When HD Television Is Good, It Is Very Good…However, When It Is Bad, It Is Terrible

December 23, 2013

While reading my local newspaper this past Saturday morning, one item in that night’s TV listing caught my attention.  It seemed that PBS television was rebroadcasting a 1978 Austin City Limits show featuring Tom Waits.  Over the past decade, PBS has reaired this show about a half dozen times; one of the very few Austin City Limits shows that enjoys the distinction of being rebroadcast, not counting the summer repeats of each season’s shows.  The only other shows that comes to mind are the two Stevie Ray Vaughan shows.  Tom Waits gives quite an incredible performance.  I have seen this show maybe five times, and the only disappointment is the quality of picture on my HD television.

Waits performance was somewhat dimly light, and we all know that HD images always seem to have pixelation problems with dark colors, even in the most highest of definitions.  However, the newspaper mentioned that the Waits show has been remastered.  This gave me hope, although I was not sure if it was only the audio that had been remastered or the video as well.

Come the midnight hour, when the broadcast was finally starting on my local public television channel, my hope soon gave way to disappoint as soon as Waits starts this performance with a bluesy number as some cat with a sax is wailing away beneath a street lamppost.   Not only was the quality terrible on my HD television, but most likely to keep the image in its original format, PBS had about three inches of blurred images on either side to the picture, which only made the quality factor even more prevalent.  If this was done to give viewers the best image possible, which I assume was their intention, PBS should have left the sides black, much like a certain classic movie channel does, presenting their movies in letterbox format, if necessary.  Needless to say, I was terribly disappointed.

As I am usually in bed by midnight, I figured there is no use staying up to watch such a terrible picture and got ready for bed.  However, this is when I discovered something truly amazing.  Turning on the twenty-year-old analog set in my bedroom, I turned the channel to PBS to see what Waits looked like on that TV.  Unbelievably, the picture was perfect.

If televisions are so smart now days, why aren’t they programmed to realize the show I’m watching is an old, analog program and the TV should switch automatically from a digital signal to analog?  If I can figure a solution to this dilemma myself, why can’t the engineers who design TVs do so?

Steven H. Spring

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