I bought my first HDTV just about 3 years ago. I was a little late to the game considering I work in TV and I enjoy all sorts of new technology. But I was waiting until I felt there were enough HD channels on cable that it would really be worth the purchase. I didn’t want to spend over two grand on a TV and then end up watching mostly SD TV on it.
When I first got my HDTV there were probably roughly 20 channels offering HD content on Comcast Cable. Just a few years down the road and now I get 65 channels offering HD content. TV has never looked so good. But at the same time, sadly, TV has never looked so bad. Because while I have 65 channels offering HD content, very few of them provide HD content constantly. Many of the channels still show older SD shows upconverted to HD.
But it’s not the SD nature of these shows I have a problem with. It’s the program’s aspect ratio. See, HD has a 16:9 ratio for its screen shape. It’s a much wider screen than these old SD shows were created for. And certain networks don’t do a very good job of adjusting the old 4:3 SD shows to fit inside the new 16:9 HD frame.
There’s basically 4 ways to fit the 4:3 image into a 16:9 frame.
In order from best to worst methods:
This is a good method because it preserves the original aspect ratio of the SD footage and does not cut anything off.
2. 4:3 Slightly Zoomed, Slightly Pillarboxed
I would deem this method as “OK”. It slightly zooms the image in, cutting off the top and bottom a bit, but it does preserve the original aspect.
3. 4:3 Flex View
This is a strange method that several networks use. It manages to stretch the edges of the image more than the center. When characters are in online casino the middle of the screen they look pretty normal. But, when the characters are on the edge of the screen, they end up with a football-shaped head.
4. 4:3 Stretched
This is the worst method used. It stretches the entire scene evenly to fill the 16:9 frame.
So, now knowing the various methods that networks use to upconvert 4:3 SD to 16:9 HD, we can do a quick “air check” to see how specific channels compare.
All of these channels are HD and when they broadcast HD, they are correct and look great. The lists below contain only the networks that I could catch showing 4:3 SD on their HD channel.
Here’s the “Good” list…Pillarboxing:
Comedy Central HD
ABC Family HD
The “OK” list…Slightly Zoomed In:
Animal Planet HD
The “Thanks For Trying” List…Flex View:
The “We Didn’t Even Try” list…Stretched:
Overtime, I plan on doing more “Air Checks” and hopefully some of these networks will change their method to a better version, and when they do I’ll let you know. Until then, do what I do and try to ignore all the Football-Shaped-Headed people walking around on TV.