Monday, November 24, 2008

When is 16 x 9 going to become the norm?

16:9 HDTV's have been around for ages and 16:9 broadcasts have been around for a while as well.

So can someone please explain to me why 90% of tv is still being broadcast in 4:3?

I mean how hard is it to reformat all the old content into 16:9, i mean the do it for all the re-edits of the dvd's they release.

The other thing thats bugs me is why is all the on demand content on Time Warner still in 4:3? even the latest stuff which has to be cut from 16:9 to 4:3 is still shown in the old format.

With the changover in the USA to all digital in Feb 2009 do you think we can get all the channels to finally make the switch?



  1. Dean,

    Only too happy to oblige since broadcast is my major business.

    Since the FCC DTV mandate was established back in 1999 most of the production community has shifted to HD, giving you 16:9 programming, whether displayed in HD or SD. CBS's "Survivor" was one of the major prime-time holdouts, but even they went HD this season. Although "The Amazing Race" is still SD and 4:3 this season.

    Oddly enough, the CBS morning show is also still in SD and 4:3. This is a simple matter of economics and logistics. They haven't yet been able to make the technical transition on that production facility where that show shoots. It costs a substantial sum and takes considerable time & effort to convert a facility from SD to HD.

    A few years ago some would take the decision to 2-step the transition, converting to 16:9 SD now and then true HD eventually. This let them wait for the cost of HD equipment to fall.

    That kind of a decision is now the domain of smaller market local TV stations. Large stations need to HD soon, so a 2 step makes no sense.

    Moving forward just about everything being produced anew will be widescreen.

    But there are millions of hours of older shows on videotape that are SD 4:3. If these show shot on tape, like "Laugh In" then they may never be available in 16:9. The process of conversion from 4:3 to 16:9 is like manipulating an image in Photoshop. You zoom in enough to fill the width, cropping down the top & bottom. That would destroy the integrity of the framing in something like Laugh In.

    However, older shows shot on film may eventually be retransfered to video in HD format. A few years back I heard that someone in Hollywood was bidding on retransfering all the old "I Love Lucy" shows.

    The telecine transfer is a technical & creative process that uses a costly suite of equipment to try and create the best possible video from film. Sophisticated lighting & color correction processes are commonplace. It can take many hours to complete the transfer of one hour of show.

    But like copying old 8mm home movies to VHS tape, you can get it done cheap and dirty if you want.

    All of this leaves out the story of the broadcaster, who has to convert their transmission chain to 16:9 and/or HD. But you're in NYC so everyone there is funded well enough to make that happen.

    4:3 will be around for a long time but I expect that you've see it less and less over time.

  2. but can you explain why Time Warner still transmits so much stuff in 4:3?

    all the on demand stuff is in 4:3 even new stuff that is being shown on other channels in 16:9.

    I guess I'm trying to understand why they aren't showing the new stuff in 16:9 on all channels as it's been long enough for people to buy new tv's.


  3. Cable Cos have their own infrastructure issues. They need to receive the feed from their local stations, which they do either by wire, fiber or even off-air. They already HD SD 4:3 processes in place for years. All of these need to be changed out.

    For networks, as opposed to local stations, they may need to negotiate new carriage terms to get access to the HD feeds.

    On many channels they simple won't go into 16:9 for fear that people with older sets won't be accommodated.

    Here in Houston only the HD channels are 16:9. Period. There's no SD 16:9 at all. I expect that to be the same across the country.

    It could be worse. When all production is 16:9 people with older sets may see a "letterbox" display. The widescreen image edge-to-edge across the TV with a black stripe top & bottom. Thus they will see a very low resolution image.

    As for on-demand, well it's a bandwidth & content issue. They already own the rights to a lot of material in SD 4:3 space. Gotta keep selling it while they can. Need to acquire new rights to get at HD material. Comcast has been doing a good job of that.

    Every company in the space is spending like crazy, and has to prioritize.

    They'll need an entirely new back end infrastructure to deliver HD, with loads more bandwidth. They also need more of their installed cable boxes in the homes upgraded to be HD capable. Not that they'll necessarily put HD on your set. But they need to receive HD and downconvert it to SD for display. That way they can reclaim some of their existing bandwidth for reuse.

    Advertisers are the ones that bug me. You can see a 4:3 SD advert on minute and then a widescreen HD version shortly after, on the same channel. That's about who bought what. Was it the regional group of Chevy dealers, or a GM national buy? The dealer group may only get the SD ad delivered by Fedex on BetaSP tape. The national buyer probably knows better, and specifies an HD spot.

    The truth is that no-one is talking about 16:9 SD except small market stations looking to save costs. In essence, it's HD or bust.

    It's a bit of a mess at the moment. But it will eventually all get sorted out.