I often see disparaging comments about obsolete analogue standards, or even the SD channels still common on Sky. People say things like they won’t even look at anything that isn’t at least 1080p. I have given this some thought as it doesn’t reflect my own experience.
I want to make clear that I do very much see the difference between composite and HDMI, and certainly between 4K and anything else. I am not disputing that. But I am perplexed by people who insist that the analogue quality that people were perfectly happy with for years has somehow suddenly become unbearable torture to their eyes. I literally don’t see that.
Our main TV is a 50-inch Sony with ‘full’ 1080p HD. No doubt advanced videophiles will turn their noses up at that, but for us the quality is pretty good, especially when watching a Blu-Ray or even HD from streams or the UHF box. It is clearly better than the quality we get from our old analogue Sky decoder, but we don’t have a problem with that, either. On the 50 inch, at the distance we view it from, even s-video is pretty acceptable, especially as it goes through our old DVR and gets upscaled to HDMI. We like the convenience of our current set-up more than we miss any quality difference, so we have declined Sky’s invitation to upgrade for the time being. They already get enough money from us.
So are we missing something? I have wondered about this and I think I finally understand the difference. First, it has to do with viewing taste. I think the best possible resolution and contrast and refresh rate truly are pretty important when watching blockbuster action films and fast-moving sports. I can certainly see the value of that. But neither of these things reflect our own viewing tastes, which run more to documentaries and art films. So the quality difference doesn’t really affect us that much.
The other thing I have realised is that resolution only really matters with very big screens. This thought occurred to me the other day when I happened to be viewing a very low res internet video in a small window. I noticed that the video appeared quite sharp and clear in the small window, but looked truly awful when I blew it up to full screen. This seems pretty obvious, but it isn’t something we normally think about.
If I watch an SD broadcast fed via s-video on our 50-inch Sony from our normal viewing position a few meters back, it looks okay. But it wouldn’t if the screen was any bigger. Increasing the size to 65 inches would not add more pixel information, it would just make the existing pixels bigger and fuzzier. It would not be a pleasant viewing experience.
What this tells me is that different people see different things according to their needs. Outmoded analogue SD can be a perfectly adequate viewing experience depending on what is being watched and how it is being viewed. For some, it will provide all they require. So don’t write off the old technology yet.