No tech blurs viewStaff and wire
of high tech TV
PBS today begins a weeklong experiment, broadcasting some programs in HDTV. Unfortunately, Hawaii's KHET doesn't have the capability to broadcast in the digital format.
Few viewers have the TV set and tuner needed to receive the new signal anyway, but the programs and information about digital TV will be worth a look.
PBS Digital Week begins today with "Chihuly Over Venice," a 90-minute documentary following renowned glassworks artist Dale Chihuly as he creates blown glass and sculptures in Italy, Ireland, Finland and Mexico with his team of artisans and local glassblowers.
Chihuly recently created a $10 million chandelier of blown-glass flowers above the lobby of the Bellagio casino in Las Vegas.
Burnill F. Clark, chief executive of Seattle's KCTV-TV which produced the program, acknowledges that the digital broadcast may be a bit ahead of its time because so few people have sets that can receive the signal.
Despite the newness of it all, KCTS has been a pioneer in HDTV since 1989. That year, in conjunction with public station NHK-TV in Japan, the Seattle station became the first in the United States to produce high-definition TV programming. The very first show, the 15-minute "Over California," used a Vietnam-era Huey helicopter to lift and carry the recording equipment.
"HDTV works so well in public television because travel and scientific subjects work well with our audiences," Clark says.
"It really helps the viewer to take a vicarious tour of another part of the country and the world without leaving their front door. I would describe it as looking through the window. It draws you into the TV because now this picture is seamless. There are no spaces in the picture. It's just one beautiful glossy image."
Gary Gibson, who directed "Chihuly Over Venice," compares the early days of shooting HDTV to "having a dinosaur on a leash."
Today's HDTV cameras, he says, are more sensitive to low-light levels and don't have that flat look.
"If something is 20 feet away, it looks 20 feet away," Gibson says. "The image contains more information. And, for the human eye to take everything in, there's quite a bit more to look at."
The detail, he says, is so rich that in shooting and editing more 100 hours of HDTV tape to get 90 minutes worth of "Chihuly" he had to be careful to "convey the feeling of things happening very quickly around you, but not get people feeling nauseous."
Pioneering technology is not new to PBS. The checklist of innovation includes stereo sound, closed captioning and descriptive screening for the sight-impaired.
Indeed, he says, the Digital Broadcasting Alliance was formed in 1996 so that public TV stations in Washington, Boston, New York, Milwaukee, Seattle and Portland, Ore., could share resources to produce and broadcast HDTV shows.
The result? A digital transition from technology that's more than 60 years old, aging and limited.
PBS Digital Week will also feature a crash course on digital TV and interactive segments on the work of architect Frank Lloyd Wright (tomorrow, 9 p.m.).
By Thursday, PBS will unveil its digital Web site, which will include educational material, a schedule of digital presentations on PBS and links to related Web sites.
PreviewChihuly over Venice: Airs at 9 p.m. today on KHET/PBS
Digital TV: A Cringely Crash Course: Airs at 10:30 p.m. today