Video Killed The Radio Star -- How HDTV Revolutionized Kentucky Broadcast Sports

This is the first in a series of three sponsored posts by Samsung Electronics Company.

Think about the first time you saw a High-Definition television picture.  I remember where I was exactly.  It was in Las Vegas at the National Association of Broadcaster's convention, 1993, the year of the Grand Alliance.

When I had begun reading about HD TV and the HD standard (I was a purchasing agent for television equipment and parts at the time) I had never really imagined that it would be that big a deal.  I have lived through years with no television, through black and white TV and the transition to color, and the television picture had not changed in terms of picture quality very much since I was a teenager.  I knew how TV worked, and even though I was aware of the cutting edge, it was all about digital effects, and less about picture delivery, except for what seemed to me to be a bunch of dreamers. 1080 lines, indeed, I scoffed.  Where would you get the bandwidth?  Compression?  At the time, compression was a joke.

Then I saw what HD television really meant, and I was in awe.

I had never seen a picture like that.  At first, I thought it was fake -- a video monitor frame around a picture or something.  It was like looking through a window, and the clarity and sharpness were breathtaking.  I couldn't wait to see the first commercially-viable HDTV sets.  But as it turned out, I had to wait a long time.

This is not about the history of HDTV, it's about how that particular technology makes a difference in the way I view sports, in particular, Kentucky sports.  I know most of you remember watching grainy pictures of Wildcat basketball where the only way you could identify the players was practically by memorizing their body types and haircuts.  It was like looking at the game through glass made in the 1800's almost, and then there was that constant picture roll or squiggle you had to adjust constantly in order to keep the frame centered. 

I can remember times when it was almost more enjoyable to listen to Cawood's dulcet tones on the radio than to watch it on TV.  Somehow, the mental picture I could generate seemed more real, more inspiring, than what the television could deliver.  "Moving from left to right on your radio dial" focused the mind on a visual, not just aural response, and the most flexible display in the known universe is driven by the human imagination.

But as TV got better, and with the advent of cable delivery that helped smooth out the over-the-air interference and constant picture adjustments of the pure broadcast age, we entered a kind of "golden age" of color TV when we could sit around, sip a few beers, watch the game and see most of what was going on, at least within the scope of the camera lens.

As technology marched on and things like instant replay, improved camera lenses, digital picture processing and digital delivery became a reality, the image on the screen began to sharpen a bit, and clear up even more, but it was still the same old 525-line NTSC picture.  As television sets got bigger and brighter, the image reached the point at which making the screen bigger produced diminishing returns.  So we got used to watching the Wildcats in sports bars without really being able to see who was playing until the camera zoomed in on them.   At home, things were better, but the limits of the existing picture delivery had been reached.

And then came HDTV.  I remember watching some sports broadcasts on HTDV in bars and restaurants before I had my own set, and wow, what a difference that made.  There were still some flaws -- most of the sets were LCD, and tended to blur a bit during fast motion events, but it was so superior to standard NTSC that there was simply no comparison.  Once you saw a sports broadcast on an HDTV set, you never wanted to go back to standard 525-line NTSC. Ever.

Now, HDTV is the norm, and as that technology improves, watching the Wildcats on television has become a very reasonable facsimile of being there.  You can see the grass blades on the football field, the boards on the basketball floor, the players in all their glory playing the games we love to watch.  More than any other recent innovation save the personal computer, HDTV has massively improved the pleasure I get from the experience of Kentucky sports away from the venue itself.  I get upset whenever I have to watch a picture in standard definition -- I have become that addicted to the improved picture quality and aspect ratio.

Gone are the days of grainy, fuzzy picture, replaced now by a remarkable sharpness that, thinking back, is something I still have not been able to take for granted.  To me, that is a measure of how much something is better.  The things that are only a little better we come to take for granted very quickly, but the the order-of-magnitude improvements amaze us even years after they become everyday.  HDTV is like that for me.

So now it's your turn.  How do you feel about the effect of HDTV on Kentucky sports, or sports in general?

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