NewTeeVee has an interesting piece up discussing why (and how) some television networks stretch 4:3 content to fill 16:9 screens. Given the sheer quantity of 4:3 content produced over the years, it’s not surprising this is an issue as folks upgrade to widescreen 16:9 television sets. NewTeeVee speculates that stretching is to efficiently simulcast SD and HD programming. However, A&E and TBS (who both stretch) say the decision is consumer-based.
CNBC HD has implemented the best solution by surrounding their 4:3 SD simulcast with supplemental HD content. This obviously wouldn’t work on every network and with all content, but it’s a novel decision until they upgrade their gear.
I prefer that programming is broadcast in its original aspect ratio allowing me to selectively choose amongst the various stretch and zoom modes offered by my HDTVs and TiVos. Or to leave it be. However, I understand A&E and TBS choosing to stretch 4:3 content to fill the screen… There’s already enough HD and digital TV confusion out there – I’d rather not have to explain to my mom why she has black bars. They’re probably not interested in answering that question either or paying to settle some burn-in class action lawsuit.
Incidentally, as a plasma owner skittish about burn-in (real or imagined) and distracted by black (or grey) bars, I’m still trying to figure out how to zoom or stretch 1.85:1 and 2.40:1 HD DVD content to fill my 16:9 screen. I’m willing to make that particular trade of minimal distortion and lower resolution to protect my set.
So, what’s your preference?