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This page is written with the motivation of annoyance at many

 









 

This page is written with the motivation of annoyance at many, many people.  Most namely though, the annoyance is laid firmly and fairly on the shoulders of the incompetent broadcasters in their consistent inability as a group to provide decent, watchable television.  Society & news organisations constantly talk about the decline in the quality of television.  Where has all the quality gone?  Is it from the dilution of quiz shows, or the lack of quality drama.  For me, the blame for the demise in quality television is much more discernible, the framing of television.

Baird might have got it right with his 7:3 "portrait" frame back in the 20's, the BBC may have had it right when they launched with a 5:4 frame in the 30's, maybe the format of choice for most of the 20th Century; 4:3 is good enough, or is the cinema brainchild the 16:9 the most superior frame format?

It doesn't matter.  Broadcasters with enough money have chosen 16:9 for us already.  The problems only occur when integrating this with former technology.  Seriously though, you can't tell me the BBC had years of aspect radio conversions between their standard 4:3 and their former 5:4 frame in the 50's.  So why do we as viewers have constant problems when broadcasters try to satisfy our viewing pleasure with a mish-mash of double standards?

My interpretation of television has been sketchy and out-spoken many times, however one question remains firm in my mind.  What viewing pleasure can people get out of this; nowadays lovingly known as "stretchy-vision".

Cinemas have for many years successfully provided movies of varying formats & aspect ratios.  CinemaScope, PanaScope, WarnerScope & PanaVision are all well respected names in cinematography, successfully reproducing images in varying widescreen formats, originally a marketing gimmick, nowadays a serious biological necessity to relax the eyes.  You will never go to a cinema & experience a movie in an incorrect movie ratio.  So why them must we as television consumers endure the annoying result of stretched & pinched images.

Broadcasters have always had control over how a viewer watches its content.  Since digital television launched in 1998, that control has been handed over to the consumers in what can only be described as a viewing catastrophe.  My Hitachi widescreen set has 6 different aspect ratio modes, all of which can be useful in different situations, however all of which are confusing to the average consumer. 

What was wrong with Granada showing Superman IV in 16:9 format on analogue TV.  Absolutely nothing, no one ever complained that there were black bands at the top and bottom of movies when shown on analogue TV.  In fact in the early 90's it was encouraged with ITV & Channel 4 regularly providing a "PAL plus" or "Widescreen Experience" service to show movies in their *original* aspect ratio on TV.  Why then in the 21st Century can't we accept black bands down the side of a football match?  Is it because we don't expect it to be there; we don't know what to do?

When ITV broadcast Champions League football, they quite correctly, force the viewer to enjoy the match in what is known as an AFD7, a 16:9 image with 4:3 source.  This forces viewers with a 16:9 set to view the match with a 4:3 format as intended by the host broadcaster & ITV. The downside is documented as a bug in the handling of AFD7's by the UK Digital Television Group receiver implementation guidelines for those viewing the above with a 4:3 set.  The effect caused is affectionately known as a "postage stamp" with black borders all around the image.  This effect is caused because the programme is still flagged as being a 16:9 programme even though 90% of the air-time of the programme has a 4:3 source.

This forced viewing action by the broadcasters is correct in order to make the anarchy of choice controlled again.  But why do people modify what is *right* anyway?

Some to *fill* their screen by stretching their 4:3 image to fill the sides up. Some stretch upwards to hide the channel DOG giving a 16:9 cut out effect, some even squash their 16:9 source on a 4:3 set to give a tall & thin impression.  People force themselves to watch television like this because they can, which reminds me of an old saying, "sometimes it's not always best to do something even though you know you can."

Broadcasters must regain control of the framing of imagery in the digital age.  This will probably not happen now until the arrival of HD, and even then all content will be 16:9 anyway so the problem will be eradicated anyway.

Broadcasters however do have a trick up their sleeve.   The example of the football match described above is the only way that 4:3 content can be successfully controlled in shape & dimensions.  People find it hard to get out of the 4:3 in a 16:9 frame situation, therefore, why can't all content be transmitted in this way on a digital platform.  Quality loss would be minimal because of the "broadcasted black".  Thus, because the black never changes, bandwidth is not wasted on the black; reverting to the rest of the image to provide higher quality vision for the main picture. 

Only this way can broadcasters revive some of the beauty lost for the quality of television, and give a bit of dignity back to the programme it is trying to broadcast.


If you feel that television is being ruined by people stretching or mis-shaping their TV's aspect ratios, contact us and tell us your thoughts on widescreen presentation in the UK.

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Further reading:

http://www.dvdcreation.com/2001/01_jan/features/widescreen_scam.htm
- The Widescreen Scam

http://www.reelclassics.com/Techtalk/aspectratio-article.htm
- About Aspect Ratios

http://www.avison.me.uk/digital_video/dtg_afd/
- AFD7 bug

 

 

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