Hopping On The HD Bandwagon?

I've been thinking a lot lately about finally making the move to HD. I've got a number of reasons why, a number of stumbling blocks making me continue to hesitate, and some possible solutions towards overcoming those hang-ups.

First, the reasons why…

My current (and very old) standard def television is on it's last legs. It has been for a while, and I would be surprised if it hangs in there much longer. Regardless of how much longer it hang in, the picture is terrible and the sound worse. At some point soon, I'm very likely to have to buy a new set anyway, so why not HD? It would seem kinda silly to buy an SD set at this point, prices are finally almost reasonable for HD sets and there's a acceptable amount of HD content available.

I want to get an Apple TV for viewing video podcasts on my television, and it only supports HD. Currently, I subscribe through iTunes, use VisualHub to convert them to a Tivo-compatible format, copy them to the Tivo, and then watch them. There's just too many steps involved there. With an Apple TV, there's only two easy steps: suscribe via iTunes, watch content. The convert/copy steps aren't terribly complicated, but they are time consuming. To use one example: The average episode of DL.TV is about 50 minutes long. Conversion takes 20-25 minutes, then an additional 5-10 minutes to transfer it wirelessly to the Tivo. That's 25-35 minutes for a 50 minute program, and that's not even taking into account the inevitable quality loss that comes from the transcoding.

On a lesser note, I'd also like to get an X-Box 360 sometime in the next few months, and it seems silly to be playing that in SD, especially as I'm spoiled by hi-res PC graphics. Plus, I'd just like to watch what HD content is available in HD, both via cable and via the internet.

Now, the hang-ups…

The big one would be my Tivo. My current Series 2 doesn't support HD, and the $800 price tag for a Series 3 is absurd. No way I'm spending that kind of cash for the box, especially when there's still a monthly charge on top of that. The cable company DVR isn't an option, I had one of those and they're garbage. They don't reliably record shows, crash all the time, and are inexcusably inflexible in scheduling recordings. Myth TV might be an option, but the price would end up around that of a Tivo anyway (minus monthly charges though) and I'd lose both Tivo's ease-of-use and, more importantly, it's Tivo Suggestions predictive recording. I've discovered a number of new and interesting programs that I would never have seen otherwise, were it not for the Tivo recording it for me.

More so that the X-Box 360, I really want a Nintendo Wii. The Wii, however, does not support HD and will therefore have to be upsampled to HD resolution, losing quality. A minor quibble, as the Wii really isn't about the graphics anyway, but a quibble nonetheless.

There's also the lack of a compelling HD media format. The HD-DVD/Blu-Ray debacle is a train wreck at this point. No way I'm jumping on either format, I'll let someone else decide the battle and be stuck with the modern equivelant of a stack of beta videocassettes.

Finally, the vast majority of content out there is still SD and, as with the Wii, will have to be upsampled at the expensive of quality to view on am HD set.

The solutions and conclusions…

The quality issues with both SD content and the Wii aren't a big deal-breaker. Frankly, even upsampled content will look better than it does on my current SD set. It's an old set, and the picture quality is terrible. Nowhere to go but up, really.

The lack of HD media isn't a big issue either. I find myself rarely wanting to buy an DVD's anymore as it is, in no small part to the increasing frequency of endless unskippable commercials forced on me at the start of a DVD. I gave up on buying physical media for audio years ago with the advent of the iPod, I suspect video content isn't far behind.

The Tivo is a bit more troubling though. The thought I had was to get the new HD cable box, but keep my old SD box as well. Use a splitter to run the SD box (I watch a lot of programs off the digital channels, so the box is still required) into the Tivo for all it's functionality, and the HD box straight into the TV. Sure, I won't be able to record any hi-def content with the Tivo, but HD content is still rather scarce over cable anyway. I just need to make sure to buy a TV that has enough inputs to handle this, and confirm with the cable company that they'll even allow me to do this (not that I wouldn't figure out a way to do it anyway.) It's a kludge, to be sure, but it only has to last until Series 3 Tivos come down to a more reasonable price (or another compelling option presents itself.)

I suppose the last real hurdle left is the expense involved. All this new technology won't come cheap!