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Re-defining the experience

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  July 21, 2010 09:42 AM

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My wife opened the ol' Comcast bill the other day, a monthly occurrence at our household that ranks up there with cleaning the septic filter, only to find a dramatic spike in the bill of the cable company that has my town hostage. This happens every so often, at which point I normally whip out the satellite dish brochures to my wife's rightful rebuttal that our beloved, current cable company would only jack up the prices on their phone and internet service should we bail out on their TV sham. Wash. Rinse.

Of course, I promptly got on the phone with customer service, and after bypassing 15 separate automated menus, actually got to speak to a lovely representative, who told me that whatever promotion I was running for the past year was up, and that it was now time to pay full price for my actions. My options to decrease the bill were laid out to me: Get rid of HBO. Get rid of some tier that includes my sports package. Get rid of HD.

"Entourage" was awful this season anyway.

If there's a world where sports are no longer broadcast in HD, it's not only one I never want to live in, but one I want to wage war upon. My four great memories in life, in no particular order, are as follows: 1. Seeing my wife walk down the aisle. 2. The birth of my first child. 3. The birth of my second child. 4. The moment HD came to life in my family room (June 22, 2005, Sox-Indians with the honor).

Surrendering that right would be akin to giving up food.

My wife does nothing in HD. Nothing. I'm not even sure she knows about the 800 level. It's like she's afraid to venture down there. The 800 level and the basement. I'll make a point to grab the remote during whatever it is she's watching, swap to the HD model, and it will elicit nary a peep from her. It just looks better, I'll argue. And she'll shrug her shoulders. Trust me, Leighton Meester looks better in HD.

But I can live with other programming if it's not broadcast in HD. Live an empty life, but live just the same.

Sports? No way.

Have you even tried to watch a baseball game in standard definition, just for fun? It's right up there with reading James Patterson when there's a Hemingway on your bedside table. Why in the world would you? I don't think there was as a dramatic difference in the viewing experience when everybody went from black and white to color as there was with standard to high-definition. Still, it's cute every now and then to venture on down and reminisce about the old days for a moment or two.

In any case, I raise this point for two reasons: I'm thrilled that Comcast finally caught up and will carry the Ski Channel, adding one more channel destination that will assure nothing around the house gets done (except for waxing the skis). But I also found Jacksonville Jaguars vice president Bill Prescott's recent comments pretty interesting.

"Our biggest competitor, everyone's biggest competitor, is HDTV," Prescott told Bert Breer. "There's no doubt, to view a game in your own living room, the beer is colder and cheaper, the restroom is closer, and there's no line."

Well, that last part is questionable, especially when there are 8-10 young'uns amidst the football-watching crowd, but the point is solid. Why on earth would you want to go to Jacksonville Municipal Stadium when the game will be in your living room, looking better than ever despite the fact that the game is being played at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium.

If I'm the NFL, I market watching the games live as not having to listen to Nantz and Simms for three hours. Watch season ticket sales soar. But there is something to be said about avoiding the hassle it's become to attend a sporting event. From the ticket prices to the secondary, legalized scalping ticket prices, to fabricated supply and demand, to hearing someone viciously shout at your wife for wearing a Steelers hat (actually, that was me), I'm in the camp that doesn't mind staying home more often than not. The fan experience is better in my family room unless there's an imminent emergency that involves the Wonder Pets having to usurp the Sox game. They don't do that at Fenway.

But baseball is perhaps the sport I could least do exclusively on TV. There's too much at stake in attending a baseball game, from the smells of the park, to potentially catching a foul ball, to the feeling of nausea during "Sweet Caroline," it is a sensory event that can't be fully captured on TV. Hockey is a close second, for it's difficult to immerse yourself in the intensity of the crowd from your couch. Football and basketball? Love going to both, but if you told me I could only watch Patriots and Celtics games from home the rest of my life, I'd be only mildly upset.

If you tell me I have a choice between HBO and sports in HD, it's sort of like choosing between breathing and a case of Shasta. If you tell me I will soon have a choice in cable companies, then let's talk.

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About the Author

Eric Wilbur is a Boston.com sports columnist who is still in awe of what Dana Kiecker pulled off that one time in Toronto. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and three children. Comments and suggestions for the best Buffalo wing spots are encouraged.

Contact Eric Wilbur by e-mail or follow him on Twitter.

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