"More than 40 high-definition cameras...will be used to tape action at this
years... Olympics" according to an article in Scientific American.
This arrival of high-definition broadcasting was proclaimed not for the recent
2008 Olympics in Beijing, but for the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France.
Viewers in Japan and Europe already had quality analogue high definition television.
But not the United States.
After years of foot-dragging, we eventually opted for a digital system.. Another
Scientific American article proclaimed "Digital Television: Here At Last"
and "Within a few months television in North America will undergo a change
as fundamental and sweeping as the advent of color." That was May 1998 .
Today, sixteen years after the 1992 Olympics, we are finally seeing a timid transition
to high definition TV. It has been a slow process, because we have left the decisions
to the market place.
As long as very few of us owned a high definition set, businesses were unwilling
to buy advertising to a missing audience.
And when it comes to new technology, Americans have plenty of experiences to make
us gun-shy. Eight-track versus cassette. VHS versus Beta videotapes. And then
HD DVD versus Blu-Ray. When Toshiba pulled their HD DVD players from the market,
they had only sold a million units. At over $300 a unit, that is about a third
of a billion dollars we wasted!
With just the one Blu-Ray platform, are we now ready to make the conversion to
HD in homes and classrooms? Can we push our videotape and regular DVD players
into the classroom closets? Not yet. There is almost no HD media for the science
Wont the "switch-over" next February give us HD? No. That is a
switch to a digital signal, not high definition. In spite of all the hype by cable
and satellite companies, they are not the same thing.
Our old televisions work on what is known as the NTSC system. There are 515 horizontal
lines shot from top to bottom of the TV screen. This determines the "resolution" or fine detail of the picture. On our big conventional TVs, you can see the grainy
picture, similar to a newspaper halftone picture close-up. With a regular television
and converter box, you will still get 515 lines of resolution. Compared to high
definition, it is still a fuzzy picture.
Genuine high definition has 1080 lines of resolution from top to bottom, although
in the United Stateswhere we do not realize the quality of HDmany
people are buying a halfway "high definition" set with 720 lines of
Letting commercial interests and the marketplace decide among multiple standards
has slowed our adoption of high-definition television, wasted our money, and held
back quality viewing.
The 16mm film projectors and 2"x2" slide projectors gave us quality
viewing in the classroom. Large screen images with infinite pixels and full range
color commanded students attention as it would at a theater. Schools replaced
that "old technology" with low resolution videotapes, first on small
TVs and then with big fuzzy ceiling projectors, and students responded with the
casualness and lack of attention of home TV viewing.
Earlier this year, I ordered a high definition unit installed in our lecture room.
But I had to test it with a rented movie! American educational companies have
not stepped up to produce high-resolution media for the classroom because we,
the American public, have considered our old fuzzy TVs to be "good enough." And public media drives educational media. There is the possibility that U.S.
students may never see the quality images that were available to students several
This year, the New Years resolution we needis high-resolution media.
We are 16 years behind the rest of the world!
John Richard Schrock trains biology teachers and lives in Emporia.