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Are you as tired of munchkin TV as I am? How people watch their spiffy new widescreen TVs is an indicator not only of how savvy they are technically, but an indicator of intellectual development and the capacity for critical thinking. It also sheds some light on their political views.

We've just returned from a three-week road trip. I'm getting a handle on motel travel in the 21st century. I carry the laptop into the office and make the clerk stand there and work with me until we can make the wi-fi work. Next, I ask which cable provider they use for the TVs in the rooms. Once in the room, I go to my TV log web site and change my location to the current ZIP code and pick the cable provider indicated by the desk clerk. I get a complete TV schedule on screen so we can switch on our favorite shows immediately.

But, finding out what's available to watch is only the beginning. The set has to be configured for proper viewing and most motel televisions are not. Once the TV is on, you have to fix the picture unless the room has an old-style cathode ray tube (CRT) television with a 4:3 aspect ratio. It's always screwed up if the room has a modern, widescreen, flat panel display with a 16:9 aspect ratio. It never fails. Hotels, like the overwhelming majority of Americans, have TVs with horizontally stretched-out pictures. This distortion has now become the norm. Many people now consider this strange configuration "right" and will take umbrage if you try to use the monitor's controls to restore the image to a normal aspect ratio. In other words, they steadfastly insist on keeping something screwed up and glaringly wrong that could easily be fixed and work much better with minimal effort.

Digression: Does that found familiar? People who watch messed up television are a lot like brain-dead Republican dupes who "don't want no dang-burned socialized medicine!" They bitch and moan about the failure of the schools to educate the young, but won't authorize taxes to fund improvements. They want government services, but are afraid to tax the rich to pay them because that's "class warfare". They don't believe what their eyes tell them and think the TV is "set up right" because the moron who installed it and all their ignorant friends told them so. It's clearly a denial of an objective reality that they refuse to acknowledge.
But, back to TV pictures. The stretched displays look ridiculous and makes me nauseous. Everyone, even a skinny model, looks like a dorky little hobbit. Dancing With The Stars was totally ruined for my girlfriend; it was just ugly to watch. On American Idol, Jennifer Lopez's ass was huge, and not pretty at all. The girls all looked Ukrainian, with no neck, thick-set bodies and wide, oval faces. This makes scrawny skanks look almost cute, but normal girls, and especially the more voluptuous ones, look like pigs. They guys all look like midgets. It's downright freaky.

You've surely seen this in sports bars: Munchkin athletes with chunky, fat, baby arms scramble around the field, their stubby, little legs pumping furiously and propelling their squat bodies around with amazing speed and surreal, long strides. On the basketball court, the NBA players look like people around 5'6" tall instead of the elegant, elongated wonders of nature that they are. This is just wrong and you know it. If you try to watch dancers or acrobats, they look ridiculous and freakish. Normal people look like hobbits. Short, chunky people look like trolls. The visual esthetic of every beautiful image is destroyed, replaced by an abhorrent, fun-house specter. It begs the question, "We've switched to digital TV and upgraded to widescreen, high-definition monitors for this?"

If the motel supplies the controller that came with the TV, you can adjust the aspect ratio and zoom to fit the show and channel you're watching (e.g., 4:3, 16:9, 16:9 letter-boxed in a 4:3 format). If they supply only the cable box controller, you're screwed unless you can figure out how to use the monitor's display controls using the buttons on the bottom, back or side of the set. Installers of motel TVs always put it in "stretch mode" where the 4:3 standard definition (i.e., "basic cable") signal is spread out to fit the 16:9 display of the new, ubiquitous, flat-screen TVs. If the channel is letter-boxed 16:9 to fit into a 4:3 display, it's stretched out wide, with black stripes at the top and bottom. If they just put it in zoom mode, everything would look fine. They seem to think the spread display is "right". Go figger.

If they used zoom mode as a default, mandatory setting, then the letter-boxed shows would look right, and fill the screen, with no truncation of the image. With a simple zoom-up, 4:3 formatted shows would still have the proper aspect ratio but have 25% of the total picture truncated in two strips at the top and bottom of the screen. You'd still be able to watch the show with the right aspect ratio, and only lose 25% of the picture overall.

Have you noticed how shows now allow more unused space in the image, especially on the sides, to allow for truncation? Most people will not even notice truncation when it occurs because the signal is now formatted so that no important information is shown anywhere near the top, bottom, left or right sides. Have you noticed how the logo "brand" of the network or channel is 1/8 of the screen width in from the right edge and 1/8 of the screen height above the bottom edge? Have you noticed how text overlays always start 1/8 of the screen width from the left edge, and 1/8 of the screen height below the top edge or above the bottom edge? They're making sure that if someone sets up their TV to truncate part of the image, they will still see the logo or the text overlay.

I'm getting the impression that most of the people in the country are watching horizontally stretched-out TV now. It's gotten that no one expects people on TV to look like normal human beings any more. Whenever I've mentioned how the TV in a public place or someone's home is not set up properly, they give me an argument and insist that it looks right to them that way. I've even demonstrated how to fix it and they usually want me to "put it back the way it was". It almost makes me cry. It's like going back to the B&W days after color TV became universal.

Here's what triggered this essay. I stayed at "The Palazzo" in Las Vegas, Nevada, on the trip. (They never, for some reason, refer to it as a "hotel". Why?) The owner, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who was Gingrich's biggest contributor, likes Fox News. The TVs in all public places always have Fox News on. Being the classy, hi-toned place in town that it is, every TV in the hotel is a modern flat-screen monitor with a 16:9 display. (Our suite had three of them!) Despite such a commitment to quality TV viewing, Adelson's minions have opted to go cut corners with the cable feed for the hotel: It's standard definition with a 4:3 aspect ratio. This big-shot, pretentious palace has a low-rent, cheap-ass, basic cable TV feed. To me, a guy who fancies himself as something of a techie because of 30 years of work with computers and video, that's hilarious. All the fancy amenities in the room, including a fax/scanner and high-speed internet access, are combined with the kind of TV that some guy in a trailer watches on a second-hand, 13", 4:3 aspect ratio, CRT set using a coat hanger for an antenna. (Snicker, snicker.)

I want you to picture this. I'm in the Palazzo's "Prestige" hospitality suite, sipping a hearty brew (Guinness) and my companion, the oenophile, is already into her second glass of premium wine from a snooty winery in California that we visited three years ago. We're sitting on gaudy, overstuffed chairs looking out the window at the view of Treasure Island across the street, which is exactly the same view as from our suite one floor above. The drinks are complimentary and so are the gourmet hors d'oeuvres we're nibbling on. It's quite posh. As I bite into my third prosciutto-wrapped, oversize shrimp, I glance up and see the Faux Nooz talking heads yammering, mouthing their usual panoply of inane, mendacious drivel. Mercifully, the sound is turned down enough so you can't hear it unless you're right under the set. Unable to hear the TV, I'm looking at the image as purely visual data, colored dots of light magically presented to my view, rather than as live people talking and conveying information. It's distorted, stretched out horizontally, just as every other TV in the hotel is by default, including the three in our suite. But, this channel is a little different than most on the cheesy 4:3 cable lineup. The local Fox channel has letter-boxed the image so people who have an old-style, analog, cathode ray tube set with a 4:3 aspect ratio will be able to see the whole 16:9 image. On such sets, there will be black bars at the top and bottom of the screen. On the wide screen TV I'm looking at, the bars are still there, but the image is stretched out to fill the full width of the display. If you've read and processed the preceding text, you'll know how they should have set up the TV. The longer I sit there eating one tasty tidbit after another, and washing it down with equally high-end beverages, the more incongruous this messed up picture seems to me. I expect this in the type of run-down, grungy dive I generally frequent, where they don't have Guinness or particularly good wine, but not here, not at "The Palazzo"!

The squat, fat-headed commentators are even uglier than they are in real life. Karl Rove looks like Humpty Dumpty. Gretchen Carlson looks like one of those Scandinavian troll dolls with the wild, day-glo hair. Sean Hannity looks like Spanky McFarland. I'm actually enjoying this up to a point. When I start reading the crawl at the bottom of the screen, though, I have to look away. It might spoil the taste of the skewered chicken breast pieces slathered in chipotle sauce. Maybe I'll have one of those tiny polenta disks with fussy toppings to clear my palate before having another drink and some more of those stuffed Asian noodle sheets tied with a tiny bow of seaweed. More cheese and crostini? Please! One can only stand so much triple-cream, soft-ripened Cambozola, brie or Gorgonzola. Maybe I'll just have another vegetable empanada and a few crudités. I've got to save room for an espresso and a crème brûlée, or maybe the raspberry parfait, or the baklava -- oh, what the hell -- I'll have one of each. They're small.

Just as you can't tell brain-dead Republican dupes that socialized medicine won't kill them and that, in fact, it will make them healthier, and at a much lower cost, you can't tell intransigent, single-minded, arrogant billionaires, or their sheep-like toadies, how to configure their TVs. They won't listen because they know what's right, and, by God, they don't want to be confused in their certitude. For the TVs, you have to change them one by one as they come under your control. (I did this in every hotel room on the trip.) Maybe they will stay the way you leave them for a while before someone restores the distorted image. Maybe a few people will notice that the TV looks different, and better than it used to, before it's changed back. Maybe some of these who do get the picture, literally, will return home and fix their own TVs.

For medical care, we'll have to put the system in place, despite all the squawking and caterwauling from stupid, silly people, before we the general consensus to change. Eventually, most people will come around to appreciate single-payer, universal health care, but only after it's a fait accompli, and has been so for a good while. Some people in Britain were skeptical for a while after 1948 when the National Health Service was established, but only those who were wealthy enough to afford decent health care on their own. The working class loved it right away because suffering for want of medical care ceased abruptly. Now, everyone likes it and fiercely protects it, except the obscenely rich (the top 0.01%) who can easily pay to get customized, top-flight, private care and not consider the expense. The British consider universal medical care as part of their patrimony, extended to them by a benevolent government in gratitude for their staunch defense of the homeland during World War II. In other words, health care is a human right, something they have earned and richly deserve.

We think health care is something you have to purchase dearly, and do without if you can't afford it, because not having enough money to pay for the care you need presupposes laziness and defect of character. We think this mainly because most of us are under the delusion that our woefully inadequate health insurance policies will take care of us in the event of a health catastrophe. This illusion is only dispelled when you get sick, can't work, lose insurance coverage and are financially ruined by medical expenses. No one really believes that they will be totally screwed by unexpected illness until it happens to them, a family member or a close friend.

It's completely a matter of perception, and not at all an ideological issue. Those most vehemently opposed to "Obama-care" are often those who want and need universal health care the most, old people of moderate means who rely on Medicare. Those who finance this negative frenzy are those who have the most to gain by preventing the shutting down of health insurance companies and the absorption of all private medical facilities into a tax-funded, government entity. Once the insane perception is dispelled that no-cost-per-incident health care will kill you, impoverish you or otherwise diminish your quality of life, universal health care will be resoundingly instituted by popular demand. That's the problem, though. The Lumpenproletariat are still skeptical and afraid to vote in health care advocates because they are afraid of everything that is new and unfamiliar to them. Prudent gun control, equal rights for gays and lesbians, control and dominion over one's own body, enforcement of a secular system of government, peace, equitable taxation, publicly-financed education, environmental stewardship -- and universal health care -- are perceived as unseemly only because they are presented that way on biased, corporatist, flagrantly propagandist news media. Even fairly objective news organs like PBS are forced to countenance tea-bagger "crazy talk" as it were rational discourse. The progressive agenda seems weird to you, but only if you are living in the insulated Bizarro world where that is all you see and hear on your wide screen, HD TV with an SD signal stretched horizontally to fill the space. If you've ever lived in a developed foreign country for a while, and you were not fabulously wealthy, progressive ideas aren't weird at all and make a lot of sense. Usually, that's the way things have been for as long as anyone can remember.

If we consider the acceptance of correct TV display configuration as an analogy to acceptance of universal health care and other progressive goals, we can see how it will go. Now, a minority of viewers have their TVs set up right. It's higher among the better educated and those who have enough money to afford a high-definition cable signal. It's higher among technical professionals and the young. I've found it to be highest among those who objectively reason and are not afraid to delve into a little technical detail to get to the truth of the matter, you know, the kind of people who read and have informed opinions. In a couple of years, expect to see more people get on board with the proper display of 16:9 video. Once the little cartoon light bulb appears above your head and is turned on, it's obvious how silly and totally unnecessary it was to watch munchkin TV. Let's hope we get socialized medicine set in place soon and that the populace at large has a similar epiphany about it.

The poll is about your TV picture. I want to sample how progressives deal with television, and compare that with how the populace at large deals with it.

Poll

How do you watch your TV at home?

15%20 votes
21%28 votes
2%3 votes
4%6 votes
3%5 votes
0%0 votes
3%5 votes
29%38 votes
1%2 votes
1%2 votes
0%0 votes
11%15 votes
5%7 votes

| 131 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  If you ever discover how drop frame time code... (5+ / 0-)

    ...works, you're doomed.

    You can call it "class warfare" -- we call it "common sense"

    by kenlac on Mon May 07, 2012 at 07:01:45 PM PDT

    •  drop frame time code? (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      linkage, mkor7, subtropolis

      Is that related to converting 24fps movies on film to 30fps video images? Some people told me about that, but I never dealt with it because my video work was in real-time imaging and frame capture for radiographic and ultrasonic nondestructive testing systems. Also, I only did graphic imaging (no real-time stuff) on PCs after 1990.

    •  I'm doomed. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jabney, subtropolis, wilderness voice

      Drop frame timecode refers to dropping a frame, or counting of a frame, at prescribed intervals (can't remember the formula) to make up of for the fact that NTSC video is not really 30 fps.  It's 29.97 fps. The reason for that is a whole other story related to the introduction of color television.

      Without dropping a frameevry so often the counting would drift up to several seconds over the course of an hour length program.

      "Whenever I get the urge, I lie down 'til it passes." - Mark Twain on exercise.

      by mkor7 on Mon May 07, 2012 at 08:50:49 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Wait.... what? (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Gooserock, linkage, Chi, subtropolis

    You had Guinness AND you care what is on television?  What kind of person are you?

    Just pour me a pint and we'll talk.

    "You have attributed conditions to villainy that simply result from stupidity"

    by newfie on Mon May 07, 2012 at 07:05:39 PM PDT

    •  Guinness is mothers' milk (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      newfie

      Having the satisfied feeling of a Guinness stout under my belt allowed me to maintain my composure and start jumping up and down and screaming about fascist propaganda on the TV or throwing something at it. Instead, I mused on how that chuckle-head Adelson was spending a lot of money and still coming out like the trashy loser that he is.

  •  I Twitter on my Jitterbug phone (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Chi, subtropolis, wildweasels

    One of the things I'm most grateful for today, is that we live in not the 'Information Age', but it's much more the 'Entertainment Age'. And I make DAMN sure that my HD TV is set up perfectly so I can watch the Lakers, the NFL, the Tour de Frants etc. in their full, beautiful widescreen glory. Because I remember watching the original Star Trek on our family 15" B/W TV. And trying to listen to music on AM radio, or LPs on a scratchy turntable (God bless you Steve Jobs).

    So I take a lot of trouble to make sure that picture is the best possible, and I think back to the old days and that poor little kid squinting at Jonny Qwest, the Thunderbirds and Captain Kirk, and I tear up a little. Because I remember.

    Romney 2012 - Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Caught in a landslide - no escape from reality...

    by Fordmandalay on Mon May 07, 2012 at 07:12:47 PM PDT

    •  yes (sniff, sniff) (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      linkage, subtropolis

      I tear up, too, thinking about how pathetically lame most stuff was just a few years ago, especially before CDs. What about listening to cassette and 8-track tapes in your car? Are you too young for that? No, The Thunderbirds and original Star Trek on a B&W mean that you're not.

      I knew I wouldn't be alone among Kossacks in liking a properly formatted video image. I'll use the stats from this poll with a poll of ordinary folks I encounter at random to see if there is any difference in viewing habits.

  •  To be honest (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    linkage, mkor7, subtropolis

    I am not surprised. The picture standard available from the analog NTSC system (a basically black and white system with color overlaid) was abysmal. The European PAL system produced far more stable color, albeit with a slightly poorer vertical definition.

    The BBC and several other British TV companies were making 16:9 programs in the mid 1990s. Early on they were shown cut down to 14:9 as a compromise so that everybody had black bars at either the top and bottom or at the sides on the CRT 16:9 sets that were available but hugely expensive. True widescreen started on digital terrestrial TV in 1998 in standard definition using DVB-T which the US manufacturers dismissed in preference to ATSC. That can be used for HD but, like ATSC, can only carry one HD channel with a bit of bandwidth to spare for data or just about SD standard sub-channels. The UK started HD with the "second generation" DVB-T2 in 2009. That can carry up to 5 HD channels on one frequency and has been adopted for services in, among others India and the whole of the Southern African Development Community.

    In the UK it was virtually impossible to buy a large screen 4:3 television from early in the 2000s - most were 28in widescreen CRT.  

    What is interesting about your observation of cable systems is that it is perfectly possible to transmit widescreen pictures using older systems. In fact, most European broadcasts are actually "anamorphic 16:9" where the widescreen image is squeezed to 4:3 and the TV stretches it back out to widescreen. ATSC now has this as part of its permissible specs so US sets should be able to do the same.

     

    Fight poverty, oppression, hunger, ignorance, disease and aggression wherever they occur.

    by Lib Dem FoP on Mon May 07, 2012 at 08:11:39 PM PDT

  •  I don't own a TV... (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Chi, mkor7, jabney, subtropolis, PeterHug

    ...and don't have a clue about any of this.

    But your diary subject startled me.

    In the world of musical relationships, a "16:9 in a 4:3 world" would be "a flattened seventh scale degree in the context of a perfect fourth."  So seeing that as a diary title had me going "WTF, dude?"

    I'm a music theory junkie...what can I say?

    Freedom isn't "on the march." Freedom dances.

    by WarrenS on Mon May 07, 2012 at 08:15:51 PM PDT

    •  Could You Post a Musical Example on youtube? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      WarrenS

      Or link to one. I'm curious.

      best,

      john

      Strange that a harp of (a) thousand strings should keep in tune so long

      by jabney on Mon May 07, 2012 at 09:23:07 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  more theory than I know (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      subtropolis, WarrenS

      I've been playing guitar for 43 years and know a little music theory, but I have no idea what a "scale degree" is, what you mean by "in the context of", nor have I ever seen any music theory stuff with colons. Thus, the line, "WTF, dude?" should be mine. I know what a flattened 7th interval is and I know what a perfect 4th is. Other than that, huh?

      In the video terminology I used (aspect ratio of 4:3 or 16:9), I'm talking about the ratio of screen width to screen height, that is, width:height. The old, klunky, cathode ray tube TVs we used to have were 4:3. The new flat screen HD TVs are 16:9, or "wide screen". That's all. The rest of the discussion had to do with the video signal coming into the TV and the viewer-accessible controls on the TV set.

      •  Musical intervals... (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        jabney, PeterHug, Odysseus

        ...are frequency ratios.

        1:1, for example, is a unison.  Two tones with identical frequencies.

        2:1 is two tones, one twice as fast as the other — and it registers to the ear as an octave.

        Here is a demonstration of the ratio 5:4, which turns into a Major Third:

        And here's a demonstration of the ratio 4:3, which is a Perfect Fourth:

        Freedom isn't "on the march." Freedom dances.

        by WarrenS on Tue May 08, 2012 at 06:19:51 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  my nefarious subtext (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          WarrenS

          Thanks, Warren! This makes my day. Your explanation just popped me up a quantum level in my grasp of music theory.

          One of the things that never ceases to amaze me is how smart some of the people on this site are. Whenever I toss out some little technical thing I know a little about, I'm immediately deluged with nuggets of arcane, deep knowledge on the subject drafted by experts in the field. It's one of the big reasons I write pieces like this. Kudos, professor.

        •  Wow! (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          WarrenS

          Those vids were quite interesting. I've navigated to your web site and have bookmarked it, fiing it in the "Music" folder. I'm afraid that you've now been fingered as my prime musicology resource. I don't know when I'll pink you about a technical issue, but I may at some point.

          Thanks for the YouTube tutorials.

  •  Not my experience. (0+ / 0-)

    Am I right, or am I right? - The Singing Detective

    by Clem Yeobright on Mon May 07, 2012 at 08:16:12 PM PDT

  •  One disappointing thing about Comcast (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    subtropolis, pgm 01

    is just how few HD channels there are.  TV is mainly for my child.  And I won't let her watch 4:3 signals stretched out - it is such a peeve of mine to see that LOL.

    But I realize you make a larger point with this post.  Cannot really respond to that but to say persuasion takes one opportunity at a time and sometimes you just can't.  Like you setting the TVs in the hotel rooms correctly as you have the opportunity, we just have to do our part to fight/vote for things that will help people and also benefit those who would not value or support those efforts.

    ♥ Medicare For All. ♥
    "Our health care system is like a casino. The insurance industry is the House... The House always wins." -- UnaSpenser

    by Chi on Mon May 07, 2012 at 08:49:05 PM PDT

    •  bingo (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      subtropolis, pgm 01, Chi

      That was exactly my intended point. Fixing one TV at a time is like winning over one person at a time from the dark side of fear and despair over to the side of truth and light.

    •  Comcast offers 88 HD channels where I live in (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Chi

      Connecticut.  I have all of the ones that used to be in expanded basic and a few others, however I watch them on a 4:3 television in letterbox since I don't have an HD television.  My mother can not stand the squashed people look but that is how my sister and her husband watch tv all the time.

  •  It's the Fear of 'Wasted' Space, I Think (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    subtropolis, pgm 01

    Customer gets to the (expensive) room, sees a big-screen TV and assumes he or she is getting luxury treatment.  Then, customer turns on the TV and sees a big chunk of the screen is darkened. Customer calls desk and complains about being 'shorted.'

    Adjusting the TV so that every program completely fills the screen may look weird, but the customer is getting quantity and is not being shortchanged of pixels. It's sort of the same mentality that CD buyers developed in wanting a full 72 minutes, regardless.

    best,

    john

    Strange that a harp of (a) thousand strings should keep in tune so long

    by jabney on Mon May 07, 2012 at 09:37:13 PM PDT

    •  yep (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jabney

      I came to the same conclusion about people wanting to get "their money's worth" by filling the screen with pixels. I cut that out because the piece was getting to long. Glad you noticed that too. I don't know what to make of that idea, but it seems to be the driving force behind the general prefernce for stretched displays. So far, I've only had one comment about having the same esthetic antipathy for the stretched display as I have. You thought what I did, but didn't say anything about it making feel strange. Maybe that's only something visual arts people get.

      •  I Did Say... (0+ / 0-)

        ...that 'the screen may look weird.' But that's about as technical as I am willing to get at this late hour. The vocabulary required for an in-depth discussion of video displays involves numbers and ratios and arcane bits of information. And I only know some of that.

        I do know that one of the most elegant displays I have ever seen was a showing of a restored black and white Marx Brother's movie. It was on film and it was pretty obvious that the theater did not skimp on the quality of its lenses.

        best,

        john

        Strange that a harp of (a) thousand strings should keep in tune so long

        by jabney on Mon May 07, 2012 at 11:41:13 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  you need to meet more Ukrainians (0+ / 0-)

    Other than that, i enjoyed this. And i salute your determination.

    All things in the sky are pure to those who have no telescopes. – Charles Fort

    by subtropolis on Mon May 07, 2012 at 10:13:00 PM PDT

    •  Ukrainian girls (0+ / 0-)

      I've had several cases of unrequited love for Ukrainian women who were beyond my grasp. I'm of Dutch, Lithuanian and Polish extraction myself, so Slavic women are exactly my cup of tea. (I'm short and chunky.) When they are well-rounded, voluptuous and solidly built, as many Ukrainian women are, they are, to me, some of the most beautiful women in the world. I prefer this body type in women over the overly tall, scrawny, flat-chested, long-faced shrew in vogue in American culture.

      That said, my comment about the horizontally stretched video image was meant to telegraphically convey an idea of a facial shape to the readers by hooking into a stereotypical notion of Slavic people held by most Americans. With that one word, "Ukrainian", I got the idea across. I almost said "Finnish", but most most people here have the wrong idea about what Finns look like. I'm talking about real Suomi Finns, not the tall, blond Swede-Finns who are the majority in that country. Suomi are short, squat, fireplug-shaped people, with no necks or waists to speak of. They generally have what's known as a "bullet head". That's what they look like, but Americans don't know that, so I said "Ukrainian". We think we know what Ukrainians look like.

      Besides that, I had both Suomi and Swede-Finn girlfriends a few years ago in quick succession and they both broke my heart, souring me on Finns for life. I'm still pining for that Ukrainian girl of my dreams. It was something of an "inside joke" for me that the video stretch mode transformed tall, skinny women into the type that I actually prefer. It doesn't matter that I write it here because I doubt seriously if anyone will read this comment, even you. This blog is catharsis for me, and it helps a lot. Thanks for indulging me.

  •  if you're using it to watch American Idol and (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    newfie

    Dancing with the stars, never mind the aspect ratio. You're better off if the on button doesn't work.

    Pineapples don't have sleeves.

    by ubertar on Tue May 08, 2012 at 05:02:37 AM PDT

    •  TV snobbery? (0+ / 0-)

      Don't put down TV shows that other people like; it makes you appear stuck-up, elitist and condescending. Of course, if you want people to react negatively and dislike you, then that's a sure-fire way to do it. So, what's your favorite show, sparky? Is it Weaselmania on Animal Planet? See how it feels? Now, calm down and read the rest.

      DWTS and Idol are my girlfriend's favorite shows and I make sure that whenever she is watching them, whether at home or on the road, that the picture is the best that it can be. I'm in a stable relationship because I'm a considerate guy who does things like that. She appreciates my efforts and does nice things for me in return, even if it's something she doesn't care about that much.

      I don't really care about those two shows very much. Mainly, I watch them out of the corner of my eye as i work on my blogs. My favorite shows, for which I shut down the computer and watch, are The Daily Show, Mad Men, Masterpiece Mystery and MI-5. I cited the GF's shows instead of mine because they are the top shows on TV, the shows that most people think of as "TV" rather than the non-mainstream, somewhat more cosmopolitan fare that I favor. I'm trying to connect with reader and find some commonality of thought. What are you trying to do when you write?

  •  One of my pet peeves (0+ / 0-)

    Stretching video is certainly one of my pet peeves, so I never allow it on any TV that I control. Since I refuse to pay any fees (even indirectly) to Rupert Murdoch, the family also doesn't have cable. We do have a nice over-the-air setup for all our TV's, both 4:3 and 16:9, and the nice thing about that is the free 16:9 HD on lots of channels (which also does captioning, unlike many cable systems). I've been so spoiled by this setup that I can't watch stretched 4:3; it's like insisting on eating Kraft American slices when you have a whole table full of fine cheeses to choose from.

    It really is the height of stupidity to shell out for a widescreen, HDTV and then watch stretched 4:3 analog on it. It doesn't surprise me that the likes of Adelson would do this; I've seen the same in many hotels and other institutional settings. It really is astounding to think what a scam the upgrade to widescreen HD video has been, given that most people pay for it and then don't actually get it. (Don't get me wrong, I love HDTV; but it's amazing that the delivery could be so bollixed up and people don't even seem to notice. Your comparison to healthcare is apt.)

    •  You should have written this diatribe (0+ / 0-)

      See? You weren't the only one who was thinking these things! I get a lot of flack from people who think I'm nuts because I want to watch TV with the right format. The comments to this piece are confirming that there is a groundswell of discontent with crappy television images.

      Your attitude and practice with respect to home TV is identical to mine. I don't pay for cable TV either and use an antenna and an over-the-air HD signal on my HD TV, adjusting the image format to match the channel and the show being broadcast. The TV channels in my area vary widely in how they broadcast, and some vary formats for certain programs or at different times of the day. I'm constantly using the remote to change the display format. This setup, though, is mainly used by my son who lives with me.

      I do most of my TV watching at my girlfriend's place. She has HD cable service and a gigantic flat screen HD TV with a 16:9 aspect ratio. The original impetus for writing this piece came from my struggles to set up her TV right and get her money's worth from the expensive channel lineup she pays Comcast for.

      At first, she was watching all her favorite shows on the regular 4:3 SD channels she was used to, with black sidebars taking up 25% of the screen. It took me weeks to get her to switch to the HD channels of the the same stations that she was paying extra for. Once she got used to optimal viewing, she was as disgusted as I was when the motel TVs on our trip were screwed up, which was all the time. She didn't want me to fix them, but I persisted because munchkin TV has become my peave.

      •  One Curmudgeon to Another (0+ / 0-)

        I imagine part of my distaste for video stretching comes from the fact that I do graphic arts for a living, so I'm pretty sensitive to correct aspect ratios.

        One thing I've found fascinating about the switch from 4:3 SD to 16:9 HD is the workarounds the broadcasting industry has come up with to deal with the differences in their various video sources. Most TV stations that broadcast widescreen do a constant 16:9 signal, and add the sidebars to 4:3 content. The odd thing, though, is when they have 16:9 content which they then broadcast as letterboxed within the 4:3 frame. This means that a substantial amount of available screen real estate is wasted on black bars for all four sides of the video, which looks really stupid. Amazingly, a fair amount of 16:9 ads end up being shown this way. Not that I care that much about how the ads look, but I should think the advertisers wouldn't be wanting to pay big bucks for such an incompetent presentation.

        Then there are the subchannels, which are broadcasting somewhat bit-starved 4:3 SD. PBS has a whole gaggle of these, many of which broadcast 16:9 letterboxed. They generally look OK on an old analog set with converter box, but on a nice widescreen they tend to look pretty nasty, especially if you zoom in to fill the screen.

        One of our commercial station subchannels takes an interesting approach to this, sending out widescreen programs squeezed horizontally to fit in 4:3. The nice thing about this is if you expand the image onto a widescreen TV, you get more detail than you would from just zooming a letterboxed version. The bad news is if you are watching on a 4:3 with converter box, you are stuck with a squeezed image.

        As I understand it, the digital video format can carry metadata of various sorts (like program data, or captioning). Couldn't it also carry a code for what aspect ratio is being broadcast - widescreen, or 16:9 with black bars, or windowboxed 16:9, or 4:3 squeezed horizontally? Then TV's could be set to take maximum advantage of whatever the current video is without us curmudgeons having to intervene.

        I guess that as time passes and there's less and less SD content to deal with, these problems will fade. At least I hope so. One thing working against it is the cable video dinosaurs with their stretched 4:3 analog.

  •  I get a lot of different types of signals in.. (0+ / 0-)

    (we still have a VHS deck, besides blu-ray, cable, etc.) so I really do just dink around with the TV controls until it looks right.

    My family resents this practice.

    •  Why do they resent picture adjustment? (0+ / 0-)

      That's not a rhetorical question; I seriously want to know. I mentioned that, the guff I get whenever I cycle through the formats with the remote, and it pisses me off too! Why do so many people insist on watching messed up pictures?

      You're about the fourth commenter who has nearly identical experience to my own. (Are we starting a movement here?) We want to get the image right and encounter incomprehensibly obstinate resistance from people who otherwise seem like cogent, rational human beings. How can so many people be blind to this? I don't get it either.

      My suggestion for you is to get some of these people to read my piece. I wrote it as an attempt to break through to friends and acquaintances who flat out refuse to get into the technical specifics of the matter. These people are the kind that need some kind of humor or glibness to make anything palatable enough to start their brains up to think. It's not that they are not smart, but they just don't like math and science, and shut down when someone brings it up in conversation or during a TV-watching session.

      A lot of commenters, as you did, summarized the situation very concisely, exactly as I have done on numerous occasions when talking to people. What irked me is that such simple exposition doesn't seem to work very well at all on most people. They pooh-pooh what I say and dismiss my analysis as "over-thinking it". That's why I chose to relate anecdotes that reveal the absurdity of what many people do. I'm hoping that fellow videophiles like you will also exploit humor and storytelling to promote what I see as an educational effort. Sooner or later, everyone will watch TV right, but to get there, we'll have to fix the picture, on HDTV at a time.

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