Election 2008: Networks Pull Out All the Stops

Tuesday night marked the first presidential Election Day coverage in TV history on which all major broadcast networks and nearly all cable news channels (except MSNBC) provided election coverage in 1080i or 720p. Plus, a significant number of viewers were able to watch it in HD at home as well.

Perhaps taking a cue from CNBC and Fox Business Channel, the major networks to varying degrees last night (Nov. 4) tapped into the wider aspect ratio afforded by all HD formats to run late-breaking numbers and (especially in NBC News' case) multiple state-by-state returns as the evening progressed. Apart from the 16:9 screen configuration, the more precise imaging of 1080i or 720p over SD allows the use of lots of text data that remains legible (as the two cable business channels demonstrate in slightly different ways on a daily basis).

Use of the side panels (or "wings") of a 16:9 aspect ratio for stats (or for anything else other than content-free bookends) serves at least two purposes: It gives HD viewers more information at any given time without interrupting video coverage that often is confined to a 4:3 window within the large frame; and it tends to mask the fact that most network and local remotes outside the studio are still produced with older SD equipment using the 4:3 aspect ratio.

CNN brought reporters "into" their election center studios in Manhattan by using a holographic method that relied on a series of HD cameras that captured a reporter's live image from various angles simultaneously—seemingly transporting the full-body image of the reporter into the New York studios alongside CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer. However, it was apparent that the process is in its early stages. The reporter's images, for the most part, were outlined somewhat eerily by white light and the image quality seemed to be minimal, especially seen side-by-side with the others who were tangibly present in the New York studios.

Fox News Channel used Election Day on Tuesday to launch two new HD studios that feature large rear-projection for 3D-like graphics, live video content, and other presentations.

Most of the networks and cable news channels also enhanced their HD coverage for election night with virtual reality technology and slightly different versions of computerized touchscreen maps that were first introduced very early in the long campaign season by CNN.