Video services

Charter HD

5:40 PM -- Service providers are, if nothing else, adept at stretching the truth.

Today's example: Charter Communications Inc. says it has 200 HD viewing choices available to its subscribers, of which I am one. (I'm a subscriber, that is. Not a viewing choice, heaven forbid.)

What does "200 HD viewing choices" mean?

Imagine going to a restaurant that advertises "thousands of dining choices" on its sign. Sounds like a lot, but when you go inside, you see a menu with just six main courses and a few appetizers, desserts, and drinks.

On its sign, the restaurant marketing department has told you the sum of every possible combination of food and drink you could conceivably order. You feel defeated. You still have no idea how that compares to the number of menu choices at other restaurants.

Charter's taking a similar approach. In my 'hood, they have 17 HD channels and a few of those -- like ESPNHD and ESPN2HD -- are from the same network and have a fair amount of overlap in content.

More HD channels are available if you subscribe to premium channels like HBO or Showtime, so those qualify viewing choices, too.

Charter has about 15 to 20 HD movies on demand this week. But it has viewing choices a'plenty. It has lots of HD music videos from bands I've never heard of and infomercial-type programming in HD. It's not the kind of stuff that most folks would sit and suffer through, let along seek out via the VOD menu.

My point: Take out the number-padding, and 200 HD "viewing choices" slips to about 17 channels and fewer than 20 worthwhile movies.

That's still more HD choices than a lot of providers have on offer. But don't blame consumers for feeling a little slighted when they ignore the flashing sign and step up to read the menu.

— Phil Harvey, Editor, Light Reading

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