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Why cats love high-def TV

Phil Swann, the high-definition TV guru, has noticed something interesting: Cats love the super-real images on high-def TV. Back in 2001, he bought his first high-def set, and as soon as he turned it on, he got an interesting reaction from his cat, Snoopy. As Swann reports on his site:

Surfing the dial, I stumbled upon a HDTV channel that was showing a documentary on the American Bald Eagle. Snoopy was taking a cat nap in a chair to the left of the TV, but suddenly looked up and saw an eagle soaring across the screen. She immediately walked over and began watching — and she hasn’t stopped yet. [snip]

In fact, she will watch for 20 minutes at a time, particularly if the show features birds, fish or animals. If she sees a bird flying on a high-def channel, she will crouch down in the attacker stance as if the winged creature was right in front of her.

That’s Snoopy above, checking out some fish. And apparently Snoopy isn’t alone. When Swann posted on a discussion board, other HDTV owners said they’d seen precisely the same behavior. Obviously, pets have been avid watchers of twittering, skittering TV images for years, but the realism of HD does seem to fool pets even more. Indeed, one owner noted that his cats freak out when a Discover HD broadcat with animals come on — but don’t respond at all when Animal Planet, a non-HD broadcast, plays.

This brings to mind an interesting aesthetic question that erupted when I wrote about HDTV a few months ago. My piece noted that many famous stars look totally hideous in HD, because their previously-unnoticed imperfections — tiny wrinkles, face-lift seams — suddenly become glaring flaws. But all the experts I talked to noted that nature shows look fabulous. Humans in closeup wither; but nature flowers, because its beauty is fractal — the closer you get, the more you can notice the elegant nuances of a leaf, a river, or an iguana.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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