Page last updated at 08:57 GMT, Tuesday, 13 June 2006 09:57 UK

Mesmerising lure of HDTV

HDTV, with its promise of sharper images and brighter colours, can be mesmerising, as the BBC's Martin Shankleman found out.

One of the main effects of hallucinogenic drugs, I recall reading in my psychology studies, is a heightened sense of reality, which can make even the most mundane sights appear gripping.

I remember stories of students obsessively watching tomato soup come to the boil in a saucepan because they admired the swirl of bubbles.

Having spent just one week with a HDTV system, I feel it has the same potential. It can render even the most banal sights riveting.

Since my high-definition system was installed, I have found myself studying the saliva strands inside a tortoise's mouth and the nasty rash around Sven-Goran Eriksson's neck.

It has even got me examining Robbie Williams' bloodshot eyes and wondering if he is getting enough sleep.

Take me breath away

The level of detail achieved by HD can be remarkable. Sky claims the picture quality is four times better than conventional sets.

Commercial HDTV services began with Belgian channel Euro180 in 2004
Telewest launched the UK's first HDTV service in March 2006.
BBC and Sky began HDTV transmissions in May 2006
BBC to have 100% HD programmes by 2010

That means greater clarity in the images, best illustrated on nature programmes such as Planet Earth.

When the camera films a flock of migrating birds, it seems possible to focus on each individual member of the group.

A shot of the Angel Waterfalls in Venezuela is breathtaking, as HD reveals how the water glistens as it tumbles over the mountain edge.

The range of colours is impressive as well. HD produces subtle shades I am not used to seeing on TV.

This was best demonstrated on an Artsworld documentary on Impressionism, which revealed Monet's Poppies has richer, deeper reds than I had seen before.

Archive footage of Jimi Hendrix reveals the sumptuous maroon of his jacket.

I want my HDTV

There are drawbacks though. Traditional programmes, and that is just about every existing show, can seem slightly flat.

Pandas, as filmed by the BBC's Planet Earth
The nature series Planet Earth is among the BBC's first HD shows

The picture lacks crispness and the colour seems washed in a yellow tint. One explanation is that the HD system is so sophisticated that it exposes the flaws in programmes shot in the traditional 625 format.

In other words, the image is spread too thinly over the screen.

Anyone who has watched football on a large screen in a pub will be only too familiar with the problem.

The problem is made worse by the fact that there is a dearth of HD programming available. Sky notionally offers 10 HD channels, but much of the programming is patchy and intermittent.

Costs are high as well. For a Sky system, viewers need a new HD digibox, which costs £299, and your TV set will probably need replacing, which could cost you at least £800.

TV buyers' guide
11 Feb 11 |  Click
The low-down on high-definition
09 Jun 06 |  Click
Q&A: High-Definition TV
09 May 06 |  Entertainment
High-definition TV: Your views
27 May 06 |  Entertainment
Confusion over high-definition TV
21 Mar 05 |  Technology


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