- 9 Jan 07, 01:45 AM
The shaving mirror in my hotel room is magnifying my face by about 25 times its normal size. Like everything else in Vegas it knocks its puny British equivalent for six. On close inspection this morning I found that, sometime during the past 46 years, and quite without my knowledge, fine blond hairs had grown out of my ears resembling a biological specimen so precisely that I was thinking of sending a photo of them to my friend, who's a geneticist, as a spoof of the DNA double helix. But now I know what that mirror is trying to tell me: beware, boy, because televisions are about to get very, very big.
At Sony's press conference last night they unveiled the prototype of an 82 inch LCD flat screen television. Unlike the chavvy bigscreens most of my friends under the age of 30 insist on hanging above their mantlepieces, these new Sony Bravias are also High Definition - so you can hardly even see a pixel, even at close range: it looks like an incredibly sharp digital photo, but it's moving.
Hence, be very afraid. Those strands and follicles I discovered in the mirror will soon be visited on you and your family in your living room. And Jeremy Paxman's famously quizzical eyebrows will be the size of two giant squirrels magnifying his scepticism to a possibly terrifying scale...
....High Definition is the big theme of this week's CES - and today I've been handling some of the cameras - still and video - that you'll be using in the near future. Since HD has not really hit the British high street in any great volume, seeing it up close has been a revelation. When Sony builds a screen that "does not just fill the wall, it is the wall" it does not particularly turn me on. But Canon's latest digital camcorder is another matter: it's small; it takes pictures that are potentially broadcastable on UK television (unlike most mini-camcorders - because it's got a 3 megapixel CMOS if you are interested in that kind of tecchie detail, and records onto hard disc) and the high definition of the picture makes all the previous stuff I've ever shot on a camcorder look a bit, frankly, 20th century.
Why is it exciting? First because stuff like this is going to put the power to create truly beautiful content in the hands of people with just an ordinary amount of skill. Of course there is no guarantee that it will: zillions of hours of bad video will be shot - but with high definition you do actually start to do the same thing with reality as I did with my ear-hair: notice new stuff.
Now everybody in the world of tech gadgets wants a piece of the HD action: but it's interesting to note how differently companies conceive of the challenge. For Sony, the challenge is to offer a HD way of doing things from the lens of the movie camera to the screen in the teenager's bedroom to the point and shoot camera in the teenager's pocket. It's a very "electronics" way of thinking about the potential. At Microsoft, where I was given a hands on demo this morning, what they're betting on is that HD draws loads more people into the creation and sharing of content, so they have been working overtime to get gadget makers signed up to their new computer operating system,. Vista, which launches this month.
Vista turns your big, widescreen telly - and whatever box is running it - into a hub for a lot of HD content: your own snaps, your own videos, the HD version of DVD, or the World Cup broadcast in HD by Sky, for example. So HD is a way of Microsoft "supporting" - its critics would say embracing to the point of strangulation - other people's products, and of course a way of selling the new operating system. That, in turn, is a very "software" way of thinking about HD.
Now if you think HD is just going to be like the telly but a bit clearer, after a day wandering around this place I can tell you it is going to be more: I am not sure it will live up to the hype of being the technology that finally tips the ordinary Joe into content creation but it it is certainly in the same league as the transition from black/white to colour TV. Because what I think happens with HD is that the content becomes immersive - just as it does with a really good computer game, where the picture is already going to be considerably higher definition than your average telly.
So TVs are getting bigger, much clearer and everything you use to make images will be able to talk to the media centre in your home - and if you haven't got one of those, it is more likely that you will one day succumb to it.
As for TV correspondents, they are going to look uglier, or more real - depending on how charitable you are feeling. I am told there is a new, airbrush-like machine that blasts the faces of American TV anchormen/women with such a fine film of makeup that it can withstand HD. But even if it works, do we really want to see laquered lips the size of a smoked salmon in our living rooms? I suppose it depends on who they belong to.