Muchos pixels de MPEG2.

Wednesday, September 27th, 2006

Cory Doctorow may be right when he says that ultimately HDTV will be bad for consumers—and Hollywood—if DRM content (or the people who pay the creators for that content) are allowed to dictate how and under what circumstances it’s played…but right now, the free, over-the-air broadcasts of high definition television, as brought into our homes via the tiny Miglia/EyeTV TVMini HD box are quite addictive.

We’ve been sucking in many many pixels and watching them, Tivo-style, on either our venerable standard-def Sony TV, or, in much better quality, on our small but pixel-rich black MacBook, which is quite happy taking a high-definition stream recorded in my office, via an ethernet cable to the attic, where our wifi transmitter sprays it out and around our house, and into the waiting wifi antenna of the MacBook. I can’t even begin to explain how many transformations of packets this is, but the reality is that it ends up being pretty much the same rich, colorful, high-quality collection of bits representing picture and sound that left the edit room in Los Angeles.

Just as a small example, take a look at this image…it’s three unscaled crops from three full HTDV 1920 x 1080 pixel frames from last night’s Gilmore Girls. These are not paricularly close up shots…that is, there’s a lot more in the frame…but look how much is there. Particularly notice the white points of light in the actresses’ eyes that cinematographers work hard to accentuate…work that’s totally lost to standard def television.

Not only is this a richer experience (16 x 9 is such a lovely aspect ratio) but it solves a number of pesky problems. Take Gilmore Girls (yes, we watch it, we enjoy it, so there you are), now available in Atlanta on the alleged CW network, which in point of actual fact means that it’s broadcast on WUPA (analog) Channel 69, which doesn’t come in well over-the-air and, ironically, is placed on our Comcast analog cable channel 10, which suffers from interference from WXIA’s analog transmitter (not far from our house.) So the picture sucks in both places.

But! There’s also WUPA-DT, the digital television signal for that same channel, free, and over-the-air, and in…high definition! So that means we really only have once choice, and it’s a good one. And it gives us the option of watching House, broadcast at the same time, in plain old Comcast analog SD…although, damn, it too looks a lot cleaner in HD 16 x 9.

Well, I guess we could always buy a second TVMini HD (the software supports multiple units!) and record both shows, but that brings me back to a..well, a bit management problem.

Just as people with Tivos that have accumulated lots of shows that they’ve seen, I need to have a little discipline and say goodbye to these shows after we’ve seen them once…because, well, they are huge files, and they’re beginning to choke my 500GB (half a terabyte!) main hard drive on my G5. Gilmore Girls with commercials trimmed: 5.6GB. Studio 60: 4.7 GB. Both more data than will fit on a single 4.6GB DVD recordable.

So it’s probably better that we get used to viewing these as a stream of fine entertainment that flows into our house…and then flows into the desktop trash can without too much delay. That is, unless of course, I export tinier versions to my iPod…