We're Not All 16:9 Yet!

My voice, from yelling at the TV, will probably not return until midweek. But I can still type.
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My voice, from yelling at the TV, will probably not return until midweek. But I can still type.

We're not all watching in 16:9 yet!

My first clue that it wasn't going to be much fun watching the football game came on the opening kickoff, when the 50-yard line camera panning downfield stopped before it got to the kick receiver. At least on my set it did.

Those first few seconds of the game portended sweeps where the runner swept off my screen and passes that passed out of my field-of-view. It wasn't just the midfield cameraman who was doing it; the high-20 on the right side did the same thing.

No doubt the cameras all sported 16:9 viewfinders. Maybe that's important in these post-costume-failure days, when a broadcaster has to be careful about what goes over-the-air to each and every viewer, even those in the HD minority. But I don't want to keep losing sight of the ball carrier.

I imagine the remote truck was chock full of 16:9 monitors, and everything looked fine in the control room.

But surely somewhere along the line, someone in authority was watching on an old-fashioned 4:3 monitor. Certainly they'd get the word that most viewers were getting a crappy game.

The second-half kickoff told me there'd been no halftime talk; it, too, sailed out-of-sight, off my screen to a waiting receiver.

There needs to be a 4:3 monitor in the truck with the program running.

Somebody needs to watch it.

To my eye, this is not an epidemic. In fact, this was the first game where I'd seen the 4:3 screen violated. (And this fall, I've been watching a lot of football and baseball.) But I bet it's a problem that's going to escalate.

We've already seen the same problem with HD graphics on an SD television set. When these high-resolution graphics are created too thin to read legibly on an SD set, they're no good for 80 percent of the audience. (Or is that 79? 78?)

Don't pick on my set. My curiosity has gotten the best of me on a couple of occasions, and I've headed for the local sports bar to watch the rest of the game in HD. Sure enough, the fine-line graphics look beautiful on the high-resolution set.

Then it's been down to the local Fry's Electronics to check out the highest of the high-end SD sets.

No could read small print.


My sense is that these types of HD-pictures-that-don't-work-on-an-SD-set problems are not likely to infect local TV any time soon. The reason being, most local stations are not going to buy everybody in power an HD set for their office.

And that's the key to taking care of the poor SD-set owners. Somebody in the chain of command has to be watching TV in SD, and that person needs to speak up.

As the years go by, this kind of policing is going to get tougher to do. As the percentage of SD sets in homes falls to 70, then 60, there will be the reasonable argument for juicing things up for the HD-set owner and let the SD-set owner live with it.

The solution may seem simple--just letterbox HD's 16:9 image and send it over the analog channel. That may solve the action in the side-panel issue, but it will exacerbate the graphics issue.

There may be one more voice that weighs in on this issue, and it's a voice that can pack weight in elephantine proportions--the consultant.

As the audience fractionalizes with every passing year, a premium is put on keeping the sliver of audience you still have from becoming a smaller fraction.

If it's a gotta'-watch World Series like this year's, 4:3-set owners may have to put up with a letterboxed 16:9 image. If the viewers have their choice (as they do now) of a half-dozen college football games at the same time on Saturday, they may surf right on past anything with a diminished picture.

This is not a new phenomenon. When character generators first arrived on the market, operators sometimes found themselves creating beautiful color graphics where the red and the blue, for instance, were close to the same level of saturation. The result was that in black-and-white, they were indistinguishable.

That led to a black-and-white graphics-preview monitor being placed in the control room, where both the CG operator and the director could see it. Back then, if you put out graphics that didn't show up on black-and-white sets, you were ignoring half your audience.

OK, my rant is over. I'll drink tea with lemon and honey in it for the next couple of days until I can talk again.

Then maybe we can talk about A/V sync, which drives me crazy!