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To tell the truth

In December 1956, CBS began airing the program “To Tell the Truth.” The popular evening show lasted 11 years and was responsible for helping launch the genre of quiz/celebrity television.

The idea was that three contestants were introduced to a panel of celebrities, each claiming to be the same individual (e.g., a baker, FBI man or someone with a unique job or characteristics). Host Bud Collyer would describe the real life, activities and experiences of the person each of the contestants claimed to be. The key was that two of the people were liars. The goal of the celebrity panelists was to discover through questioning who was telling the truth.

After the questioning, each celebrity panelist voted for the contestant he or she thought was really the deal. The more effective the contestants were at fooling the celebrities, the more money the imitators won. The famous closing line for each round was: “Will the real [baker , FBI man, etc.] please stand up!”

The reason for this long-winded story is based on a recent survey released by Scientific-Atlanta. From the looks of things, perhaps American TV viewers should be asking, “Will the real HDTV programming please show up!”

As of Jan. 1, 2006, some 16 million U.S. households have HDTV sets. Unfortunately, according to the Scientific-Atlanta survey, almost half (49 percent to be exact) of these homes don't have any HD service. In other words, almost half of new HD set owners aren't seeing any HDTV!

About a quarter of these new HDTV owners felt the new set gave them better reception. But, 18 percent didn't realize they needed other equipment, such as a set-top box or antenna, to receive HD.

While researching the topic, I found a professional Web site discussing this issue and was a bit surprised to find so much misinformation about the reception of HD. Several viewers said they had HD sets, yet had no plans to buy HD programming from their cable or satellite service. “It just looks better,” said one respondent about his HD set's picture sans HD programming.

Many of the posts were filled with claims and counter claims on digital vs. HD. A few examples:

  • Yes, stations would broadcast digital. But, no, it wouldn't necessarily be HD.
  • HD was digital; SD wasn't, but it could be sometimes.
  • The FCC has mandated HD broadcasts.

Then, the participants got into a discussion over screen size, numbers of pixels and interlace vs. native progressive displays. Next, the participants seemed to focus on whether an HD set would display NTSC signals better or worse than an analog set. The consensus was that if you are going to watch NTSC programming, better keep the ol' set.

Near the end of the posts, one fellow pretty much summed up my feelings about the discussion, “My head hurts; someone wake me when it's over.”

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