I upload spots on a regular basis, and I'd like to know the following . . . Why, if I send a commercial to a station in HD, do the stations downconvert the HD spots via "centercut" rather than letterbox? I shouldn't have to edit my HD commercials with centercut in mind. If they downconverted submitted HD material by letterboxing it (instead of centercutting it), both the HD and SD viewers will see all of the commercial without having any information cut off.
Is there a reason centercut is the norm instead of letterboxing?
[Aaron Cadieux] "Why "centercut" rather than letterbox?"
This is broadcaster's prerogative. Most of the time they feel that if someone is watching the SD feed on an SDTV, they'll want to see a full frame SD. And if they're watching the SD feed on an HDTV, they will see just pillarbox, whereas a letterbox downconvert will be both pillar- and letterboxed when viewed on an HDTV.
[Aaron Cadieux] " I shouldn't have to edit my HD commercials with centercut in mind."
None of us should, but then that gets us to why we're even bothering with SD at all. SD still exists in a big way in this country, and it will for a while. Just like when color TV superseded black-and-white, it took decades for B/W TVs to go away.
Rule of thumb is if you can get a delivery spec, follow it. If you can't, and you're delivering HD, protect for a center-cut downconvert.
[Mark Spano] " Most of the time they feel that if someone is watching the SD feed on an SDTV, they'll want to see a full frame SD"
Yes, but if someone is watching, say, The Discovery Channel on an SD TV, they're usually going to be viewing the content in a letterbox format. I have my doubts that someone who is still watching a 4x3 SD tube television is going to gripe about black bars at the top and bottom of the screen. People who are still refuse to buy an HDTV are the same people who look at an SD picture next to an HD picture and claim that they "can't see the difference".
[Mark Spano] " And if they're watching the SD feed on an HDTV, they will see just pillarbox, whereas a letterbox downconvert will be both pillar- and letterboxed when viewed on an HDTV."
But if I deliver a spot to a station in HD only, people with HDTVs will never see the commercial in SD on their HDTVs, so they'll never have to worry about seeing my spot in SD letterboxed and with side pillars on their HDTV.
I guess my main question is, when I send an HD spot to a station, does someone physically downconvert the spot, or is the whole process automated? If someone is physically downconverting each spot the station receives, shouldn't that person be able to look at an HD spot and say "wow, I had better downconvert this in letterbox format instead of centercut, because otherwise centercut will cut off graphics"?
I still think that as the producer of the spot, it is MY say and not the station's say as to how my spot gets downconverted. But if the whole process is automated and no one person is handling the downcoversion of my spot, my wish will never be granted.
I just can't stand seeing my work in HD with all of the graphics crowded into the middle of the screen. I hate leaving all of that 16x9 real estate unused.
[Aaron Cadieux] "does someone physically downconvert the spot, or is the whole process automated?"
Most of the time, no one is doing this. A piece of hardware is doing this. And it is set (to either letterbox or center-cut) and forgotten. So you are at the mercy of an automated process.
[Aaron Cadieux] "I still think that as the producer of the spot, it is MY say and not the station's say as to how my spot gets downconverted. But if the whole process is automated and no one person is handling the downcoversion of my spot, my wish will never be granted."
It is your say about how your spot is produced, yes. But you may not like what happens to it downstream, with all the processes you can't control. That's why you get specs that say to protect, because they've probably gotten lots of calls from angry producers saying "why did you cut off my product's phone number, now no one can call to order my product!". The other issue here is that there are many stations and cable channels that all do things differently. Some of this information is available and some is hard to come by. So until the randomness shakes out, the easiest way to deal with it is to protect for 4x3.
[Aaron Cadieux] "I just can't stand seeing my work in HD with all of the graphics crowded into the middle of the screen. I hate leaving all of that 16x9 real estate unused."
Me either. And anyone who knows like we do will think the same. You can always ignore the specs, but you run the risk of words and graphics getting cropped out, and that probably looks worse.
Most of the time the distributors simply take the HD feed from the station or cable provider and downconvert and centercut it for the SD world. There are usually not two different versions of the transmission. Most if not all broadcast stations transmit only HD signals. It's what happens after that signal is received that the mess begins. Our station has a direct fiber connection to the local cable provider and the two satellite distributors. We send them a 1080i signal all of the time. It's at that point that they will convert the signals to a centercut version for their SD tiers. Directv, Dish, and most cable headends will do this for SD. In addition, there are many different receivers in people's homes. Those with converter boxes will have a choice between letter box and center cut formats. It all depends on their preferences. Many viewers will take a 4x3 feed and stretch it out to 16x9 and not even notice the resulting distortion.
At least for the foreseeable future, we will all still need to protect the 4x3 aspect ratio by keeping all the important stuff inside of 4x3 safe. Eventually, this may die out as SD sets die out and are replaced by wide screen TVs. Protecting 4x3 is still a necessary evil for now.