It's a fresh dawn for television.
In fact, it's Sunrise Earth, the daylight-breaking series that simply sets up cameras in some stunningly remote locale — bison grazing in the prairies of Yellowstone, a canoe skimming the glossy surface of the Mother of God River in Peru, a butterfly emerging from its pupa in the Costa Rican rain forest — as the sun comes up.
Though the series has been around since 2004, it is being joined by a flood of other picturesque series on channels both familiar and obscure, whose existence would make much less sense if it weren't for another new dawn: the era of high-definition television.
Sunrise, which airs every morning on Discovery's HD Theater channel, was one of the first designed to shine in high-definition. Sunrise "doesn't even have dialogue," says Scott Wilkinson of The Perfect Vision magazine. "It's just a camera stuck in a beautiful place at sunrise, and they show beautiful pictures. You can put that on a loop, and your flat panel would be a high-tech art gallery."
These days, new HD networks are coming online at a rapid clip. Some channels are sharper clones of familiar names such as TBS, CNN and Bravo. Others carry unfamiliar names and exist to serve in high-definition. Both are building up libraries of pretty-picture programming — nature, adventure, art, travel — designed specifically to appeal to people who have just hung that huge plasma in the home theater.
"You have this high-performance device on your wall, and you want to exercise it," says Comcast's Derek Harrar. "You want to watch something cool and exciting — and clearly, the three main categories would be movies and then sports and, I think, this pretty-picture content is right behind that."
A glance at the growing HDTV gallery:
•The Smithsonian Channel, which rolled out two months ago on DirecTV, covers the artful lines of classic cars (think pre-World War II vehicles and '50s Ferraris) in World's Finest Cars. Another program, Nature Tech: The Magic of Motion, zooms in on how the science of birds, insects, fish and sharks is improving airplanes, cars and even swimsuits.
The series Stories From the Vault, hosted by actor Tom Cavanagh (Ed), delves into the holdings of the Smithsonian museums. In HD, Cavanagh says, viewers are virtually transported to the museum. "The more clear and concise the image, the more people can see," he says. "And when you are looking at artifacts with the weight of history to them, it helps to see them better."
•Artland: USA, a new series on the Voom HD network found on Echostar's Dish Network, takes viewers across the country to art galleries (such as The Art Institute of Chicago), national monuments (such as the Gateway Arch in St. Louis) and notable architectural feats.
•On Mojo — a cable channel just rechristened from its original name, INHD — is Pressure Cook, starring Hell's Kitchen finalist Ralph Pagano, who travels to destinations such as Mexico, Italy and Brazil to explore local kitchens and sites. "With the cooking craze on television, we took it to an exotic location where you can appreciate the beauty that comes across in HD," says Robert Jacobson, president and CEO of iN Demand Networks, which owns Mojo.