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HDTV Update: FOX Finally Joins In - From The Home Theater Archives 2004

FOX television finally comes to its senses on HDTV

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Updated December 10, 2008
The road to HDTV hasn't been a smooth one. Lack of logical leadership from the government side has caused confusion over standards and timetables. In addition, lack of enthusiastic co-operation between broadcasters, cable/satellite providers, and manufacturers has injected further confusion for retailers on how to sell HDTV and consumers as what products to buy, how to use them, and to what programs are actually available in HDTV.

However, despite this, HDTV is making progress with more affordable products and accessible programming, making it an increasing viable choice for the consumer. There are more local TV stations installing the needed hardware to implement HDTV. Satellite services and a Cable TV providers are providing an increasing number of HDTV feeds. Programming providers, such as Showtime, HBO, Discovery, ESPN, HDnet, and all of the major networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, and WB) are dedicating more broadcast hours to HDTV. However, there has been one major network lagging behind: FOX.

In my 2002 article: "Fox Turns Chicken On HDTV?" (refer to link in sidebar under "Additional Resources" for more details), I reported on the fact that FOX chose not to broadcast the 2002 Superbowl in HDTV as other network hosts had done earlier. FOX opted, instead, to broadcast the Superbowl and some of its other programming in a 16x9 enhanced 480p widescreen format. Although, its commitment to 480p falls within the FCC guidelines regarding the turnover to DTV broadcasting, it is not HDTV. Basically, 480p is the same resolution as progressive scan DVD, which may be adequate, but does not give its viewer the true potential of the current state-of-art in television broadcasting capability. The best analogy is the the comparision of 480p to HDTV to the comparison of the inferior video quality VHS to that of DVD. Or, putting it another way, VHS has half the resolution of DVD and DVD is half the resolution of HDTV.

All of this is about to change: FOX recently announced that it is is ready to begin HDTV broadcasting for Fall 2004 (Refer to links to related articles on the "Elsewhere On The Web" sidebar). FOX is adopting the 720p format, which is the same format already in use by ABC. CBS, NBC, and WB have all the adopted the 1080i HDTV format. In addition, FOX announced tentative HDTV feeds for its sports cable and satellite networks.

Although it is isn't clear how long FOX's HDTV turnover will take, since it requires a large financial and logistical committment for it to play catch-up with its competitors, it is very good news for both other programming providers, television makers, retailers, and even its network competitors.

By making the broadcast HDTV commitment almost complete (UPN has not made an HDTV decision yet), FOX has given HDTV viewers more choice in HDTV programming, television manufacturers additional incentive to make more DTV/HDTV products (especially TVs with 720p display capability - most HDTVs either upconvert 720p to 1080i or downconvert it to 480p), and studio executives more incentive to finance productions with HDTV in mind. This cycle benefits everyone interested in HDTV.

More details on its future HDTV program schedule will be forthcoming, but if early announcements pan out, by Fall 2004 excellent shows like "24", "Malcom In The Middle" "That 70's Show", and "Boston Public" could be given the HDTV treatment. One the other hand, do we really need "American Idol" and "Joe Millionaire" in HDTV? Just think, if FOX News goes HD, we will be able to see Bill O'Reilly in all of his "colorful" detail.

Let's hope that FOX's metamorphosis from "Chicken" to "Chicken Hawk" on the issue of HDTV results not only in maintaining state-of-art technology, but a rising commitment to excellence in cutting-edge programming. If FOX had moved towards adopting HDTV earlier, events, such as the 2002 Super Bowl and quality programs, like "The X-Files" could have played a significant role in the HDTV landscape.

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