Monday, February 25, 2008

More than I want to know (HD TV will probably suck):

Douglas Hofstadter, in Gödel, Escher, Bach, imagined trying to analyze a novel at the "dot" level: you would make a computer scan of every page in high resolution, perhaps a million dots per square inch. Then you would run statistical analyses on these dots, perhaps even on recognizable aggregate patterns of the dots, and so on. You might write an essay on artistic variations within the letter 'A'. Chances are, no matter how detailed your work, you would have trouble deciding whether the book was a romance or a comedy, or whether the writing was good quality.

When I was young, people enjoyed a little joke that, I think, has fallen out of favor, because in this modern world, it's not funny. But let me tell you about it: A girl, about ten, is asked to read a book about penguins and review it. Her review "This book tells me more about penguins than I wanted to know."

The people who make pornographic movies looked forward to HD TV with excitement. But when they sank into his medium, they discovered that they may have gone too far. They now devote time to excessive makeup beforehand, and excessive post-processing, because the inquiring camera picks up previously unnoticeable body defects that detract from the organs in question: tiny warts, moles, blotches and scratches.

Pardon me for seeming to wander all over, but here's where I'm going: In my motel yesterday, the lounge TV displayed the High Definition Weather Channel. The screen was about 18" by 30", rock solid images. To what point? It takes real intelligence to compose video that needs all that clarity. And the weather channel, which also broadcasts in low def, is not going to make the effort. TV moguls have long been aware of this issue, and they tremble before the legislative fiats and technology that drive them all into HD. They barely had the creativity to fill the tiny B&W screen. Color diverted us for a while, but most TV programming is dull beyond words. How is HD, in its awful revealingness, going to help that?

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