High-definition Television (HDTV) is the latest, greatest new development in consumer technology. Like the television itself in the 1950s, the VCR in the 1980s, and the DVD player in the 1990s, HDTV promises to completely revolutionize the experience of watching video...that is, once the price comes down enough for most people to afford, and once programming in HD becomes the norm rather than the exception.
Of course, high-definition isn't really new - it's been around for over a decade - but it hasn't yet become an occupant of the typical American household, due to the aformentioned factors. But as prices start to fall within the realm of affordability for most Americans, HDTV is sure to become a household standard in the near future.
When it does, some interesting questions arise.
For one, the greatly-increased line quality of high-definition (1080 X 1920 pixels, as compared with 720 X 480 for a standard television) offers close-up resolution of people's faces and scenery far greater than what is seen on analog television - and greater than what we normally see in life, except for when centimeters away from the object in question. Watching video on a big screen in high-definition will be much like seeing big things through a magnifying glass.
Close-ups of actors faces will reveal a degree of textural detail that would normally only be observed in the close-up conditions typical of intimate relationships. Already, TV and film make-up artists have raised the issue of the effect of high-definition on their work.
It makes one wonder whether, if and when virtually all television, film, and other video formats are viewed in high-definition, people's perception of reality will change in some perceptible way, too.
What is reality, anyway?
Visual reality is simply the brain's translation and interpretation of what we observe. So, our perception of reality is heavily influenced by what we are able to observe. Reality is very different for someone with poor vision than for someone who sees 20/20. Similarly, reality is not the same through a color-filter lens as it is with the naked eye.
To the extent that high-definition has the potential to change what we are able to observe, it could have a profound effect on what we consider "real."
Just as the advent of electron microscopy radically changed our understanding of reality at the sub-atomic level, high-defintion's ability to put everday objects into "hyper-reality" may change the way we see. There may be important components of our "reality" that we are unable to observe because we are simply too far away. High-definition, by bringing those objects a bit closer, may change that.