More Must Be Better: High Definition Invades a Product Near You


This item was originally published on November 10th, 2010 at Fast Company.

I first heard the term “digital wonderland” on an episode of Harry Shearer’s Le Show, in reference to the move from analog-anything to digital-everything. This was also where I learned about HD Radio, which seemed non-sensical–after all, radio waves don’t have pixels to increase, or images to resolve. But guess what? Turns out the “HD” in HD radio doesn’t stand for “high definition” at all!

HD Radio, which originally stood for “Hybrid Digital”, is the trademark for iBiquity’s in-band on-channel (IBOC) digital radio technology used by AM and FM radio stations to transmit audio and data via a digital signal in conjunction with their analog signals. According to iBiquity’s website, the “HD” is simply a brand name and has no meaning. It brings you “dramatically higher quality audio, far more programming choice and compelling new wireless data services brought to you by your local AM and FM radio stations.” There is no connection with high-definition television (HDTV), although like HDTV the HD Radio specification provides enhanced capabilities over the old analog format, such as 5.1 surround sound.

Thing is, you have to dig pretty deep to figure out that HD Radio doesn’t actually mean “high definition” radio. iBiquity must be quite happy to let people labor under this misapprehension, despite the fact that “high definition radio” is a completely meaningless phrase. But hey, it sure sounds good, doesn’t it, all techy and futuristic? If it’s HD, it must be better!

This was brought home when I saw a commercial for Valspar Paint with with Hi-DEF Advanced Color System®, available exclusively at Lowe’s, starting at $35 a gallon, buy some today. The main point of the commercials is that this paint covers old colors better; the “high definition” factor comes into play with the super-saturated pigments for “true-to-chip” accuracy for all of Valspar’s colors. And it’s all techy and futuristic! Again, there are no actual pixels involved, so the connection to HDTV is tenuous at best.

But if you thought that HD paint was silly, you will get a huge laugh out of the following products, all of which ride on the coattails of the HD brand. Ready?

  • HD Vision Sunglasses–“let you see with enhanced color and clarity just like high definintion TVs” except they aren’t TVs and don’t have high definition
  • High Definition Dentistry, a trademark of Robert Gerber DDS–“the ultimate fusion of the art and science of dentistry with high technology” because you need more pixels in your smile! Science! (This dentist is in LA, no surprise)
  • Jolt High Definition Knit Pants–jeggings that make you appear in a 16:9 aspect ratio; these pants are for juniors because no grown woman would want every bit of flesh defined so clearly
  • AutoGlym High Definition Car Wax–“imparts a lustre and depth of shine normally only found on the most expensive hand built cars” and presumably makes your car appear in better focus from a distance

My Google Fu did turn up two instances where the HD designator actually made sense.

  • High Definition Security Cameras–This is one area where I’d like to see the use of more high-definition. Every time we see security footage it is grainy and black and white. What’s the use in that? Actual high-definition video can only help in identifying criminals and providing better security.
  • High Definition Makeup–When programming became available in HD, TV makeup artists were in a tizzy. Actor flaws (visible pores, fine lines, little wrinkles, and other assorted imperfections) that were previously hidden by poor picture quality were exposed. (As one of my friends said, “There is such a thing as too much definition.”) The makeup industry had to scramble to develop better make-up that would look good in HD. Of course, that immediately became a selling point for the kind of make-up you buy in Sephora, whose website returns 63 hits for “high definition”. Originally designed for use in film and television, high-definition makeup provides a flawless, picture-perfect complexion and is invisible to the 6x magnification of high-def cameras (and the naked eye!), thanks to “innovative, superfine microparticles that blend imperceptibly into skin and photochromatic pigments that react with all types of lighting”. Talk about some science!(Photochromatic means “changing color with the intensity of light”, which sounds like mood make-up; microparticles are just really really small particles, I guess.) Companies like Smashbox and Lancôme have already jumped on the HD bandwagon. Can Wet n Wild be far behind?

Don’t get me wrong, I love my HDTV. But why does everything need to be Hi Def? There are many times when lack of resolution is what you really want–hence, drinking. When they start making HD vodka, we’ll really be in trouble.


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