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SportsColumnistsNeil Best

All TV angles covered? Not by my standard

Neil Best's standard-definition television set.

Neil Best's standard-definition television set.

Like you, I will watch the AFC Championship Game on Sunday.

Unlike you, I will not always see the punter. Or James Brown. Or other images lurking beyond the far edges of the TV screen.

Confession time: I am not now nor have I ever been the owner of a high-definition television.

This despite being a journalist who watches sports on television for a living, a club so exclusive its membership is closer to that of the Supreme Court than of the United States Senate.

That's 0-for-4 if you're scoring at home, including the 32-inch, standard-def, 1995 Sony in the den and a 20-inch, standard-def (SD) 2001 Toshiba in the basement office. Two bedrooms are similarly HD-free.

Learning of this situation unites friends, relatives, colleagues and acquaintances who might otherwise disagree on matters of sports, music, politics or religion. Everyone -- everyone -- is shocked, baffled and horrified. And pitying.

"At this point, I'm currently thinking of buying you one; it's ridiculous," Mike Davies, Fox Sports' senior VP for technical and field operations, said during an interview. "You're an SD person living in an HD world."

A Fox media relations official then chimed in, offering to come over with a hammer to end my SD misery.

But enough about me. This column is dedicated to my fellow troglodytes, who exist in greater numbers than you might expect.

It's true that as of the end of 2013, according to the Leichtman Research Group, 77 percent of U.S. homes had at least one HD TV, including 88 percent of those with a household income over $50,000.

But the same survey found 41 percent of all American TVs still in use were not HD -- about 125 million in total.

So there are millions of sports fans likely still watching on an extra set in SD seclusion while the rest of the family takes in a movie in glorious high def.

Thus do networks try to keep in mind SD viewers -- to a point. "We broadcast in pristine HD," Davies said. "That said, we're not doing our job if it doesn't look and sound just right on your TV."

There are different philosophies about how to make that happen.

Everyone now produces sports under the assumption of wide screens with 16:9 aspect ratios. Most then letterbox the image for 4:3 sets to make sure (most) of the action on the far ends can be seen.

Fox and ESPN long have done it that way. NBC made the switch recently, according to a spokesman, "because more viewers have migrated to 16x9 TVs and letterbox enhances the visual experience on all sports."

Letterboxing comes at a cost, though: It allows less total screen acreage for the image, which can be a problem for viewers using smaller old sets. That is why CBS remains a holdout.

"It is CBS policy not to letterbox because of concern of shrinking the picture," a spokeswoman said.

Fox Sports was the first to stop worrying about framing pictures with 4:3 screens in mind, in 2010, when about half of U.S. homes had an HD set.

Directors rejoiced.

"What happens if you tell your directors you have to protect for 4:3, you're really throwing away that extra stuff [on the far ends]," Davies said.

As recently as 2008, according to Leichtman, 34 percent of homes had an HD set. In 2004, it was 7 percent.

Inevitably, I will join the crowd.

Two holdups: a custom-made bookcase that perfectly frames our ancient Sony behemoth, and the fact that the old TVs refuse to die of natural causes. "The problem is these TVs last forever," Davies said.

The benefit of patience is that technology marches on, so when the day finally comes to join the 21st century, my TV likely will be cooler than yours.

Just Thursday, Sports Business Daily reported that the NBA planned an experimental 4K Ultra HD production of the Knicks-Bucks game in London to be shown to select audiences at O2 Arena and NBA offices in New York.


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