When Isn’t It Really HDTV?

Regular OMW readers know that we’re a stickler for high-quality digital TV, usually in high-definition. Our Adelphia HD DVR is set to record, among other things, FOX 8’s local newscasts and network shows like NBC’s “Saturday Night Live”, and an occasional movie on HBO.

Anyway, people who watch HDTV closely know that it’s not all created equal. Many debates will start over sports events broadcast in one of the two main HDTV standards – 720P (FOX, ABC/ESPN) or 1080i (NBC, CBS). Even when the standard resolution is the same, picture quality can suffer when local over-air stations “multicast” – which means adding a second standard definition feed to the digital broadcast. Viewers of NBC’s Winter Olympics coverage on local affiliate WKYC saw that, especially when fast, colorful motion caused blurring and so-called “macroblocking” on the screen. WKYC uses part of its digital bandwidth to broadcast the “Weather Plus” feed we mentioned in an earlier item.

But…what if a network purposely deteriorates its HDTV picture quality, to appease aging stars?

That’s what’s been happening on weekday broadcasts of ABC’s “Good Morning America”, which has been airing in HD for a couple of months or so. Eagle eyed viewers, including This Corner, have noticed that GMA’s Diane Sawyer and Charles Gibson often seem to be broadcasting through a fog on ABC’s HDTV feed. Meanwhile, on the very same show’s weekend edition, the picture is usually as clear as the proverbial bell.

Either Diane and Charlie are doing their weekday GMA shows from behind a huge block of dry ice, or something’s amiss here. While we haven’t read anything about those two ABC morning stars, we HAVE read that such “smoothing” is in contracts of other older TV stars, like ABC’s own Barbara Walters.

To Ms. Sawyer, Mr. Gibson and Ms. Walters, we over some advice. Get over it! The HDTV camera lens is certainly not a problem for older LOCAL TV stars here in the Cleveland market. When WJW/8 anchor Tim Taylor was still doing the 6 PM news on the local FOX affiliate, the combined ages of the anchors yielded a pretty high number. Dick Goddard ALONE has been broadcasting weather for over 40 years in this market.

And yet, we haven’t heard any word or seen any evidence that Taylor, current co-anchor Wilma Smith or Goddard was begging for a “soft focus” lens on the station’s HDTV newscasts.

We know that TV news anchors are generally a pretty vain sort. We also know that they traffic on their looks, and viewers supposedly are aching to see “good looking, young looking” people on their TV. But if Cleveland’s oldest set of anchors has no problem with an HDTV camera showing them live every night – and actually looking fine to boot – then at very least, ABC should wipe off some of the Vaseline on the lens for its “Good Morning America” stars…

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