Sunday January 20, 2013
By DZOF AZMI
There are lots of high-definition TV sets out there but no local terrestial stations broadcasting in HD yet. What gives?
WHILE watching Anugerah Juara Lagu (AJL) last week, I noticed a crawler at the bottom of the screen that said the show was being recorded in HD. The exciting prospect of watching Ramli Sarip’s sweat pores up close was quickly tempered with one simple fact: I couldn’t find the high definition transmission anywhere.
It was broadcast on a terrestrial channel, which is only available in standard definition, and none of the HD channels on the satellite box had them. It may have been online, but when I found it, I still wasn’t completely convinced I had the right feed.
It’s a shame we can’t just change the channel on the TV to get HD from a free-to-air station. In fact, digital transmission in Malaysia have hit a bit of a speed bump. Originally, it was due to have been rolled out to the whole country by 2012 (thenutgraph.com/rtm-to-restructure-go-digital-in-three-years) but there have been delays.
Now Malaysia lags behind, with high definition television sets sitting in hundreds of thousands of households, and no local free-to-air channel to take advantage of it.
But there is HD content. Astro Beyond broadcasts many of its programmes, both local and foreign, in HD – but you have to pay extra to get them. And with a good enough Internet connection, you can get a stream from the website – but you have to pay for a fast enough broadband connection.
In short, no money, no HD. There is a segment of the market out there who don’t have that kind of access.
This has a knock-on effect in that most local productions are satisfied with creating non-HD content, which means that they are not pushing the envelope in terms of the quality of work they are producing. It’s not just that they are not using the latest technologies and techniques, but the quality of everything else in production is compromised as well.
High-def means you have to pay better attention to things like the quality of the sets, the props and the makeup the actors need to wear. This was most recently demonstrated by the latest film by Peter Jackson, The Hobbit.
The HD, 3D, High Frame Rate version of the film was a bit too life-like for some critics’ taste. A critic in Variety magazine wrote, “(E)verything takes on an overblown, artificial quality in which the phoniness of the sets and costumes becomes obvious”.
Of course, you may say, “So what?”. After all, if people are satisfied with standard TV, then the viewers are happy and the production companies save a little more money on costs.
But compromise in quality does matter. I knew a producer once who was quite upset when he watched the broadcast of his show and found out that the station was playing only one channel of a stereo soundtrack.
The reason the station had been getting away with it was because many production houses were handing in their copies in mono, so it didn’t matter if you only broadcast one channel instead of two. And subsequent to that experience, the producer submitted only mono copies to the TV station.
So it does matter whether or not we are setting the bar low. Every achievement then becomes a celebration of mediocrity.
It’s something our exam system has been accused of and it has been corroborated by the recent Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS): In science and maths, the average Malaysian student is rated lower than the average global student. In the papers, every mega project in both the public and private sector claim to be “world-class” and “cutting-edge”, which makes it hard to discern between the wheat and the chaff.
We accept these grandiose statements of achievement only because we think the alternative is unacceptable – to admit that what we are building is at best treading in the wake of true innovation. We whet the appetite with a pudding in all its glory, and then gloss over if the proof is wanting.
I am harsh, I know. But what else can I think when I hear it proclaimed that a show is in HD but I can’t actually see for myself how good it is. It may be that they just replaced their existing cameras with HD ones, and did everything else the same. That would be disappointing, but it’s hard to say for sure without seeing the final copy.
Okay, so implementing HD on our TV sets isn’t something that will solve the nation’s problems, and neither will constantly harping about our failures. Yet, there should be a tacit understanding that we need an environment that is constantly pushing our abilities. What I hope is that we set ourselves standards that are just a little bit out of our reach, so even if we fail, we can only get better from trying.
So we won’t always perform spectacularly. But when we do succeed, we’d be better for it.
For example, Ramli Sarip sang the rock classic Kamelia at the end of AJL.
Sometimes rockers hide their vocal inadequacies behind loud drums and the harsh guitar feedback, but the sound that came through the TV sounded great, and his performance was just stunning.
It made me wish I was there. At least with HD, it would have been almost as good as being there.
> Logic is the antithesis of emotion but mathematician-turned-scriptwriter Dzof Azmi’s theory is that people need both to make sense of life’s vagaries and contradictions.