No HDTV for Me

Written by Chris Caines

January 6, 2006 // 3:56 p.m.

Tags: #column #console #digital #hdmi #hdtv #high-definition #j-allard #sdtv #widescreen #xbox-360

Companies: #microsoft

Oh how high upon the horses of technology people are.

I was hoping not to write an article on the XBox 360 for some time, not least until I actually had one handy to play with, however the more I read on the subject I'm about to add to, the more it riles me.

If I read one more dismissive, arrogant, uninformed statement about how the 360 is useless on anything other than an High Definition TV (HDTV), I'm going to scream.

"Well, I last bought a television six years ago and guess what, it's still working just fine now. CRT televisions last forever, at least in the electronics product life cycle."

Let's review the argument for a second (note this is primarily from HDTV owners as opposed to Microsoft themselves), the general premise states that because the 360 is a next generation console, it's not designed for Standard Definition TV (SDTV) therefore all those whining old technophobes should go out and buy one and get rid of the piece of old junk sat proudly in their living room. Hey, what about the 'old junk' they only bought three years ago when it was already the next big thing (remember when Widescreen was THE thing to own?)

Firstly, whilst I don't often go in for Microsoft bashing, if MS truly believed that no-one other than HDTV owners should be playing their new console, then J Allard is more out of touch with 'da people' than I first gave him credit for. Honestly, I thought the re-invention of his image was quite a snazzy thing, however I didn't realise he'd sweepingly apply it to re-inventing other people's household purchases as well.

Although Microsoft have more than a passing interest in ensuring that digital content is run over a protected medium such as HDMI/HDPC, they don't make HDTV's and I can only assume their mentality is such that they really are so disjointed from the actual buying public they assume everyone in the world owns an HDTV, or has so much spare cash that once they've bought their new console, they'll pop next door and pick up a 42" HDTV ready LCD screen on Daddy's credit card to go with it (much in the same way that Apple assume all the people of the world are frappuccino drinking marketing suckups who don't actually have to pay the bills inside their minimalist white walled glass-ceilinged mansion and make a million pounds a year from blogging to pay for all their shiny hardware).

Conversely, to be fair to Microsoft, maybe they didn't consider that at all and just figured that the XBox 360 games would be fine on a SDTV anyway, much like the current Xbox. I have been reliably informed that this is the case and in fact many of the games look just as good (or bad depending on your viewpoint) in terms of viewing quality as the original Xbox. In which case surely we should be rejoicing, as I intended to do, in the beauty of next generation console technology bringing you just damn faster and more awe-inspiring games? Anyone with an ounce of technojoy is going to look past the definition they've been used to on a SDTV and see the quantum leap in pure gaming power.

That said, why don't I have an HDTV you may ask, or more specifically, why didn't I get one the last time I bought a new television?

Well, I last bought a television six years ago and guess what, it's still working just fine now. CRT televisions last forever, at least in the electronics product life cycle. Seriously, go into any household and look for the two pieces of standard electrical equipment which people will have had for years and I guarantee you they will be the Fridge and the Television.

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Six years ago if I was wondering round Comet and I said to my wife, "You know what, we ought to get a High Definition TV just in case someone comes actually comes out with some content for it in the next 10 years" I might as well of suggested buying a diamond-studded sink plunger as it would have cost me a fortune and sat there doing nothing for just as long.

So what do we have now, a tiny percentage of the population with HDTV who bought theirs in the last, what, two years maybe? (Yeah, sure you bought yours five years ago but I believe you come under the marketing categorisation of 'negligible' for the purpose of this argument) and even then they were the risk takers, given most television providers have been dragging their heels on HDTV for years and no-one except rabid technophiles and water-cooler willy wavers had any incentive to buy one.

"...all I read is diatribe after diatribe from people who respectfully inform me that "I suck" due to not owning a HDTV."

Still all I read is diatribe after diatribe from people who respectfully inform me that "I suck" due to not owning a HDTV. "Just go out and get one" they dismissively chirp from their IKEA glass table, "who the hell buys an SDTV these days?". Well, no-one and I certainly wouldn't (besides the fact you can get a ripping widescreen SDTV for peanuts these days which would happily last me another ten years) however what people are forgetting is that not all technology is happening now, televisions especially. People have no reason to upgrade and especially not for a poxy console and the four channels Sky decide to show in HD over the next 12 months, not least of course because choosing HDTV support in your television also adds a hefty premium for little immediate value. Believe me, if every film and programme was already shot and delivered in HD I might reconsider, but I've got another couple of years out of my set yet before I start Jonesing.

My limited late night research shows US HDTV market penetration to be between 9% - 11%, (the assumption is that the EU is even less, given it's widely known HDTV is both more common and cheaper over the pond). Granted, whilst HDTV sales are set to grow over 70%, that's by 2009... at which time the XBox 360 will be relegated firmly to eBay.

So, my message to the manufacturers, journalists, games magazines, review websites and rich users who collectively parade around with your expanded wallets and obviously superior graphics, you're in a minority and will be for a while to come.

HDTV's time is not now, no matter how much current 360 owners say it is and by the time enough people have bought HDTV's to see the console at it's best, it'll be ancient history.
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