There are many more important things to write about, but I’ve been meaning to share a strange set of perceptions I’ve had since getting a monitor through which I can watch HDTV.
My main reaction is that it’s weird.
McLuhan considered TV a “cool” medium, in that it required the participation of the audience to resolve those blurry black and white pixels into a real image. While film and radio enjoyed higher fidelitiy, and constituted hot media, TV was cool – and invited the cynicism and objectivity of distance.
HDTV is anything but cool, in that sense. It’s crisper and more resolved than the prints of some movies I’ve seen. The characters are no longer the iconic, comicbook-like figures of regular TV, but – broadcast in such detail – they look like human beings. In many cases, that makes them a lot tougher to embrace.
Try looking at any show on HBO in HD – Deadwood, The Sopranos… Where the violence and decisions of their characters could be seen as a kind of advanced TV shorthand in the past, now they look like people (or, in some cases, actors with makeup) doing the same things. The stories lose their mythological, iconic shape, as they take on more details than I’d think their creators even intended.
HD may not pose the death of television, but it does force a change in the medium. I worry that we’ll look on the TV of the past forty years as a kind of golden age, when TV was like those great vector graphics video games. And now that the race is on to make TV as realistic as film and hi-res computer graphics, the simplicity of basic TV – like the simplicity of theater without Broadway pyrotechnics – will be something we experience in the museum or on some bizarre late-night retro special.
On the brighter side, TV will lose a certain amount of its power over us – I can promise you that. HD won’t do advertisements quite the same way. Ask any Catholic priest, or Jung, or Scott McLoud about the power of icons, and they’ll explain it the same way. Too much detail, and they lose their ability to induce our identification.
So, hello HD. Let’s see what a world without TV is like.