HD TV Grows Up

High Definition TV has changed the way we enjoy sports games, events and programs. The screen resolution is so dramatically improved it makes the traditional Standard Definition look like mud when compared. While the clarity of the image is greatly improved, broadcasters have been slow to change the way they produce “live” games fearing backlash from SD viewers. For example, they place all graphics inside the 4X3 “safe zone” and the additional real estate on both sides of the screen often goes unused.

This fall, Fox Sports was the first to take the leap into producing content for a true HD telecast using the entire screen. SD viewers will see a letter boxed screen (black on the top and bottom) and a 25% drop in their resolution quality. It’s a forward thinking gamble Fox Sports has to believe will have more upside than down in this time of transition from SD to HD.

The other conversion dilemma becoming more noticeable now that more commercials are being shot in HD is how to handle the side panels when  SD commercials have to run on an HD broadcast. Before long, most commercials will be produced in HD and a the issue will go away, but for now networks have to either put up black bars with a station logo, blur out the side panels or create a box within a box effect, leaving black around all four sides of the screen.

TBS was also the first major broadcaster I’ve noticed to use the black sidebars to promote a specific show while a commercial is running. The Turner crew put up “CONAN” promotions in that space during the MLB Playoffs. I think others will follow soon to use the sidebars for promos, or add value for the advertiser. For example, if it’s a Coke commercial, display the Coke web site address on the side panels or put up a tag line that can be visible during the entire commercial. Turner Sports also left up their “pitch tracker” up on the right side of the screen for the entire game truly taking advantage of  the additional on-screen space.

ESPN has jumped into the fray by creating an upcoming story menu that is seen on the left side of the screen during Sportscenter and other sports news programs, and a sports ticker at the bottom of the screen that’s running throughout the game.

As a fan, a good way to see for yourself how much more  content can be created is to take notice when you attend a major sporting event of how they use the main video scoreboard. Most venues have upgraded to a 16X9 screen and the production professionals are creating a host of additional sellable content to their in-arena/stadium presentations.

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