The Art of HD

From newscasts to nature shows, the reality of Hi-def

The high-definition–television (HDTV) business has reached critical mass. With the number of HDTV households approaching 20 million—roughly a sixth of Nielsen households—networks, operators and stations are spending more than ever to satisfy viewers’ demand for news and original programming that jumps off the screen.

Some three dozen stations now produce and broadcast local news and other programming in high-definition, as they try to complete conversion ahead of the February 2009 government-mandated deadline for the digital-TV switch. And next week, NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams will become the first evening newscast to be broadcast in HD.

In entertainment programming, Discovery Channel is delivering on HD’s promise of breathtakingly vibrant and dynamic images with its new series Planet Earth. At a cost of $1 million-$2 million per episode, Planet Earth, which debuts this weekend, is the most expensive HD nature series yet.

The increasing popularity of HDTV has inspired a growing industry for providing high-definition art both inside—and outside—the home. As cable and satellite services like GalleryPlayer and Rainbow Media’s VOOM HD Networks transform HD sets into home art galleries, New York’s Metropolitan Opera has found surprising success at the multiplex with a series of operas filmed in high-definition and telecast on the original big screen.

And it’s only getting bigger. By 2011, a projected 64 million households will have an HDTV set. Like the photographers pictured here as they prepare to shoot the sunrise on the Katmai coast of Alaska for Discovery’s Sunrise Earth series, viewers are witnessing the dawn of a new era in high-definition television.