Squeeze Play

Now that the digital television age is underway, an interesting situation has come to my attention. Some people have widescreen (a.k.a. 16x9) TVs and some people, like us, have older TVs in the standard format (4x3). The problem is how do TV stations deliver their new widescreen pictures to people who have standard TVs.

I understand that over the air converter boxes, the kind they were telling everyone to get with their government coupon, have a zoom feature which enables the user to either crop the picture to fit their TV, or display it in widescreen "letterbox" format with black bars at the top and bottom of the screen. All well and good.

But we have digital cable, without that feature. How the system is delivering the images is a mystery to me, but generally it works OK. Sometimes the picture is letterboxed. Other times it is evident that the image is cropped, because people's faces or some text is cut off at the edges.

Whatever the technique, somebody needs to explain it to the people at Monterey's KOTR cable channel 11, "The Otter" as they call themselves.

The Otter occasionally broadcasts Giants Baseball (or as we call it "Giant Spaceball") games and the station is having trouble getting it right. The first two games they broadcast this spring were not cropped or letterboxed. Instead they did the worst possible thing. They took a widescreen image and squeezed it into a standard TV shape. This has the effect of making everyone look tall and skinny. It is a gross distortion of the picture.

The first time this happened was the first game they broadcast this year. I turned it off and left a voice message with the station manager saying they had squeezed a 16x9 picture into a 4x3 frame and it looked horrible.

On the second game they broadcast, they did the same thing. This time I called the station and after finding other voice mail options I left a message with the control room, then turned the TV off in dismay. About 30 minutes later I looked again and saw they finally fixed the problem. It remained fixed for several more games, what few they broadcast.

Until today, when they screwed it up again. This time they started the top of the first inning with the picture letterboxed. That's fine with me, but it looked a little fuzzy. After the first commercial break the picture was no longer letterboxed, but they were back to squeezing the wide picture into the standard TV shape. My complaint this time didn't seem to get noticed, as the picture remained distorted for the entire game.

Fortunately, most Giants games are broadcast on Comcast Sports Network, and not KOTR. Comcast always gets it right, as does every other channel with every other program. KOTR needs some additional technical training.

If anyone from KOTR, or anyone who knows anyone who works at KOTR is reading this, please pass this message on to your control room: Either letterbox the image, or crop the image, but please don't distort my Giant Spaceball!
Addendum: KOTR got Monday's game right.

Another addendum: After that they didn't get any game right for the rest of the season, and they're screwing up football games, too.


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