makes Cuban so wrong is that there are good, and successful, attempts at providing HD video through the web. The screen grab at the top of this post is from one of these Internet TV networks called Revision3. The show is called Tekzilla, and by every measurement that I know of it is high definition. The basic specs of the video are, 1280×720 pixels (again 720p), h.264 video codec, AAC audio. It’s video quality that I’ve raved about before.

There’s a great way to check out more HD content by using software called Miro. It is similar to iTunes, but geared toward online video, and it provides good quality HD programming. If you check out their Miro Guide, you can check out some of the HD choices. I use it on my home theater PC which is connected to my Pioneer Plasma and it looks good, almost as good as it can get. Oh, sorry. That definition is taken. So what’s with Cuban’s 100% not HD statement? Is it because it’s not Blu-ray quality? Well, it will be a while before we are downloading 20GB files to watch on our HDTVs. Is it because it isn’t the same quality as HDNet? Well, no, Tekzilla probably doesn’t use XDCAM HD (cameras that still sell for over $20,000). However, it looks as good as a lot of the broadcast HD content out there, because it not further compressed by the cable or satellite company. All of this technology (do I have to say it?) is constantly improving. Codecs are being developed that will surpass what we have today that will deliver higher quality at equivalent bit rates. Cuban’s standard sounds like something that we may never achieve, and when it comes down to the basic definition of HD video, he’s wrong.