Winter 2006 Critics Poll: Pundits Split on HD

Jan 9, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Critics are supposed to be unswayed by picture quality. They watch programs at home, with friends, at work, at screenings, on displays large and small, on VHS, on DVD and via live TV. The presentation is unimportant; the play is the thing.

But then there’s high definition, which increases the traditional 480 lines of resolution to 1080 and gives television programming a rich, almost liquid depth.

Only 17 percent of critics surveyed by TelevisionWeek said they have upgraded to an HD set, but many who have admit the format skews their viewing habits (though not, of course, their reviews).

“It affects my habits considerably,” admitted Bruce Miller of the Sioux City (Iowa) Journal. “I’m less tolerant of shows that aren’t in hi-def. Yet I’m mesmerized by a woman on PBS cutting apples.”

Wrote Wayne Karrfalt of Extra Extra: “It’s slowly changing my habits as I actively seek out programming that takes advantage of the format.”

Sports, specifically football, was the most popular kind of HD programming among the critics. Among nonsports programming, several critics cited “Lost” as a particular favorite to view in hi-def. But a couple of critics noted that any lush background will suffice. “I do find myself tuning in to Discovery-type nature programs more often than I used to,” wrote Matt Roush of TV Guide.

The habits of Kevin Dickson, from In Touch Weekly, were shifted in an unusual way. Processing an HD signal through a set-top box such as a digital video recorder can sometimes downgrade the signal. So Mr. Dickson prefers to watch his HD live via an over-the-air antenna.

“I no longer use TiVo because it looks like crap on an HD set,” Mr. Dickson wrote. “So in a way I’ve returned to appointment viewing. But it’s so beautiful I don’t mind.”

Some critics said HD hasn’t changed their viewing but has made their work easier. “Other than reduced squinting it has not changed my habits, it just makes my viewing much more pleasurable,” wrote Victor Balta of The Herald of Everett, Wash.

Among those without HD sets, a couple voiced objections to upgrading. Mike Hughes of Gannett News Service wrote: “It seems like I wouldn’t be getting the typical viewer’s experience.”

Chase Squires with the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times wrote he’s “not convinced it’s something I need.”

Many critics pledged to get an HD set sometime this year. But for Albany (N.Y.) Times Union columnist Mark McGuire, it seems that the battle over whether to splurge for an HD set has already been fought and lost.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” he wrote. “Ask my wife.”