Go get 16:9 content for your 16:9 TVs, you morons

All right. Enough is enough. HDTVs are coming down in price, SDTVs are turning into dinosaurs that are barely advertised in the Best Buy and Circuit City flyers, and content providers (that is, your cable or satellite service and your DVD player) offer the content you need to take advantage of the newer screen formats. Very soon the HDTV format will become the standard format. It’s time to get with the program and stop being lame: If you own a 16:9 television, you need to get yourself some 16:9 content before I’m forced to drive over there and kick your ass.

I’m willing to cut you some slack for a little while longer (given the overall sluggish HD content transition), but not much. This is getting ridiculous. I see more and more 16:9 televisions, but I’m not seeing more and more 16:9 content. I’m seeing people who are watching 4:3 standard-def content on their 16:9 HDTVs. It has to stop. Now.

“Looks good to me,” they say, marveling at their new HDTV. No, it doesn’t. It looks like a bunch of crap. You’ve got a horizontally distorted, low-resolution non-HD image on what should be a crisp, new, high-resolution HDTV, which only serves to magnify the fuzziness inherent in analog non-HD. If you honestly think this looks good, you should be banned from HDTV as a consumer. Why did you buy the HDTV in the first place?

How not to piss me off
Check this shit out (Fig. 1): The difference between 4:3 and 16:9 is pretty simple. If you have 16:9 content for your HDTV (Fig. 2), then you rule and are not a moron (Fig. 3).

It amazes me how many people, still to this day, do not understand the way aspect ratio works. If you’re one of those people, this blog entry is your lesson by way of condescension.

An old SDTV (standard-definition TV, using the NTSC format in the United States) has a ratio of 4 units in width for every 3 units in height. A widescreen 16:9 HDTV using the HDTV format (although they indeed have made 4:3 HDTVs, presumably to add to the confusion) is 16 units in width for every 9 units in height. 16:9 is the same as 1.78:1, which is very similar to the 1.85:1 of widescreen movies (but not as wide as a 2.35:1 widescreen movie, which must be letterboxed to fit even on widescreen 16:9 TVs).

I won’t even go into refresh rates and line resolutions, because that’s not necessary to my point. My point is, I’m sick of seeing 4:3 content images stretched into faux 16:9 images. The diagram to the right illustrates my point. Half or more people* watching a 16:9 TV are watching TV stations that aren’t in HD, so they get 4:3 images. The proper way to display this would be to display them in 4:3 mode and have black bars on the left and right sides of the screen. Instead, many people stretch the 4:3 image to fill the screen, as to not “waste” it.

These are presumably the same people who bought nothing but “fullscreen” 4:3 DVDs because, “Letterboxing cuts off the top and bottom of the screen.” No, it doesn’t, you ignoramuses. It shows the full image in a format that otherwise can’t support it given its dimensions. Look at the illustrations provided and get a clue.

There’s still the issue that a lot of cable providers require you to get an HD-channel lineup (which might cost more) and some channels you may have to pay extra to get in HD format. I’m willing to cut you some slack in those cases. Where I won’t cut you some slack is with your DVD collection, which is a format that, while not true HD because of its resolution (HD-DVD and Blu-Ray must still battle it out in the high-def DVD format war), was conceived with HD and 16:9 widescreen in mind. Yet, I still see people who have 16:9 TVs and they run their DVD players in 4:3 mode. This, despite that their DVDs are actually anamorphic widescreen discs. WTF? Change your DVD player settings to optimize it for your HDTV!

Of course, then we also have the “fullscreen” DVDs, which people bought so as to not have letterboxing on their 4:3 TVs, where the letterboxed image fills less of the screen and thus seems smaller. The irony of this, of course, is that for 16:9 TVs a “fullscreen” DVD will not fill up the screen natively. I’m hugely in favor of banning the term “fullscreen” because it’s so misleading. What it really means is “formatted for 4:3,” which at this point should be considered obsolete. Except for shows that were intentionally shot that way (“The Wire” and “The Shield,” for example), you all need to stop buying 4:3 “fullscreen” DVDs immediately. Otherwise you’re going to have a bunch of DVDs where you must stretch the image horizontally or deal with the left/right letterboxing (“pillarboxing” is the correct term) on a 16:9 TV.

Where this whole issue drives me most nuts, however, is in public places like bars.

When I go to a sports bar and they have HDTV DLP widescreen projectors showing 12-foot images of Monday Night Football on ESPN, the least they can do is pony up for ESPNHD, so they can show the 16:9 content that is intended for this kind of presentation. But no. Instead, I have to watch a football game in fuzzy standard-definition that has been stretched from 4:3 so that all the players and images are distorted. Everyone looks extra-wide, and circles are no longer circles but horizontally elongated ovals.

Yo, barkeep, tell your manager to GO GET HD CONTENT. He spent the 10 grand on the two DLP widescreen projectors. Can’t he afford to spend the additional $10/month (or whatever nominal fee it is) for ESPNHD?

Bunch of morons. Screw you, bar owner, and all your expensive technology that you can’t even bother to properly set up and supply with the right kind of content.

I guess until every TV in this country is 16:9 HD and all content is only offered in that format, I’m going to have to deal with you people who can’t tell the difference between a circle and an oval.

Disclaimer: If you are guilty of doing this and weren’t aware, I don’t really think you’re a moron. At least, not totally. I’m just venting. But, seriously, learn the difference. Actually, since you’ve read to the end, you have learned the difference. Congratulations; you are now HDTV-ready.

*Made-up extrapolated statistic based on my personal observation.

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18 comments on this post

John R
Tuesday, May 15, 2007, 5:55 am (UTC -6)

One of my bigbears, too!

Actually, I’m a neanderthal who still has a 32″ 4:3 CRT TV in his living room. Why? Because the issues of formats / HD etc. are not settled yet.

I remember watching people with early widescreens and wildly distorted 4:3 TV shows. Of course, these early adopters refused to admit that the image was naff.

And then you have high street stores such as Comet or Dixons who have giant show-stopping HD TVs in the entrance running standard fare DVDs – and all I can think is “nice TV size – pitty the image is “.

Oh, and by the time I get around to buying a HD TV – I’d expect a ‘proper’ anomorpic widescreen – not the psuedo 16:9 widescreen. I mean, come on – what were they thinking when they came up with that?

Maybe it went like this:

Interior: Dull grey office full of management types…

GUY 1: “Hey guys, we should really try making widescreen TVs.”
GUY 2: “Yeah, but then the videos and DVDs we look right.”
GUY 3: “That’s OK – we’ll just sell two formats on this new DVD thingy coming out.”
GUY 1: “Cool, but the ‘box’ shows will only take up half the screen…”

Guy at the end of the table swivels his chair around from staring out of the window with a big smirk on his face:

Guy 4: “I’ve got it. We’ll make a NEW widescreen format. Once we’ve sold all the ‘fullscreen’ rubbish off and everyone’s get used to it – we can then bring out the proper format. We’ll call it a transition format.”
Guy 2: “Yeah!”

Scene fades with guys using their tablet PCs to browse richbugger.com…

John R
Tuesday, May 15, 2007, 5:56 am (UTC -6)

I think I meant ‘bugbears’. What the hell is a bigbear?

Bill Selliger
Tuesday, May 15, 2007, 8:55 am (UTC -6)

Big Bear is a mountain northeast of Los Angeles. Half the time it’s covered in snow, the other half it’s on fire.

Jamie
Tuesday, May 15, 2007, 10:55 am (UTC -6)

I wasn’t aware it was such a problem… you’d think it was common sense.

Bryan K
Wednesday, May 16, 2007, 7:50 pm (UTC -6)

Yeah, you’d think it’d be common sense — but it’s not. People are morons, almost without fail, and especially when it comes to any kind of technology.

(Personally, I’m staying as far away from HD-DVD and BluRay as I can for as long as possible, but that’s just because I don’t like all the DRM and encryption crap. That’s also one of the reasons I’ll never willingly use Vista.)

smeos
Thursday, May 17, 2007, 1:59 am (UTC -6)

Very Maddox-esque. I like it.

Chief Oddball
Friday, May 18, 2007, 5:22 pm (UTC -6)

Hear hear. It drives me bats when restaurants, bars, etc. are showing fully-stretched 4:3 content on their expensive LCD and plasma widescreen monitors. Everything looks like crap! And worse, it usually appears as though I am the only guy in the place who can tell!

Even worse when big-box retailers are running stretched SD content through their new HD sets (which of course is split sixteen ways until it looks even worse than it already did). Practically impossible to tell how a monitor is really going to perform unless you pipe some real content through it. It’s like taking a new Porsche out for a test run, and then just driving 20 MPH in a straight line.

BTW, longtime reader from Jammer’s Reviews here. I consult your reviews not only for assistance when I’m looking for a good, nostalgic episode of DS9 to watch, but as episode guides too. Nothing finer out there.

Mike
Wednesday, May 23, 2007, 10:11 pm (UTC -6)

I cannot figure out why someone would want to stretch out 4:3 material just so that it “fits the screen”. Why would you want to see it distorted? Watch it pillarboxed so it retains its original aspect ratio. If they don’t like doing that, they shouldn’t have even gotten an HDTV.

Jamahl Epsicokhan
Wednesday, May 23, 2007, 11:03 pm (UTC -6)

“Pillarboxed.” I need to add that word to my lexicon. In fact, I am going to edit this blog entry to include the term so it is more correct.

Andrew
Friday, May 25, 2007, 4:16 am (UTC -6)

your blog expresses everything i always want to say. it is my biggest pet peeve when people use the wrong settings and get weird distorted images. even worse for me than streching 4:3 images to fit a 16:9 is when people have a 16:9 tv and 19:9 video and they set their tv to force the black bars to show up on the top and bottom still. also i agree they should stop labeling videos and “widescreen” and “fullscreen” since there are dozens of aspect ratios that are ‘wider’ than 4:3 and people think fullscreen is the whole picture

NMK
Sunday, May 27, 2007, 3:49 pm (UTC -6)

I think a lot of people with widescreen TVs stretch the 4:3 image out because they are afraid it will damage the TV to have the sides of the picture displaying nothing but black bars most of the time. The middle of the screen will wear out more than the edges.

My TV’s manual warns against using the 4:3 ratio in unstretched mode for extended periods. It bugs me, but I’d rather deal with a squashed picture than a TV with a burned-in picture.

I think that certainly explains why bars and restaurants tend to use their TVs that way.

Jamahl Epsicokhan
Tuesday, May 29, 2007, 6:10 pm (UTC -6)

NMK makes a good point I hadn’t considered, but I wonder how much that warning holds water when you consider that 2.35:1 movies are still letterboxed even on 16:9. Surely letterboxing (or reverse letterboxing) can’t be discouraged on these new TVs?

Of course, ultimately it would be nice if everyone with 16:9 TVs would just go get 16:9 content. The problem we’re going to see for a number of years, is that there’s too much 4:3 content still out there forcing this to be an issue.

B. Stewart
Wednesday, June 6, 2007, 12:07 am (UTC -6)

I’ll have a new HDTV soon but I’ll be waiting a bit to get HD content and I’ll tell you why. The F*cking receiver is another $500. Sorta gonna have trouble paying for the TV in the first place. Yeah, the extra fee for the HDTV content is nominal ($10/mo or something) but the damn box costs half of what a decent TV goes for. Other than that I agree with your whole post Jammer!

Stef
Monday, June 18, 2007, 4:22 am (UTC -6)

Trying to convince the heathens that think ‘full screen’ DVDs are the way to go because widescreen ‘cut the top and bottom off’ is difficult enough.

Then they see a 4:3 image squashed (Stretched? Squeezed?) into a 16:9 TV and they get on their high horse (of cliched stupidity):

“Oh, if this is ‘Wide screen’ then I’ll stick with my regular TV!!!!!”

Bah. I’m amazed these people aren’t still using a Bakelite radio.

Actually I’m amazed some of these people have the mental capacity to breathe.

There was the comment above about the 4:3 image being burnt into the screen. This has happened with my plasma, because when I first bought it (3 years old this week) there were still quite a few shows in 4:3 here in the UK (And there still are if you watch the channels showing old repeats). And as for episodes of Trek, X-files, Moonlighting etc (in fact any of my old DVDs/VHS) then it is 4:3.

If I am watching a 16:9 show and the screen is quite light, then you can see the burnt edges of the 4:3 image. Annoying but true.

Jamahl Epsicokhan
Monday, June 18, 2007, 9:20 pm (UTC -6)

I wonder if the burn-in problem is as much of a problem with DLP as with Plasma or LCD. I’ve read that burn-in is less an issue with DLP. That would be a selling point for the format, because I want to watch 4:3 content not stretched.

Wade
Thursday, June 21, 2007, 3:12 pm (UTC -6)

Yo. There’s a third option out there if you go for HD rear projection. LCOS is the generic name and JVC calls it D-ILA. That in my tube and I’m a big fan. I think its better but tougher to explain to the average mornon that just wants HD TV and is dumb enough to buy the TV but not the HD signal. Check it out…

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lcos

Jamie Hanrahan
Wednesday, July 11, 2007, 6:26 pm (UTC -6)

Burn-in is not a problem with DLP at all. It’s one reason I bought one.

LCD and, I believe, LCOS can exhibit a form of temporary image retention, but it heals itself in a matter of minutes.

My new DLP RP set has a “zoom” mode that takes 16:9 letterboxed content from 4:3 signals (as when watching, say, Stargate on SciFi channel) and stretches it to fill the screen. Result: No black bars, and no distortion. I just wish the amount of zoom was adjustable, because it zooms just a little bit too much, and hence cuts off a bit at the top and bottom. The position is adjustable (so I can adjust it to cut off at the bottom only, which is generally better) but the amount of zoom isn’t. Still it’s much better than either letterboxing or a distorted image.

Actually, what I REALLY wish is that scifi channel came in HD, but oh well….

Omega333
Monday, August 27, 2007, 7:32 pm (UTC -6)

I as a person with bad vision generally frown upon ‘widescreen’ as while I recieve the full picture, I also can’t see best what is going on in it. That and you only miss so much in ‘fullscreen’ (some would argue a lot, though it varies with what you are watching…)

I suppose one solution would be to just buy a bigger tv. Uh-huh.

Aside from that though, it seems i’ll have much the same issue with the 4:3 in the 16:9 era…or maybe not with what later comments suggest.

Eventually we’ll just have content piped into our brain and do away with this whole aspect thing altogether…

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