The reason that posting has been light this week is that we are spending it in a condo on sunny Shell Beach. This is our first trip back to Shell Beach since it got nailed by a couple back-to-back hurricanes. So everything here is new. That includes the televisions, where the old school tubes have been replaced by new HiDef TVs.

As most of you are aware, the aspect ratio (AR) on HDTVs are closer to the 16:9 of movies rather than the 3:2 of regular television. This presents a bit of a problem because though more and more TV shows have gone “widescreen” most are still in the traditional AR. The most obvious solution to this problem is to have black bars running to the right and left (the same way that black bars run along top and bottom when widescreen is shown on regular television.

The television comes with a handful of options:

  • Normal – This is with the black bars running across the right and left, which can create the burn if used too much. It also is problematic when a 16:9 show comes on, because then there are black borders along all four sides becaue it’s a 16:9 inside a 3:2 inside a 16:9.
  • Wide – Everything is fat. The advantage to this is that everything is visible. This is the way to go with sports where being able to read the text (stats and scores) is important, but a slight distortion isn’t that big of a deal as long as it’s consistent.
  • Panorama – This takes up the extreme monitor by distorting the sides. It creates a glass type of effect, where everything front and center (which you would be viewing through glasses) appears nicely but the edges are grossly distorted (as they might look outside your glasses). This is a lot like “Normal” view but in a way that won’t create any long-term problems with the screen.
  • Zoom – This is my preferred one, where it just lops off the top and bottom of the screen Similar to how “full-size” movies lop off the right and left of widescreen films, though those movies typically do it tactically rather than right in the center. Zoom mode of live television obviously can’t do that (though a scroll feature would be awesome!). For the most part you don’t lose much from the top and bottom. I was watching Law & Order yesterday and I was wondering if they kept declining to show the top of Fred Thompson’s bald head in some conspiracy to prevent him from looking too old to be president. Then I remembered that I was in zoom mode.

The United States is supposed to cease analog television in early 2009, at which point HDTV sales will start to increase significantly. As they become more prevalent, I can’t help but think that some more permanent solution will have to be figured out. New programming that hasn’t already will start switching to 16:9 AP, but what about all of the 3:2 broadcasts in reruns?

It seems to me that the most obvious solution will be to simply come up with alternate content for the 15-20% of the screen that is unused. This would actually allow the broadcasters non-stop commercials. They would have to be subtle so that they don’t detract from the main programming, but having corporate logos wouldn’t be that problematic, for instance. In fact, this is so obvious that I could see them doing it for new broadcasts as well as older ones. More benignly, during sports news on ESPN or Fox Sports they could have the boxscore cattle call appearing non-stop to the right instead of in a crawl at the bottom. For news broadcasts they could sum up the news story in bullet points or provide geared ads (say during a story on house break-ins, show phone numbers of home security systems and whatnot).

For the past few years they’ve been showing more and more new content in 16:9 AR even though for most people that means unused blackscreen. It’s not hard at all to imagine that they would keep new shows at 3:2 so that they can run corporate logos and emphasize product placement (“that letter-opener that the character is using is available at Staples for $6.99!).

The alternative would be for them to go over all of the old shows and crop like they do in the movies, which is a lot of work, or add the black bars in so people don’t have to keep switching from video modes (which runs burn risks, but solves the bigger problem). For better or worse, though, I can’t imagine that they would fail to utilize the opportunity to sell more ads, though.

Category: Theater

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