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The picture is getting sharper, clearer and richer for high-definition TV set owners.

July 17, 2003

The picture is getting sharper, clearer and richer for high-definition TV set owners.

The countdown to NBC in hi-def is nearing T minus 10 days. By July 28 KSHB, Channel 41, and its digital sister KSHB-DT should be blasting away from atop a new broadcast tower near Benjamin Plaza.

"We ran into a little equipment snag today," KSHB general manager Jim Swinehart said Tuesday, "but (chief engineer) Barry (Pinney) is quite confident that he'll get both our analog and digital stations up by the end of the month."

Cable carriage will then commence on Time Warner, which reports some 6,000 of its high-definition cable boxes in use throughout the area. (No word when Comcast will follow suit.)

Finally, the owners of KCTV have scraped together enough cash to buy the station the gear it needs to carry CBS programs in hi-def.

KCTV general manager Kirk Black, who has seen his share of equipment snags, didn't want to set a target date. But an obvious one would be Sept. 7, when the Chiefs' regular season begins. CBS has the rights to 12 of the 16 Chiefs games.

You're going to have to wait a little longer before WDAF-DT goes hi-def -- like, a year. Still, it was a step in the right direction when the president of News Corp., the media monolith that owns the Fox network and "Fox 4," told government regulators last month that half of the network's prime-time schedule will be in high definition beginning in the fall of 2004.

Until now Fox has been airing digital programs in a low-resolution format known as 480p widescreen. It looks good, but not nearly as good as it will in the high-definition 720p standard (the same one used by ABC affiliate KMBC-DT).

Over in cableland, more good news: Time Warner has added two choices to its HDTV tier, including the utterly dazzling Discovery HD Theater channel. It's not online yet but will be shortly (keep checking Channel 1500).

The other offering, In Demand HD, launched Tuesday on Channel 1501. For the next two months hi-def customers will be able to see movies in hi-def for free in prime time. On Sept. 15, the service will switch over to pay-per-view.

In Demand believes there will be great interest in watching HD movies because the picture is dramatically sharper than DVDs. (There is, however, a hi-def DVD format in the works.)

Sunflower Broadband in Lawrence went online July 1 with its hi-def service. As in so many of its endeavors, the tiny but progressive Sunflower is way ahead of the curve.

Its customers in Lawrence, Tonganoxie and outlying areas are among the only cable viewers in the country to get HDNet, the all-hi-def-all-the-time channel bankrolled by Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. HDNet, which recently spun off an all-movies channel (also carried by Sunflower), had been the exclusive property of satellite TV.

But there's more. Sunflower also has Discovery HD and ESPN HD in addition to the usual hi-def offerings from HBO and Showtime. And it's adding local HD signals, including KSHB's the minute it's available. (Sunflower's HD service is currently in "extended beta," with an official launch scheduled for August 1.)