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What Is The Killer Application For HDTV Sports, Sopranos, HD TiVo or HD DVD Print E-mail
Wednesday, 18 September 2002
The PC industry talks about “the killer application” as if there is one program that will change the way we use computers forever. Some argue it is the Internet (as opposed to Microsoft Word, Excel or Outlook). Other analysts argue there is no such thing as a killer application.
When it comes to HDTV and the other new formats (DVD-Audio, SACD etc…), the idea of the killer application is very appealing. Consumers want plenty of content before they invest in new gear. Content providers and broadcasters want enough installed systems to justify the cost of production of new high performance content. It is a familiar catch 22 situation or early adopter AV enthusiasts.

Marc Cuban, founder of HDNet, says that HDTV’s killer application is sports programming and he makes a compelling argument. Pro and college sports have a huge fan base and under the bright lights, sports look outrageously good in HDTV. The visual impact of stunning HDTV paired with the emotional highs and lows associated with an exciting sporting event make for one hell of an entertaining way to spend an evening at home. The problem with sports being HDTV’s savior right now is the fact that sports shot in native HDTV is very expensive to produce because of the steep cost of the cameras, production equipment and more.

A cheaper way to produce tasty HDTV programming is to export very high resolution programming (movies and some TV) from 35 millimeter film to HDTV. According to one highly acclaimed TV producer from a popular CBS sitcom that is shot on film, the cost to produce an HDTV version of the show from film is about $10,000 per episode. To put the cost in perspective - $10,000 is barely more than a big budget show spends on Krispy Kremes during a week of production. Most of CBS’s prime time line up is now broadcast in HDTV with the ones that are shot on actual film and converted down to HDTV far and away looking the best. Converting shows up to HDTV ironically doesn’t look as good although it works and can be seen on programming like an HDTV feed of the local news in HDTV. With tens of thousands of movies and a good number of the best TV shows waiting to be readied for HDTV there is a tremendous amount of content that could be powering HDTV under the right circumstances.

The killer application for VHS was porn. The killer application for the internet was… well, porn. Does HDTV need Larry Flint broadcasting 24 hours a day for HDTV to be a success? Maybe not, now but what HDTV could use is more bandwidth on the satellite which could happen if DirecTV is allowed to merge with Echostar. Satellite HDTV channels need much more digital bandwidth than an NTSC channel however if the two DSS providers are allowed to merge, there will be no need to have two MTVs or two CNNFNs using up bandwidth on the same satellite. By removing redundant channels, you will have more room for more content on the dish which would directly address the complaint of each and every person who currently is setup with HDTV who all say “there just isn’t enough on HDTV.”

The next potential killer application for HDTV is the concept of an HDTV PVR (personal video recorder). It is hard to imagine watching TV without TiVo at this point in AV history. But recording HDTV is a feat reserved for the most advanced computer geeks who can actually get a feed out of an HDTV DSS receiver and get it onto a PC and then can get it back out of PC and into their HDTV. Good luck making that feat work for those of us with out an electrical engineering degree and a handful a Bics and mechanical pencils in our shirt pocket. Currently, most PVRs (TiVo and ReplayTV) have relatively small hard drives to record programming and the units with DSS receivers built in don’t have HDTV tuners yet. But how far off is all of this? 200 Gig hard drives are basically the standard in the computer industry now and you could fit an entire army of those inside a TiVo which would allow you to record HDTV and non-HDTV programming all inside of one box. The big objection from the networks is the idea of allowing us all to record HDTV on D-VHS machines. That is why all of the newest HDTV receivers have no video outs for recording HDTV. If we can keep the video signal all inside of one box, the entertainment industry most likely wont have as much of an objection and we will be able to watch the HDTV we want when we want it.

Another potential killer application for HDTV would be the mysterious “blue laser” disc that has been vaguely discussed in the last few months. With many times more storage capacity than a DVD-Video disc, it could allow you to record HDTV content on a disc thus all of the movies discussed earlier would be in play for HDTV ready discs. Bring porn back into the picture now along with nearly every other form of prerecorded video. An HDTV prerecorded disc, while seemingly very far away, could be gigantic for the mainstream success of HDTV.

With a 2006 date set for a U.S. switch over to HDTV as a standard, there is much work to be done to get the format ready for the mainstream buying public. With more and more shows and events being recorded and broadcast in HDTV, there are increasing reasons to actually consider buying a set, but the biggest hurdle is people actually seeing HDTV in action. We can talk about it all we want but if we don’t invite all of our friends over for Sunday dinner (don’t spill a meatball on your wife beater t-shirt) and some Sopranos in HDTV then our friends will simply not know how compelling HD can be.

HDTV just needs to be seen. It sells itself from there.

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