The Road To Digital HDTV Signals Is Paved With Discrete Stubble : Monkey See Television is going increasingly digital and increasingly HD, and that means you may learn more details about the faces of your favorites than you ever really wanted to know.
NPR logo The Road To Digital HDTV Signals Is Paved With Discrete Stubble

The Road To Digital HDTV Signals Is Paved With Discrete Stubble

Josh Holloway If you were watching him on Lost right now, you'd be distracted by trying to count individual beard hairs. Trust me. ABC hide caption

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So today is digital switchover day, when local stations will shut off their analog signals, leaving those who get over-the-air broadcasts either (1) in really bad shape, if they don't have digital receivers; (2) in intermediate shape, if they have digital receivers and so-so signals in their area; or (3) much better off, if they get good reception of digital signals and will now get cable-quality reception through their rabbit ears.

But in addition to the end of analog, this transition could potentially mean a lot more people watching in high-definition, because some of those new digital broadcast signals are in HD. As someone who only relatively recently got a decent-sized HDTV, I look forward to seeing some other (relative) newbies experiencing The Summer Of Stubble.

Once you start looking at high-definition television (and you know this if you're used to it), you realize that people on screen have been, relatively speaking, vague blobs of flesh-colored light until now. I've been watching the first season of Lost on BluRay (more on this next week), and I'm here to tell you, I have seen some stubble. Some close-up, jump-off-the-screen, highly attenuated stubble.

It's no wonder that there is now special "HDTV makeup" for people who are going to be seen on high-definition television, because it is no joke that it is unbelievably unforgiving. It is spurned-lover unforgiving. It is embittered-relative unforgiving.

Eyebrow hairs, facial injuries, and more things that look crazy terrifying in HD, after the jump...

Don't get me wrong — it's fantastic to watch. I've seen the opening shot of Lost many times, but I've never been immediately driven to gasp at the shrinking pupil (see it at about the fifteen-second mark here) the way I was on this viewing.

But here, in random order, I present five things about high-definition television that may very well freak you right out. So if it's relatively new to you, be ready.

1. Pores. Prepare to count them. They're everywhere. Seriously, they will leave you prepared for a horror movie called Pore, starring a monster called The Pore, followed by the sequels Pore 2 and Even Pore.

2. Eyebrow hairs. In standard definition, an imperfectly plucked eyebrow looks very much like an ordinary eyebrow. It is a solid object. You will not take note of an individual hair. In HD, an imperfectly plucked eyebrow looks like a giant ship that has left behind one passenger, who is now following it everywhere it goes, swimming wildly but never quite able to catch up.

3. Sheen. Not Charlie Sheen or Martin Sheen. Just sheen. The sheen of whatever precise skin texture has been chosen for the scene. Watching light dance upon the cheek of a sweaty person in HD is like watching a lava lamp. You can't...stop...staring.

4. Crow's feet. I actually mean this as a good thing. You will never again worry about wrinkles on your own face once you have HD. Because it serves as a great reminder that every face — every beautiful, idealized face — has crow's feet, to some degree.

5. Injuries. One of the problems with being able to see everything more clearly is that faking injuries seems to have gotten much harder. In standard definition, a little smudge here and there looks realistic. In HD, there is a large and obvious difference between I Got In A Fight and I Fell In The Ketchup.

So here is where I ask for your thoughts: How do you feel about the big new world of HD? The wrinkles, crinkles, stubble, makeup, and sharp picture? It's going more and more mainstream; you most often hear about all this in the context of things like red-carpet coverage — are we just going to see more and more specialized makeup, or is it inevitable that this is going to give a more realistic picture of what people look like?