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Red Button and widescreen

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Andrew Bowden Andrew Bowden | 08:30 UK time, Friday, 19 March 2010

One of the questions we occasionally get asked is why our red button services aren't built in widescreen.

As it's now very hard to buy a traditionally shaped television, and widescreen has become the new standard, it's a fair question to ask.

The answer boils down to the fact that most digital devices still only allow us to build services in a traditional 4:3 format - even if the device is HD.

We build our services in 720x576 - the size of a standard definition television picture, and resolutely 4:3. When viewed on a widescreen TV, the picture is simply stretched out to fill the whole screen and it's not possible to find out how someone's TV is set up - there are no flags available to us to tell us whether someone is viewing in 4:3 or widescreen, so we can't do any detection and arrange the service appropriately.

One of the problems we face with this is that our graphics have to work in both widescreen and 4:3 - which is naturally not particularly easy! Let's take, for example, the BBC logo. This is something we obviously use in all our services, and thanks to it being made up of three squares, shows up the challenges very well.

If we designed it to look good on a traditional TV set, it would simply look too wide on a widescreen set, as you can see on the image on the right.

Example of the BBC logo shown in different aspect ratios

And, of course, if we designed it to look good on a widescreen set, it would appear too narrow on a 4:3 screen, as you can see below:

Another example of the BBC logo shown in different aspect ratios

What we do is a bit of a compromise and design our images for 14:9 - this is a compromise screen format that's half way between 4:3 and 16:9, and is often used for widescreen television programmes shown on analogue. The result is that pictures - including the BBC logo - wouldn't look quite right when viewed in either, however doesn't look noticeably wrong in either mode.

The BBC logo shown in the 14:9 aspect ratio

Whilst this is the current state of affairs, changes in technology give us new opportunities to design our services with widescreen in mind. For example, games consoles like the Wii and PS3 allow us to build widescreen services - we just position the content in the middle of the screen so that anyone using a non-widescreen TV won't see the edges of the screen.

Freesat HD and forthcoming Freeview HD devices will also offer us the ability to use HD graphic planes, and we're hoping to do some experiments in that area in the near future to see what we can do.

One thing we will continue to do is make sure what we build looks and works the best for all our users, regardless of what shape TV is being used.

Comments

  • 1. At 8:10pm on 19 Mar 2010, TV Licence fee payer against BBC censorship wrote:

    "One of the questions we occasionally get asked is why our red button services aren't built in widescreen.

    As it's now very hard to buy a traditionally shaped television, and widescreen has become the new standard, it's a fair question to ask.

    The answer boils down to the fact that most digital devices still only allow us to build services in a traditional 4:3 format - even if the device is HD.
    "

    But even if the above was not the case you would still have to place all vital content in the 4:3 safe area - remember that many people will be hooking up their DVB STBs to existing 4:3 sets, it's going to be years before 4:3 is a memory. It will probably take as long, if not longer, than it took for the old 405 line B&W VHF sets to finally succumb. UHF started for most around the mid 1960s, the last 405 line transmitter was turned off in 1985...

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  • 2. At 10:45am on 22 Mar 2010, Andrew Bowden wrote:

    Indeed, it will be quite a while before we stop supporting people viewing in 4:3. About half the TVs in our office are 4:3 if nothing else! I have a rather elderly portable CRT on mine.

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  • 3. At 12:09pm on 22 Mar 2010, TV Licence fee payer against BBC censorship wrote:

    2. At 10:45am on 22 Mar 2010, Andrew Bowden wrote:

    "About half the TVs in our office are 4:3 if nothing else! I have a rather elderly portable CRT on mine."

    Which, probably still gives a better picture than many flat screen jobies!

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  • 4. At 7:42pm on 23 Mar 2010, Hyperstar wrote:

    Wide-screen should be standard now

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  • 5. At 2:57pm on 24 Mar 2010, Brekkie wrote:

    Ridiculous really on the one hand red button services are axed to make provision for HD - but on the other you still have to cater for 4:3 TV.

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  • 6. At 5:15pm on 25 Mar 2010, Hyperstar wrote:

    Even the bedrooms in my house have wide-screen now

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  • 7. At 5:24pm on 27 Mar 2010, mike wrote:

    It would have been nice to put in a "widescreen switchover" at the same time as the digital switchover...
    >Seeing the Beeb broadcast a circle with the caption "Is this circle not circular? - We're in widescreen, to enhance your viewing experience, you may want to use a widesrceen TV"
    Then again, that would have opened a whole new set of problems - money, people moaning, conversion of media houses (thinking of all the rack mounted monitors, rackspace etc...)

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  • 8. At 2:55pm on 30 Mar 2010, Sue_Aitch wrote:

    Well, quite: I have two Freeview Boxes and a DVD Recorder with an anolgue tuner only in it, and a nice old Toshiba Fastext Nicam Stereo CRT in glorious 4:3. I won't upgrade because my kit is working well and I can live happily in an SD world.

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