Some 1.8 million people thronged the National Mall in Washington, DC, for the Obama inauguration; another 38 million watched it live on US television. Global viewership was in the hundreds of millions.
The only thing which beats that hollow is a sports event.
I’m as far from being a sports fan as a penguin from a polar bear (pop quiz: how far’s that?), but I can’t forget the charged air of the megasports. And all the TV.
At a Super Bowl final years ago, on giant outdoor screens at a party in Florida – we ignored the barely-clad hostesses and gaped at the screens. This championship game of the US National Football League is the USA’s most-watched TV broadcast – 90 million viewers, peaking to 140 million.
India’s top TV viewing spike was probably during the Twenty20 ICC World Cup in September 2007, in South Africa. There were traffic jams as people rushed home to stare at a historic match, finally ending with a nail-biting last over, where a likely sixer could have swung things Pakistan’s way – but then it turned into a catch, and India won the World Cup.
And there was the 2006 FIFA World Cup, among the most watched events in history, with over 26 billion non-unique viewers through the July tournament. I recall sitting in a Delhi hotel coffee shop, with dozens milling around plasma TV screens near midnight: that final had an audience of over 715 million, watching a tightly-drawn match until Italy beat France 5-3 in a penalty shootout.
Through modern history, the big boosts to entertainment tech happened not gradually, following new products, but in spurts, with mega sports events.
In the US, years of HDTV broadcasts by Nat Geo and Discovery couldn’t do half of what one Super Bowl did.
The FIFA World Cup 2006 in Germany spurred entertainment tech in Europe, and HDTV got its mass programming. Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB) came alive, with portable digital TV sets. And the final push toward LCD and plasma TVs signalled the death of tube TVs. I recall IFA Berlin in 2005, one of the world’s top consumer tech shows, packed with digital TV tech ahead of the next year’s FIFA Cup.
This is not unique to the West. Asiad 1982 brought colour TV to India. Twenty20 and IPL kick-started LCD TV sales in this tube-television country. And India’s TV industries suffered a blow in 2007, when India exited early from the Cricket World Cup 2007, and viewership dropped to near-zero.
Starting with less than 100 sets and one channel in 1962, TV now reaches over 100 million Indian homes, and a half billion people.
We have, however, few mega sports events. Nor does India do well enough in big global ones like the Olympics, to give a big TV viewer boost and spur new tech.
So all eyes in the TV industries are on the big sports events ahead: the IPL this summer, and the Commonwealth Games 2010 in Delhi. The latter could be the tipping point when the never-say-die tube TV goes to bed, replaced by slim LCD panels; and when HDTV goes live.
So should you buy HDTV? Of course. If you’re buying an LCD or plasma TV set now, it doesn’t make sense not to buy one that is not HD-ready. Luckily, many of them are HD-ready.
The jump from standard to HD is as big as the shift from black-and-white to colour. HDTV has over twice the sharpness of standard TV, life-like colour – all the more important if you’re buying a large screen TV – 32 inch or bigger, where you can really make out the difference – and CD quality sound.
There’s various types of HDTV sets, but ‘full HD’ is 1080p, or 1,080 lines. The p is for progressive scan, which means a better picture than interlaced (as in 1,080i). Half-HD is 720 lines. Your old TV has 625 lines for the PAL system we use.
The other thing to look for is the connector. Some sets may have only component video (three little round plugs) but the better ones will have DVI or HDMI. If you use your old composite-video cable (a little yellow plug) then you won’t get HDTV.
And then you need HDTV programming! There are no HDTV channels in India yet. You could for now use a Blu-Ray player to see HD movies. A few HD sets do improve the picture quality of standard television too, but it’s nothing like true HDTV programming. But hold your horses and wait – for the next really big game...
Prasanto K Roy ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) is chief editor at CyberMedia, publisher of 15 specialty titles such as Dataquest and Living Digital