High definition TV will bring the Olympics into your home, five times better than ever before

The starter’s gun fired. The eight swimmers launched themselves through the air. They hit the water simultaneously. A second later they all appeared again at the surface, following their dives, and their arms began dragging them through the water with mighty strokes.

You knew which two of the swimmers were Australian because the video feed from the Athens Olympic Games had decent-sized national flags inserted digitally over each of the lanes. That was essential for Athens because in 2004 we did not have a high definition broadcast of the Olympics.

Oh, the digitally inserted flags will still be there in the 2008 broadcast from Beijing, but with the high definition broadcasts we will be enjoying, you can use other cues, such as reading the flags on the swimmers’ caps.

So, just how much more will you see?

Five times better

Think of a digital camera. We count the quality of the picture in ‘megapixels’. That is, how many millions of dots make up the picture.

For the 2000 Sydney Olympics we could enjoy standard analog TV. That delivered, at best, less than 0.3 megapixels into our homes.

For the 2004 Athens Olympics many of us had digital TV, but limited to standard definition (SD). That delivered a picture – if your TV screen was up to it – of a bit over 0.4 megapixels (414,720 pixels).

This year, for the 2008 Beijing Olympics you can have a picture of over two megapixels (2,073,600 pixels)! That is five times as much detail as 2004, and seven times as much as 2000. Yes, you really will be able to read the flags on contestants’ swimming caps.

But you don’t need a magnifying glass to see this fine detail. Instead, the greater sharpness of the picture lets you have a much bigger TV screen, and that in turn makes it more like being there.