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HD—and Plenty of SD—Captures Historic Inaugural

From HD Notebook.

The inaugural festivities on Jan. 20 will no doubt go down in history for, among other things, being among the most-viewed HD events inside the United States—likely surpassing even the Super Bowl among American audiences because the events were carried on nearly every broadcast station and cable network simultaneously.

While it wasn’t the first inaugural to be presented in HD, there are millions more American HD viewers then since the last inaugural four years ago (when George W. Bush’s second celebration drew just 15.5 million viewers nationwide, compared to 42 million for Ronald Reagan’s inaugural in 1981). But some events coverage may have proven a bit frustrating for diehard HD viewers who are used to high-def clarity and 16:9 and not watching video pop back and forth between SD and HD, and 4:3 and 16:9 over several hours.

All major broadcast and cable news networks (save MSNBC) carried most of the day’s studio and field events in HD—although in the inaugural’s home market, Washington, D.C. (DMA no. 9) the CBS affiliate (WUSA-TV), the Fox station (WTTG-TV), and the NBC O&O (WRC-TV) chose to carry large portions of the pool coverage locally in SD with their own news commentators, including nearly the entire afternoon/evening parade, thereby preempting much of their respective networks’ HD coverage in favor of local 4:3 SD on both their analog and HD digital channels.

NBC provided some of its ENG coverage on the National Mall in SD while maintaining HD’s 16:9 aspect ratio. Most local broadcasters and the big four networks have not yet converted all their ENG equipment to HD, which prompted ever-changing aspect ratios and imaging variations for much of the day across the dial for HD viewers.

For the most part, much of the gradual transition to HD ENG is being done through the natural attrition of current SD equipment.

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