Standard-Definition TV Is Getting Hard To Watch
By Jonathan Poet
My household has only one TV (the horror!), a standard-definition tube TV (stop laughing!). The signal feeding my 20-inch box comes from the cable company, so I didn't have to worry about those converter boxes when the broadcasters made the switch from analog to digital. Nonetheless, I can report that TV is getting hard to watch for us square-boxers.
First, there's — you know — the definition. Sports producers long ago stopped worrying about analog rabbit-ear-users, but they also have started ignoring us standard-definition viewers. One way they do this is by shrinking the on-screen text. The clocks, the scores, the stats, they're all getting smaller. (Small text isn't a big deal for high-definition TVs.) I cannot tell you how many times I have wondered, "Is that a 6 or an 8 in that score?" These days, tennis scores take intuition to decipher, because of the black text on white background.
TV networks in the past couple years also have started taking advantage of HDTV's wider screens. (The aspect ratio of an HDTV is 16-to-9, much wider than the closer-to-square 4-to-3 ratio on old TVs.) Though some shows and sports broadcasts are letterboxed, others merely cut off the edges. That sometimes leaves the stuff at, or off, the edges of my screen.
For example, this is what a local soccer broadcast looks like on my TV.
See the Verizon logo in the upper-left corner? Neither can I.
The phenomenon isn't limited to sports. In the TV show Glee, one of the regular shots in the director's repertoire puts two actors at opposite ends of the screen, singing at each other. I presume this looks nice on an HDTV broadcast, but on my TV, sometimes all you can see are the slivers of faces at each end of the screen. (It's not unlike watching Halloween masks singing at each other.) I've also seen pan-and-scan tricks used on some shows, with weird sped-up camera moves making up ground for us squarer TV-watchers.
I also see egregious squishing of images. This seems to happen regularly with commercials that apparently were shot in a wide aspect ratio and then horizontally scaled to fit standard-definition broadcasts. It ends up giving actors unflattering cone-shaped heads.
Year-to-year, season-to-season, this is getting worse. And I see no reason it won't continue. These might seem like minor annoyances, but they honestly are some of the top reasons I want a high-definition TV. I am just having a hard time justifying the purchase, given that my current Sony Trinitron is a mere 13 years old and still works pretty well — even if I can't see the whole image.