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A digital revolution is under way that will change the way we watch television and films. OK, that’s not exactly a shocker, but the timeline might be: The Federal Communications Commission has established mandates to knock analog TV off the air by 2006. Now, before you go hit up the Shack for a fancy new set, be aware of two things: Industry insiders predict that the FCC mandate will go at least moderately unmet. And if CineMuse has its way, you won’t have to worry about mixed signals at home—you’ll be able to take in the miracle of digital high definition (aka hi def), the much-touted, way-too-realistic future of visual entertainment, at your local art museum.
“Calling it ‘television’ never even crossed my mind,” says Heidi Hinish, the National Gallery of Art’s Family and Youth Programs coordinator. She and her colleagues have brought hi def to the District’s flagship visual-arts facility, not in hopes of getting uncultured couch potatoes off of their lumpy bums, but for hi defs—believe it or not—artistic merits. Those merits were on view Dec. 2, when the gallery, in conjunction with New York City-based CineMuse (a leading production and distribution company now setting up the nation’s first hi-def “E-Cinema” network, primarily in galleries and museums) presented four episodes of the CineMuse-produced children’s program Rabbit Ears.
CineMuse CEO Ted Geier, who was on hand for the D.C. event, explains that producing hi-def programming—especially an animated program such as Rabbit Ears—can be an enormous undertaking. “For each program,” he says, “an individual artist spends six months creating [up to] 500 illustrations, using a
combination of every [imaginable medium].”
As for the technology that gives his team life, Geier says, “At this point, [hi def is] the absolute best way to see a moving image.” And indeed, the future of visual entertainment seems to rest firmly in the very real hands of digital high definition: George Lucas is busy shooting the next Star Wars feature film in hi def. According to Geier, CineMuse is working closely with PBS to use the technology to “revitalize public television.”
What this means for the average TV viewer, however, remains to be seen. The experience of watching a hi-def show or film, which to the eye looks astoundingly true-to-life, is a marked contrast to the experience of watching analog TV or traditionally filmed motion pictures. But the cost of acquiring a digital-capable set today is outrageously high. So, will hi def turn out to be a real revolution or just another excuse to make us buy expensive new TVs? —Mike Kanin