What Happens to HD Ads When Viewed On A Standard Definition TV?

Fred Cunha  | 

With HD TV penetration already well over 80%, no one should be worried about Standard Definition viewers when producing High Definition ads, right? Well, maybe not. Studies show that 37% to 64% of U.S. households are still watching in SD.

So how can millions still be watching in SD? There are four possibilities:

They still have an SD TV
They have an HD TV but don’t have an HD Set-Top-Box (STB)
They have an HD TV and an HD STB but don’t have HDMI or component YPbPr cables connected
They have an HD TV and HD STB but select the SD channel instead of the HD channel. This is likely because they don’t understand the difference, are not aware that there is an HD channel, or simply don’t care a whole lot about video quality.

Viewers who still have an SD TV are either watching a center-cut extract of the HD feed (sides getting cut-off) or a letterboxed version of the HD feed (nothing getting cut-off but black bars at the top and bottom).

While things are pretty straight forward for viewers who are watching on an SD TV, SD viewers who have an HD TV will experience other issues. If the broadcaster’s downconversion is done by letterboxing the HD feed and if the viewer’s TV and STB are set to the correct aspect ratio, they are also seeing “pillarboxing” (black bars on each side) which will then translate into “postage stamp” (black bars all around). While nothing gets cut-off, the video won’t look great since it will have black all around, especially if the creative has a white background.

Because of all the black bars, some SD viewers set their TV or STB (or both) to zoom, which “takes care” of one problem (seeing black bars) but causes others (cutting off content and stretching the video). This zoom issue doesn’t happen only for SD viewers. Some HD viewers will have this setting enabled, which will also cause HD content to be displayed improperly. For example, if logos or words are close to the edges, they may get cut-off in this scenario.

The bottom line is that while advertisers can’t control what each viewer sees, they can prepare for it by understanding what may happen downstream when an HD spot airs. (See our Aspect Ratios and AFD blog posts)

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