Sharper at a cost

When my “bonus” came in at the end of last year I decided to buy myself a new television, but only because the old one was a CRT model which took up a Hell of a lot of space I didn’t have to spare. When shopping around for flat-screens I choose on size, not so much on features. Now it happens that Japan is in a bit of a switch as it is changing to a digital signal, or rather is abandoning its analog signals, in the coming few years, with 2012 being the deadline I think. All televisions on sale boast to be full HD, ready for the switch, and there are no CRTs to be found. So I end up having a full 1080 HD television more due to timing than desire, as the whole high definition race is somewhat lost on me. I know I shouldn’t extrapolate a generalized viewpoint from the small sample that are my colleagues and the few people I know, but I would guess this is the standard in Japan; high definition is nice but I can take it or leave it.

For me the extra resolution is nice, but I am damned if I’m going to spend another 100,000 Yen for a BluRay or HD-DVD player or 50,000 for a game console to be able to benefit from it. At a fraction of the price and with a much wider selection DVD is still good enough for me. Audiovisual fanatics should shake their heads in amazement when they hear I bought the cheapest, region-free DVD player I could find and attached it to my full HD television using simple AV cables. I bought a D-cable for my Wii and though it does make the image noticeably sharper, if, in some weird parallel universe, I was forced to go back to the regular AV cables then, you know, that’s fine; I can live with that. I am always surprised when game otaku berate the Wii for not offering high-definition, as if it was some crime or stone-age throwback.

When I ask around my colleagues all seem fairly unfazed by it too. Few have HD televisions and few really care. One colleague was proudly boasting that he had watched a BluRay film, King Kong I believe it was, on his PS3. “Was the picture a lot better?” I asked. “I don’t really know, it’s hard to tell.” “The difference is not that pronounced, is it?” “No, it’s just that you can’t really see the difference on a 14 inch television.” Even I was taken aback by this revelation. “Everything,” he says “looks pretty good on 14 inches”, which is very true.

As such Sony and Microsoft’s proud boasts of high-definition gaming probably had very little effect on the Japanese market. Especially when it comes to gaming it is more the products rather than the delivery which counts. Blue Dragon seems to be appreciated by those few people I know who’ve played it, but none of them mentioned high-definition as anything other than an unimportant box blurb. When I ask why some of my colleagues are considering buying an Xbox360, as I am myself, it is usually some game they are interested in and not a desire to finally see game images a little sharper. Similarly the idea that the PS3 isn’t so much a game console as a “cheap” BluRay player only makes people shrug and say “well, you know, whatever. My television isn’t HD so why bother?”

I guess the rabid fanaticism with which westerners, especially Americans, seem to have embraced high-definition is a little puzzling to me. I guess it may have something to do with having paid for a feature and damn well wanting it used. You have a fully HD television so anything that is displayed had better be in full HD or else why would you have bothered? That’s a perfectly valid viewpoint, of course, it’s just not one I share. And somewhat surprisingly Japan has always been a little behind on these kinds of matters. Don’t forget that DVD only really took off with the PS2,

For me, I’ll probably be fully hidef some time in the future, but only when things become cheap enough. As I mentioned, I have no intention on spending vast amounts of money to see a bad film in slightly better resolution when DVD still rocks my boat. I am also prudently waiting until either BluRay or HD-DVD comes out a clear winner. With the amounts of money involved I’d hate to be backing the wrong horse. Until then I am perfectly satisfied with low-definition, as long as the contents are entertaining.


  1. I am not completely unexcited by HD. After all, regular TV is horribly blurry and low resolution. This, of course, doesn't mean that I can't stand playing on it anymore -far from. But to say that I don't like the sound of high quality TV would be ridiculous. Of course the higher the quality, the better. Having played the likes of Gears of War on an 80" HD-ready TV is an amazing experience. In this sense, I welcome the HD era. But I am relatively uninterested in rushing out and buying an expensive TV for it. I'll wait until the prices drop, like any sane Dutchman.

  2. You could always buy one of those new (expensive) hybrid players that run both HD and BR discs.

    I would buy a HD ready telly if more than 5% of digital channels in the UK were transmitted in HD (and with Sky, you have to pay extra to view the same channels such as SkyOne in higher resoltuion). As far as I am aware, the UK has a similar plan with digital switchover, sometime in the next 6-7 years.

    As far as buying a next-gen system goes, I'll agree that its odd when games aren't the deciding factor for people. Also, Sony can keep their PS3 at its current £425 price tag ;)

  3. Yep gonna wait for the tide to turn and produce a winner of sorts before i purchase. First DVD I'm gonna buy is one of those nature documentaries...its unbelieveable on HD.

  4. I'm a little surprised by the results so far. I guess that people are less excited about it all than marketing would have us believe. The disparity between the jump in quality and the jump in price is getting wider. VHS to DVD was visibly worth the price, but I guess DVD to hidef just doesn't seem worth the admission, YET.
    Of course, Roderick, if you see stuff in HD it is lovely. I wouldn't mind all my games, tv and films in HD but I'm just not willing to pay what they're asking.

  5. I'll be interested enough when I have the money to buy a HD TV and assorted inputs, but till then that's money that could be spent on beer and computer games!

  6. You've played Zelda: TP on the Wii. I know you must have gotten annoyed by the low resolution when trying to read the subtitles at some point. For me it was really annoying as the game is filled with Japanese words I haven't heard before, so I'm often looking them up in my dictionary. The trouble is that often the kanji are so tiny that it is IMPOSSIBLE to read them... More resolution would have helped here... or maybe the D cable you mentioned would have helped :)

    Of course, for someone who can fluently read Japanese, the fact that the text is sometimes a bit difficult to see is probably not a problem as there are many other factors that can aid one's comprehension of a language if not all the information is there.

    Aside from that, I don't have any real incentive to splash out a large sum of money on a HDTV and expensive game console just to jump on the HD bandwagon.

    I know that by 2011 I will be able to buy a better tv for less money AND get a PS3/360 for about half the price with a large library of software and (hopefully) healthy second hand market. Besides, god knows there are more important things in life than watching TV and playing games*

    For now I can experience HD at the office anyway, as we have two large TVs in the game corner and plenty of high resolution PC monitors that I can play games on.


    *not that I do any of these things.

  7. "Of course, for someone who can fluently read Japanese, the fact that the text is sometimes a bit difficult to see is probably not a problem"

    I don't know. You'd have to ask someone who's fluent.
    It's true that hidef will make life a little easier for Japanese 2D artists burdened with the task of creating bitmap fonts. But let's not start that again.

  8. I really don't understand how people can be so cold towards HD: doesn't thinking your TV is displaying stuff at a resolution lower than PCs from the early nineties make you cringe?
    I know I have always ended up buying the PC versions of multiplatform titles, even when they were clearly meant to be played on an analog controller, only to play in an acceptable resolution.