A non-hi-def experience.

Tuesday, December 7th, 2004

Shelley Palmer, a NY based composer and technology maven who does a blog on the latter for NATAS (the Emmy people) is not having a good time with the High Definition DVR set-top box provided by Time Warner in New York, the SA8000HD:

What is your personal tolerance for losing your recorded material? In the pre-DVR world, you might lose a videotape. In a DVR world, you may/will lose your hard drive. Do you care that every hard drive error is going to cost you everything you have recorded for the past week or two? Time Warner Cable is extremely nice about replacing SD8000HD boxes. They will make an appointment to swap out your box in about a week. More of a pain … how do you feel about reprogramming all of your recording preferences and profile preferences when they give you the new box? I’ve done it eight times in 45 days and you know what … it sucks!

Oh, yeah you know your DVR is always recording, right? Of course you know, thats why the resolution of your already degraded, compressed signal looks even worse on a DVR box. It must constantly record what you are watching to function (otherwise you could not have pause and rewind available all of the time) so when you loose a hard drive, you dont have television. Small problem? I dont think so!

How do you feel about paying extra for HD programming? Yes, you already subscribe to ESPN but that doesnt entitle you to ESPNHD. Nope, thats part of an additional package $8.95 more monthly. Now how much will you pay? The good news is that youll also get InHD and HDNet in the package, if you call that good news. Just how high can your cable bill go? Theyre testing the limits of my endurance, but I dont think there is an upward limit.

How often will you want to make a VHS of something (like the kids or someone you know on a local news channel or a friend being featured on some game show)? Not with a Time Warner Cable SA8000HD box. Thats simply not possible unless your consumer VHS machine has a component input. If youre wondering if yours does, trust me it doesnt! How about the 300 plus non-HD channels, they must be available through the video outputs or the RF out or the S-Video out? Uh, what part of not possible didnt you understand!

And last, but not least just how bad can standard definition look? Watch any of the 300 non-HD channels and form your own opinion. Forget about the two second channel changing and aspect ratio adjustment, just watch. It is a sub-optimal experience in the extreme.

BTW, there are only four local television stations in the United States that are shooting their local news in HD and none of them are in New York, so all of the local programming on the HD channels is upconverted and it looks like it!

So, this holiday season, before you rush out to buy your HD/Home Theater System, find a friend who has a system like the one you want to purchase and spend a few minutes at watching TV at their house. After all, what is emotionally satisfying to one man well, you know the rest.

When I hear about all cable TV moving to digital, I think about experiences like this. I know that Sammy has little tolerance for slow channel-changing (our analog cable zips through channels as fast as the TV), as do I…so no, I don’t think we’ll be jumping in this direction anytime soon.