Tonight was SuperBowl night--and while I'm not a football fan, I did see some of the game. Buck hosted a group of gamers who stayed at Dr. No's after the store closed to watch the game in high definition. (We have a 62" HD Toshiba set at the store, and we're in an ideal place for rooftop antenna placement, so we pick up all the local HD channels in pretty much flawless high definition.) When I came by the store after dinner to do the bank deposit and make a few photocopies, the game was nearing the end of the second quarter, so I saw a minute or two of football and lots of minutes of commercials.
For the first time, the vast majority of the commercials were also broadcast in high definition. This is a real landmark as far as I'm concerned; even though much of the networks' prime-time schedule is in high-def, the commercials are almost always in standard definition. (If you don't have an HD set, you may not know how to tell the difference. Here's a simplified method of determining HD or SD: if, when the HD program goes to commercial, two black columns suddenly appear on the left and right of the picture, the commercial is SD. If the commercial fills the entire widescreen image without making people seem squatty and fat, then it's an HD commercial.)
High definition commercials are a Big Deal, because they indicate an awareness by advertisers that (a) a significant portion of the viewing public is watching in high-def, and (b) the demographics for that HD-viewing audience are particularly desirable. There's no doubt that the commercials look significantly better; in fact, the HD commercials often look so good that I find myself actually watching the commercials rather than fast-forwarding through them!
I'm old enough to remember the black-and-white to all-color transition of the 1960s. My parents bought a 13" color television in the mid-1960s, but there were still a significant portion of the programs that were broadcast in black and white. More significant for this topic, though, the commercials were almost always in black and white. Color commercials seemed to lag behind color programming; I can recall seeing B&W commercials even after most of the programming had made the color transition.
But the shift to majority-HD commercials--even in a targeted program like the SuperBowl, where people who don't normally watch HD are likely to see it in HD in a public venue of some sorts or at a friend's house--says a lot about the market penetration of HD. Furthermore, if companies are making HD commercials for the SuperBowl, then they have those commercials on file for non-SuperBowl use as well, and that may mean that we'll begin to see more HD advertising during prime time hours.
Incidentally, one local station--WXIA, Channel 11 in Atlanta--has begun broadcasting its local news broadcasts in HD as well. The HD takeover is underway; I'm curious to see how long we'll have to wait before most syndicated non-rerun programming is also HD, as well as soaps, talk shows, reality programming, and network news...