Why Are Some HD Shows S T R E T C H E D?

30 Comments

So there you are, flipping through the crystal clear HD channels on your glorious flat screen, when you come across a show you kinda recognize, only all the actors have been replaced by stubby, wider versions of themselves. In this alternate universe, there are no circles, only ovals. Why, this isn’t HD at all, you think to yourself, they’ve just stretched out the picture! This is true, and here’s why some networks do it.

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First, it’s obvious that not everything was shot in HD originally. Episodes of shows like Seinfeld and Just Shoot Me were created for really old teevee. They’re naturally going to be in the traditional 4×3 aspect ratio, which doesn’t fit the modern 16×9 formatted screen. So if a network like A&E or TBS wants to simulcast their programming in both standard and high-definition, the older programs either need to have those black bars on the side to retain the original shape, or the picture has to be stretched to fill the screen.

But is a stretched picture better than black bars? (I want to know your opinion on that in a second.) According to A&E and TBS — yes.

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I spoke with Dan Silberman, vice president of publicity for A&E Television Networks. “Research was done and people preferred it this way,” said Silberman, “It’s not a perfect solution. This way if they want to see it stretched they can, or they can watch it in 4×3 on the standard definition channel.”

Clyde Smith, senior vice president global broadcast technology and standards for Turner Broadcasting emailed me a more historical and technical answer. Evidently, when the company first started HD broadcasts, they didn’t stretch the picture, instead using black bars, but that caused problems. According to Smith:

WTBS received some complaints from viewers. It was found that most complaints came from those with plasma displays or older projection systems. They informed us the side panels on the channel 20 signal were burning into their displays. In most early HD displays, and in many of those still available today, if the display received a 1080 signal, they could not adjust the aspect ratio to fill the screen and so there was no way for the viewer to fill the screen and avoid the burn in.

TBS also found out that people didn’t like the size of the picture changing. Additionally, TBS did not have the HD rights to some of its movie content. Those rights would have to be negotiated, which would delay the availability of some movies, which are shot widescreen, on its HD channel.

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But the stretching story doesn’t stop there. There are different kinds of stretching techniques used. If you look at the top screen cap of A&E’s Crossing Jordan (hey, isn’t that Chip from Kate & Allie?), the entire picture is stretched out using what’s called a central panoramic stretch method. That’s what produces those squat images.

The screen cap from Just Shoot Me lower down sports a different stretch technology. TBS worked with a company called Teranex to develop an algorithm called Flexview. This method scans the image and determines what the most important part is. This important area is kept at the normal ratio while stretching out what it deems less important. So for a sit-com like Just Shoot Me, most of the action is taking place in the middle, which retains the normal shape with the sides being stretched out. It’s harder to notice the distortion until the camera moves, which creates a warped hall of mirrors effect.

The issue of stretching or black bars will eventually become irrelevant as more content is created from day one in HD. Mr. Silberman from A&E says that all of its original programming, except for one show, will be shot in HD moving forward. And as newer shows shot in a widescreen format move into syndication, they’ll replace the older ones that literally don’t fit.

Until then, which solution do you prefer? Cast your vote in our poll and sound off in our comment section.

30 Comments

Justin

You are flat out WRONG if you think stretching anything for any reason is the answer. Stretching is done by people who don’t know what they want, don’t know the difference, and/or are lazy to learn.

To some, the idea that their new TV won’t be “fully used” at times, bothers them, and so they stretch it like a fool. Other than those people, I bet you that half of all the people watching their HDTV on stretch 1. have no idea that they have a choice, and don’t know their own TV settings 2. are the types that can’t tell a difference between SD and HD, or maybe even between a VHS and a BluRay.

It’s just hilarious when people say “Black bars are annoying and dumb, screw that” and then proceed to watch a joke of a picture. Black bars are no worse than having a vase of flowers next to your TV or something. Get used to it, you don’t have a choice. Stretching is not a choice, it’s a joke. HDTV takes research to full understand, just do it so you can enjoy something you spent your hard earned money on.

Oliver

On my brand new HD TV I get a grey line at the top and bottom of the screen with the HD signal ?? Why ??

Rita Reed

I just bought a new 32″ HDTV 1080P Sceptre which I am taking back…the remote sucks, the menu and sub-titles are so small you have to stand in front of the TV to read
them.

So what is the big deal with HD? If I have to watch short fat people I’ll stick with my 27″ 5 yr. old TV, which is looking a lot better now that I have seen the NEW technology. If I use the ratio that is normal, it’s smaller than the old TV.

Zach

They should be stretched. Nothing like having a 50″ TV but onyl using 30″ of it. STRETCH!

Ken

To the last poster, that is only an option on most HD TV’s if you are not actually getting the signal converted to full 720P or 1080i. True HD signals maintain the 16:9 ratio.
What kills me is when A&EHD plays a classic like “The Godfather” and I see the message that the film has been “altered to fit” the television and then I am treated to a fat, short Marlon Brando.
Original Aspect Ratio please or kindly remove the “Arts” from your name because you obvisouly have no respect for the art of film making.

John

Well I don’t know if I’m the only one that’s thought of this solution, but with my HD TV, I have the option to choose either a full screen mode (which displays all signals in 16×9 whether it’s broadcast like that or not) or a 4:3 mode. So for instance, right know I’m watching True Lies on A&E HD. The image from A&E is stretched out, but I set my TV to 4:3 and it adjusts the signal back to a 4:3 aspect ration. So I don’t know about anyone else, but this whole to stretch or not debate doesn’t apply to me at all.

Miggity

Turner and AE-Networks are out of their damn mind. Hey Turner/AE! Take a look around. You’re the only idiots doing this!

STOP RUINING MY HISTORY HD CHANNEL!

John

With newer TV and Receivers and the built in Zoom and Stretch features the is no need to STRETCH HD CHANNELS!!!! STOP STRETCHING PLEASE. I can’t stretch vertically with my TV or Sat receiver.

And why is one new show in true hd and the next new episode STRETCHED. Now I know it’s called “central panoramic stretch method.

Thanks for giving me another place to vent. A&E won’t listen…

Ben L

Because Jerry, some of us actually prefer artistic integrity. Which means no distortion and no cropping. Letterboxing/pillarboxing should not be feared.

Jerry

I don’t understand why people are so passionate about original aspect ratio. As if you’re gonna miss some wonderfully insightful use of camera on “Just Shoot Me.” Pfff…even if you’re talking about a movie who really cares. It’s not as if anything on television is actually worth a shit anyways.

Bert

Hi:

I just sent this to TBS & A&E:

Have you lost your minds?

I just got a HDTV & cable upgrade to HD. I was originally happy to see your channels have been to added to HD. Upon looking at your shows & movies, everything is stretched out. Have you lost your minds? You are distorting the original work. I don’t watch TV to see people become fatter!

I’ll tune to HD discovery, thank you. I’d rather watch the same show every day than watch a squished Jessica Alba!

Charlie D.

Everything should be shown in the aspect ratio it was created in. I can’t stand it when people say “oh but I don’t like the bars.” You’d rather see squished heads?! It makes no sense! Show content in the same ratio it was created, and let viewers bastardize it if they want.

SimonSSE

So here in the UK we have the same issue, with broadcasters now now originating nearly all material 16:9, and using the available signalling technologies (AFD & WSS) to tell the receivers that this is so.

For a digital receiver or set top box (which is SD DVB, be it terrestrial, satellite or cable), as long as its been told what aspect ratio its glass is, it can take an intelligent guess at how to display the input. Nearly all receivers will display 4:3 input on 16:9 glass as pillar box (ie black side bars), I don’t think many people – expert or not – like the stretched view. For a 16:9 input on 4:3 glass you usually get a choice in the receiver of centre cut out (ie lose the sides of the picture) or letter box (black bars top and bottom).

What the BBC have done with their simulcast analogue transmission is a classic British compromise – aspect ratio convert the 16:9 source to 14:9, but retaining the correct geometry. So you get narrow black bars top and bottom, and a strip of cut off image at each side. This sort of works, but does leave visible aretefacts when vertical interval data (eg WSS) gets sucked into active picture.

Some up market set top boxes can also do 14:9 scaling, but its a techie thing to set up, and most won’t go there.

If thy plasma screen burns in , well maybe thou spent too longst watching it. Go out and get a life:-)

Johnny

After seeing the stretching done by the latest Quicktime release that does something like the Central panoramic stretch, I think the panoramic idea is better so you don’t have to deal with squished heads.

Reb

Quote: I think flatscreens should have a “cropping” option similar to the latest Quicktime upgrade, that way people can fill their screens if they so choose w/o streching…

My Dish network receiver actually offers the option of putting up grey bars (not designed for this purpose, though, but rather to minimize burn in when watching 4:3 content.)
This turns out not to be a good alternative because
A) since they are stretching the content, you are losing even more content since they’ve stretched part of the picture into the widescreen portions (so if you put up the bars, you cut off people’s faces)
B) In most cases the stretched content still falls into the viewable 4:3 area.

No, the solution is for them not to stretch. They should put a fancy logo in the black bar areas so your screen is filled with that, which is what ESPN HD does.

Jason Tompkins

I think flatscreens should have a “cropping” option similar to the latest Quicktime upgrade, that way people can fill their screens if they so choose w/o streching…

coldhitz

The whole squatty body issue has kept allot of people turned off to the purchase of an H. D. set. It has been displayed this way in the stores , from the big box places to the higher end specialty retailers , and is partially to blame for the slow uptake of H.D. by older Americans. The picture on a 720 p display , which Wal-Mart thinks is the second coming of Kool-Aid , has also got a big hurdle to overcome with sports fans. Even with an H.D. signal , the pictures are streaked and leave ghosts… it looks horrible. No one is gonna shell out the bucks for a lower quality of reception. The industry has been completely unwilling to acknowlege these issues…thanks for this great article . I will use it to grease the pockets … uhh , I mean inform those with the giving spirit of Saint Nick in their hearts and a sales add in their purse. Merry Christmas to all Web-Workers worldwide.

Logical Extremes

Anything but original aspect ratio is an abomination. Consumers need to insist on accurate content, and receiver and display manufacturers can then outfit devices with choices appropriate for those who want to distort their viewing. Don’t maim the content, once that’s done there’s little that can be done to view it properly.

Dave Zatz

The Flexview stuff sounds like the evolution of “pan & scan” – I say deliver everything in it’s original display ratio and let me decide on my TV how to handle it. My sets have several options of stretching and zooming, or doing nothing. But I’m geekier than most. When I think about my mom, the best solution is to fill the screen (using whatever method). She won’t know the difference, but she does notice black bars.

forchilli

simply not true HD. they werent shot able to conform properly to 16:9. there is a process to do this, but you lose some picture and the process is long and expensive, the other option, stretching!

jj

A&E is wrong is everything is stretched. Not all TVs can “squeeze” their pictures, but almost all can “Fill” screen. Also, the 4:3 SD channel provided by my cable company is quite crap. Death to 480i.

TBSHD and TNTHD are worthless except for sports.

Vincent is correct. Broadcasters should ALWAYS use original Aspect Ratio. End of story.

Vincent J. Murphy

We shouldn’t cater to the idiots: the correct answer is ALWAYS the original aspect ratio. The thinking that “users like it better this way” leads to stupidity like cropping 2.35:1 movies to fit 16:9 screens (basically, cutting off the right and left parts of the movie) because people don’t like black bars at the top and bottom.

Jean

I don’t want a streched or cut picture, period. I want the original work from the author as much as possible with the device I use.

I believe that people prefer the streched image because they want to fill their new expensive gizmo to impress their peers.

Sandlander

Here in the United Arab Emirates where for many people money is not at all tight 16:9 format flat screens are selling like hot cakes.

In all the bars, cafés and patisseries (where people are consuming their hot cakes) the screens mounted are all wide format. No channel broadcasts anything but 4:3 SD.

Invariably the viewers are treated to the bloated view shown in your first illustration on this post.

Indeed this ‘wide bodied’ morphology is becoming a serious role model for the population here.

(Or nmaybe that’s just the hot cakes.)

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