Truth Patrol: Not All Digital TV is Wide

HDTV Truth Patrol

I hate to pick on National Public Radio (NPR) because they do such an excellent job of broad and deep reporting on a wide variety of subjects. Following a sequence of links, I came across a piece on their Web site that does a pretty good job of addressing the problem of the upcoming cut-off of analog TV over-the-air broadcasts, and how to make sure you’re getting an HD picture on your HD resolution TV set. The article does a great job right up until the end, and then you run into this:

The good news: After February 2009, most programming will be created in digital widescreen formats.

No, after February 2009, all programming broadcast over the air will be in digital. This will have no effect on cable systems, and it’s likely that many will still operate on an analog signal. But how programming is distributed does not change how it was created and produced. Most primetime programming on the major networks is already in wide-format high definition. Some of the primetime standard definition shows are also in wide-format; presumably it’s less expensive to scale down the image for standard definition than to maintain two different production streams. And many advertisements are in wide format — both standard and high-def — probably for the same reason.

But tons of programming remain in standard definition and standard 4:3 aspect ratio. HD production equipment — cameras, editing gear, storage, and more — is expensive, and it will take a long time before all the video production will switch over completely. The amount of standard format content will certainly decline over the next year and a half, but I think it’s premature to claim that “most” programming will be in widescreen format by February 2009. And unfortunately, statements like that add to the confusion rather than reduce it.

If you see something about HDTV that is wrong, or just makes you go “huh?”, write me at and you could win a cool Truth Patrol t-shirt.