As some of you probably know, HDTV Magazine runs an e-mail list called "HDTV Tips," where all sorts of discussions about HDTV programming, technologies, etc. are exchanged among subscribers. I've only been subscribing to this list for a few months, but there are sometimes some very interesting discussions.
Dale Cripps, who is the editor of HDTV Magazine, is a periodic contributor to the list, as you might expect. He responded to a topic yesterday about the trends for 720p and 1080i programming. I don't always agree with Dale, but I think he makes some quite interesting points in his reply and I thought that there might be others here who would also find it worthwhile reading.
Apologies to anyone that finds this massively off-topic. If nothing else, it provides a diversion if/when the ho-ho-ho family harmony thing begins to go wobbly over the course of the next couple of days...
Dale's note follows:
Thank you Hugh. I have heard that the 720p is on a roll if for no other reason than ABC/Disney have so much buying power with their ABC Sports and the ESPN sports business so that the builders of these production trucks are now favoring 720p since 1) the 720p gear is becoming cheaper and 2) makes inventory buying more predictable (don't need two bandwidth systems). I don't think that means that CBS will ever abandon 1080i as long as Joe Flaherty is there (or his shadow is present), but Joe is 72 and talking like he may be looking for an easier line of work than doing international format battles against a rising tide of next generation techno-soldiers. Europe has also grasp the 720P idea (as a bandwidth reduction solution) and so there is enormous pressure mounting at the manufacturing level to favor with both engineering investments and fabrication that which is 720p native. Again, doesn't mean the end of 1080i, it just means that in events that use electronic cameras we may see a great deal more of it.
This move to more 720p could leave a commit trail behind it too. The native display rate of 720p could become the norm, as it has become with fixed pixel devices. For CRT based devices (and they will be with us for years and years to come, trust me) this adds cost. This is the first decision in years taken by a signal provider that offers them financial incentive but potentialy penalizes the general public with added cost or lower performance (the debate centers for us about whether that is always the case). It has typically been that all of the cost of a TV system is loaded up on the signals provider's side (signal pre-processing as much as possible) in order to have a lower net, net-cost for the creation of an installed base among the general public (thus our basically dumb terminals).
While the 720p vs. 1080i has become a "religious" debate in terms of picture quality there may come a time when sides have to be more firmly drawn by the public. Once we are "comfortably" into a format (720p or 1080i) it will have to be a major visual breakthrough to carry us any further to a higher format. It is not that sciences fails to march onward but in marketing terms you need a sufficient cause (performance gap) to create a product revolution. HDTV had to be 5 times that of NTSC before enough courage was mustered throughout the industry to destroy the old standards in favor of the new. Even with that there were many who had to increase their dosage of MAALOX for it never has been clear that HD would make it (though this fear is highly reduced now). If the nation becomes satisfied with a 720p base we will not likely leap out of that into something more extraordinary, at least for the general public. I do think that there are much higher private networks in the future where ultra high vision could get a foothold, but this is the top of the commercial pyramid--a niche--and not its base. Every advance for the general public comes with a price tag related to the greater bandwidth and its processing costs, and so when bandwidth costs become only trivial in both hardware and distribution we could see light shinning (lower risk) again for a higher format for the general public. But this 720p Vs 1080 i debate is poised to heat up internationally since bandwidth is not yet free. We may all wind up wearing lapel pins for our preference.