I’ve done a good deal of research and I’m reasonably convinced that 1963 is birth year that marks an extreme technological divide.
The battlefield? Connecticut. The battle? 4:3 versus 16:9.
Connecticut has had a long and storied past with cable. Being stuck in the wasteland between New York and Massachusetts, there’s always been a battle for the airwaves in the VHF/UHF world. Where I grew up I was on the cusp of getting solid New York City or Long Island reception and everything that came from Connecticut proper was weak signaled, since they focused on the Boston markets.
Consequently, my parents got this “newfangled thing” in the form of a cable box – one dial that ran 2-13 and A-P – to save us from the issues caused by a useless TV antennae.
Since then, cable has grown very, very slowly in Connecticut, particularly in the Naugatuck River Valley. When I started high school, I envied Shelton’s cable service which was provided by a company called Tele-Media. They had 75 channels across two bands – my hometown had Cablevision, later replaced with Charter, which had about 45 channels. Four years later, it was 75 vs 70. Four years later, it was 75 vs 210. The only thing Tele-Media changed was the pricing, which climbed faster than Charter’s channel count. Just as Adelphia was declaring bankruptcy in the late 90’s or early 2000’s, they bought out Tele-Media. I was dying for a bigger company to come into the Valley, but I was hoping it would be a company that was still in business. My bad. And just as I was moving out of state, Comcast finally stepped up and brought proper cable to the masses in the Valley.
Jump ahead to Christmas 2007.
While visiting with my sister and brother-in-law, I noticed that their cable box was proudly proclaiming a 480i broadcast yet it was showing a full-sized screen on their 16:9 TV. Upon request, they switched to a Hi-Def (HD) channel; that offered a slightly better picture but it also had black bars on the top and bottom of the picture. This confused the hell out of me. Upon further inspection, I discovered that the cable box was connected to the TV with a coax cable. No component, no DVI, no HDMI – just a regular old coax cable. Wild.
On my 16:9 TV, I use DVI and I have black bars on the sides of channels showing in Standard-Def (SD) – unless I opt to stretch the picture – and no bars on HD broadcasts. Since I find that a stretched-to-Full 4:3 show looks sorta funny and distorted, I leave it in standard mode and have the bars show. I haven’t noticed them in a long time, which got me to wonder why. Maybe it’s the size of the TV? Maybe it’s because my black is a good quality black, so it doesn’t show?
Maybe I don’t look at the TV all that often and just listen to shows? Nah.
It’s because I was born after 1963.
The next day I wandered over to my parents’ house. They had moved while I was out of town – I wanted to make sure that their old and new TV’s were hooked up properly. My faith in this situation is such that I expected to see rabbit ear antennae at some point. The old TV was up in the bonus room, already hooked up with cable. This is a 4:3 SD Trinitron TV – it was all kinds of happy with the cable box attached to it with coax and it whistled at me. [What I found to be amusing on a personal level was the fact that the rest of the home theatre system was on the other side of the room without any wires running to the TV. Unless my parents invented wireless audio cabling there was no way that any of this stuff was working. My resulting comment was “holy crap that’s all old – what’s that? A VCR?!” and I told them to chuck the lot. But that’s got nothing to do with being born before 1963.]
Downstairs was a 16:9 TV with a cable box proclaiming 1080i output. I took a look at the screen. A football game was on. From the visible on screen graphics, it looked like there was only one team playing. No ticker was visible. The clock and visitor’s score were completely missing. I pressed “Aspect” on the TV remote – I lost all of the graphics and gained a whole lot of pixilated squares. I flipped that back to standard. I then noticed an “Aspect” button on the cable remote. I cycled through that and discovered that the cable box was set to Zoom. This raised an eyebrow. I dug in a little deeper: cable had them hook up the thing with a set of component cables. So I said to my parents, “Cool – they gave ya good cables… but why are you using the cable box to zoom in?” My mother said, “Yeah, that’s the weird part – when I’m watching the Weather Channel, I have to use the guide to see the low temperatures – thats the only way we can see the screen.” “Well yeah, because the cable box is zoomed in using its own aspect options but why use that?” I asked. What I got in reply set my theory into motion:
“Because we don’t like the black bars on the screen.”
I blinked. I twitched. I massaged my temples. I then put my finger in my left ear and chased after the collection of grey matter that had popped out of my right eye, now moving around the kitchen floor in what looked suspiciously like the Fox Trot.
I then took five minutes to try out an HDMI cable hook up and explain why the black bars were “OK”.
I then took another 15 minutes to find an extra coax cable to connect the the cable box to the TV and remove the component and HDMI cables.
This made their TV work just like the first one: no bars on 4:3 shows and horizontal bars on 16:9 shows. I left my mom with the TV and went back to my sister’s. Straightaway, I asked her about their TV, and why they didn’t have it hooked up with component or HDMI. My brother-in-law  doesn’t like the bars – my sister  was OK with them; she really didn’t care either way. Chuck  is OK with them as well; his wife  almost blew the study but she’s sometimes a throw back to the old school. Either that or the theory might suffer from WAF factor input… I’m pretty sure it’s an age thing.
The net effect is that everyone else born in or after 1963 ignores the bars; people born before 1963 see them and are greatly bothered by them.
The funny part is that my parents have both mentioned – on many occasions – how much they love their TV, now that they can see the whole screen; it’s so much better than it was before!
And just like that, technology is pushed back another five years… *sob*