Where’s the HD?

We know by now that about half the people with HDTVs don’t have HDTV service, even though about half of them think that they do. So it comes as no surprise that the video services are tripping all over each other to claim that they have the most (or best or whatever) HD content. Who could miss DirecTV’s promises to have 100 HD channels by the end of 2007? (They almost made it, too; according to their Web site, they now have 90 in all.) And now Comcast is touting “1,000 HD choices“; they get to this impressive figure by including video-on-demand (VOD) offerings of individual movies and other programming episodes. And then there’s Verizon’s FiOS that claims to have enough bandwidth that they can send along the same HD signal that they receive, without additional compression. This is not a claim that the cable or satellite folks can make.

So what’s the truth about HD offerings? According to the latest edition of The Bridge, less than 20% of the available programming feeds are offered in HD. If you remove the major broadcast networks from the equation — because we presume that all the services carry those networks — then the satellite services hold a clear lead over the competition; DirecTV has 66 HD networks, and DISH has 56, according to The Bridge’s count. Cablevision is the leader for cable services with 38 HD networks, with Comcast and Charter fighting for second place with 22 and 20. The two phone company services — AT&T U-Verse and Verizon FiOS — are tied with 24 HD networks each.

Unfortunately, any discussion of the number of available channels always reminds me of the story about the two little old ladies on a cruise ship. About halfway into the trip, one remarked to the other at dinner, “The food on this ship isn’t very good, is it?” To which her companion replied, “No, but they do give such nice, large portions.” So do not confuse quantity with quality — both of the signal and the content — when choosing your HD service.

If you want to compare satellite service offerings, go to hdtvprofessor.com/SatelliteTVService/satellite-comparison.html.