When HDTVs first appeared for sale in the late 1990s, they were a doubly bad deal. In addition to being prohibitively expensive, there was also very little high-def programming one could actually watch. Even if you were fortunate enough to have an HD channel or two broadcasting in your area, most of the shows weren't in HD anyway. And--years before Blu-ray--there weren't even any HD home video options, either. Most folks were lucky to see a few hours of high-def per week.
What a difference a decade makes. As we approach 2010, high-def is nearly ubiquitous, at least as far as national networks are concerned--whether you get your TV from an over-the-air antenna, cable/fiber, or satellite. Instead of having to consult enthusiast Web sites like AVS Forum to see which handful of shows are in high-def, it's now easier to list the few shows that are not yet in HD.
To that end, we did a quick survey of the current TV schedule (with a focus on the major broadcast networks). Listed below are the programs that, for whatever reason, have yet to make the jump to high-def:
ABC: "America's Funniest Home Videos," "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," "Shark Tank," "Supernanny."
CBS: "48 Hours Investigations," "The Amazing Race," "Face the Nation," "The Early Show."
CW: "America's Next Top Model."
Fox: "Family Guy," "American Dad."
My Network TV: "Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?" and "Deal or No Deal." (Note that--with the exception of WWE Smackdown--this confederation of stations has pretty much abandoned original programming in primetime.)
NBC: "The Biggest Loser," "Dateline NBC," "Meet the Press," "Last Call with Carson Daly."
It's becoming more and more difficult to find national sporting events and award shows not broadcast in HD, though they do still occasionally turn up. Live news events are less dependable, with networks often relying on standard-def cameras on site even if the in-studio content is in HD. (CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC each have HD channels, though they often use the extra screen space for additional headlines and datafeeds.)
Anecdotally, most of the major cable entertainment networks--HBO, Showtime, USA, TNT, TBS, Syfy, AMC, ESPN, FX, Bravo, Discovery Channel, National Geographic--also have excellent HD rosters. (The bigger problem, for many, is ensuring that the HD version of those channels gets added to your cable or satellite lineup.) PBS also looks to offer most of its primetime shows in HD (with the major exception of Charlie Rose).
One big notable HD holdout remains Comedy Central--but not for long. Both "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" are prepping to go high-def in 2010.
Viewers will also note that many TV commercials still remain in standard-def. (Generally, it seems that the feeds from national networks are largely made up of HD ads, but when the local affiliate or cable company cuts in with regional-specific ads, they often seem to be pillarboxed or windowboxed--a telltale sign that they're originating from a standard-def feed.)
Of course, the standard caveats apply: HD video quality varies from channel to channel, and is also highly dependent on that of your service provider. Some cable and satellite operators, for instance, compress their channels more than others to jam more stations into the available bandwidth. This can result in a softer-looking image (more DVD than HD), and/or one that has a lot of visible artifacts.
Still, it seems that HD programming is finally becoming the rule, not the exception. And to that we say: it's about time.
What do you think: Did we miss any major shows that still aren't in HD? And do you still have any favorite shows or channels that haven't yet made the high-def jump?
Disclosure: CBS TV, Showtime, and CNET are all all subsidiaries of the CBS Corporation.