swac

TCM Canada - SD signal format problem

6 posts in this topic

Just wondering if anyone else in Canada has had the SD signal for TCM rendered unwatchable by reformatting that now stretches the image to the sides of my 16X9 TV. The change happened at 10 a.m. ET last Thursday, 17 minutes into Calamity Jane (my DVR caught the exact moment the 1953 film went from regular square Academy ratio to a horizontally stretched "windowboxed" picture that squeezes the image from top to bottom.

I live in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and my cable provider Eastlink noted the problem when I phoned them, but told me the issue was present in the signal they were receiving by satellite, so (according to them) the issue lies further up the chain. I haven't heard back from them since then, nearly a week later, and the problem remains, although other SD channels look the way they always have. No amount of playing with the settings in my cable box/DVR can change this, and there was no change made to the unit at the time of the format change from regular to squeezed last Thursday. Hope I'm not alone in noticing this!

 

TCM is pretty much the only reason I still have cable, so you'd think it would be in their best interest to fix this...

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On 6/27/2018 at 10:39 AM, swac said:

Just wondering if anyone else in Canada has had the SD signal for TCM rendered unwatchable by reformatting that now stretches the image to the sides of my 16X9 TV. The change happened at 10 a.m. ET last Thursday, 17 minutes into Calamity Jane (my DVR caught the exact moment the 1953 film went from regular square Academy ratio to a horizontally stretched "windowboxed" picture that squeezes the image from top to bottom.

I live in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and my cable provider Eastlink noted the problem when I phoned them, but told me the issue was present in the signal they were receiving by satellite, so (according to them) the issue lies further up the chain. I haven't heard back from them since then, nearly a week later, and the problem remains, although other SD channels look the way they always have. No amount of playing with the settings in my cable box/DVR can change this, and there was no change made to the unit at the time of the format change from regular to squeezed last Thursday. Hope I'm not alone in noticing this!

 

TCM is pretty much the only reason I still have cable, so you'd think it would be in their best interest to fix this...

I am unable to comment directly about your Canadian signal, but I have seen TCM do the same (ever more frequently) in the states.
It is extremely annoying and disappointing when they do, because Window-boxing makes the picture so tiny and distorted that it is practically unviewable.

My understanding is that Window-boxing generally occurs when a native wide-screen movie (shot in 16:9 or wider ratio) has been previously "Letter-boxed" (with normal black spaces both above and below an image) to fit a 1.33:1 (4:3) ratio screen, and then modified again into "pillar-box" format (with black spaces on both left & right sides of an image) to fit a 16:9 ratio (or wider) screen.
This creates an image that is centered in the screen with black space on all four sides.
These movies have essentially been "shrunk" or modified twice creating a picture which is much tinier than it "normally" should be and often creates distorted figures (actors, etc.) with a widened and squashed appearance.
The "Window-Box" effect is also called "Match-Box," "Gutter-Box," and "Postage Stamp" displays.  

Refer to this thread for more info.

However, less frequently TCM will show an "Academy ratio" (4:3) movie in Window-Box format as well.
This leads me to believe that Either the source videos they are using to stream have already been modified in such a fashion to begin with (with embedded bars all around), or the equipment that they are using to stream is not properly adjusted (calibrated) to avoid such a "Window-boxing" effect.

(Depending on the viewer monitor's native ratio, and settings, further distortion effects are possible.)

Most of the ON-DEMAND streams do appear to have embedded black bars all around the image to begin with, which leads me to believe that these Window-box "errors" (whether a badly modified source video was used, or the result of improperly programed (calibrated) uploaded video streams, or a combination of both) are caused by TCM "misjudgements" resulting in unnecessary and unacceptable "Window-boxed" movies.

But in your case, you appear to be experiencing this directly from your TV Providers signal, as opposed to a direct on-line stream from a TCM server.
That introduces the additional variables of your carriers receiving and transmission hardware/software.
My past (and current) experience with TCM, leads me to think that it may very well be as your cable provider states, with the problem resting with a corrupt signal from TCM.
But past experience also has shown me that practically every ISP or TV Provider always blames the other guy for any signal problems, when that is also frequently not the case.
Sadly, with TCM, we can never get any direct feedback one way or another about anything.

So though I cannot replicate your existing experience at my end, I have seen it happen, when TCM has been determined to be the source of the problem. And since this is only occurring with your TCM SD channel it makes it ever more likely that TCM's signal is again the problems source.

Though I do watch TCM movies on an SD cable channel, I more frequently use the WATCH TCM ON-DEMAND on-line streaming feature.
When at home I transfer the image from my PC to the larger screen TV via an HDMI cable.
Just offering this as a possible alternate option for you, until (when/if) TCM straightens out their signal to your  TV Provider.

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Posted (edited)

Thanks for the reply Stephan! (I'm a Stephen, perhaps we're doppelgangers)

I checked out what my cable provider offers for TCM ON-DEMAND, and there was two pages of titles, of which there was one movie I hadn't seen, so not the greatest selection (it was also quite the labyrinth to get to the TCM menu, as it was buried deep in the "TV" sub-menu).

I don't think the formatting problem lies in the original video source, since a) it looks fine in HD (which I have at work, but not at home) and b) the problem occurred 17 minutes into a broadcast of Calamity Jane, which filled the screen top to bottom, with black bars on the side to preserve the Academy ratio, until the picture froze for an instant and then continued with an image that was squeezed horizontally.

BUT, as of this morning, I turned on TCM SD at work, and they are currently showing Fritz Lang's M in the proper ratio for an early 1930s film, but with black bars on all four sides instead of just on the left and right as before. If I hit the zoom button, the image will fill the screen top to bottom without losing its shape, but now with reduced resolution. So they've "sorta" fixed it, although I'll have to wait for a widescreen film to come on to see how it works for 1.85:1/2.35:1 titles.

 

Edited by swac
typos

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4 hours ago, swac said:

perhaps we're doppelgangers

For your sake I hope not. ;)

4 hours ago, swac said:

I checked out what my cable provider offers for TCM ON-DEMAND, and there was two pages of titles, of which there was one movie I hadn't seen, so not the greatest selection (it was also quite the labyrinth to get to the TCM menu, as it was buried deep in the "TV" sub-menu).

To be clear, I was referring to the WATCH TCM ON-DEMAND on-line internet website, Not your TV Service Provider's On-Demand feature (which may also be accessable on-line) to Watch a TCM movie.

4 hours ago, swac said:

I don't think the formatting problem lies in the original video source, since a) it looks fine in HD (which I have at work, but not at home) and b) the problem occurred 17 minutes into a broadcast of Calamity Jane, which filled the screen top to bottom, with black bars on the side to preserve the Academy ratio, until the picture froze for an instant and then continued with an image that was squeezed horizontally.

Granted, as far as I am aware there are two primary situations when this generally happens, the first (which you have ruled out) is when a feature is "Window-boxed" with the four black bars embedded in the source video.
The second is when the equipment used to stream is not properly adjusted (calibrated) to avoid such a "Window-boxing" effect. This can happen either from the source stream (TCM) or from the TV Provider's  stream, especially when there is hardware/software issues during "up-scaling" and "down-scaling" to or from SD to HD (and vice-versa) during the channel conversion process. 
The latter appears to be what you are likely experiencing, but your Provider denies it's them (which is typical), and TCM remains unresponsive to any query.

4 hours ago, swac said:

as of this morning, I turned on TCM SD at work, and they are currently showing Fritz Lang's M in the proper ratio for an early 1930s film, but with black bars on all four sides instead of just on the left and right as before. If I hit the zoom button, the image will fill the screen top to bottom without losing its shape, but now with reduced resolution. So they've "sorta" fixed it, although I'll have to wait for a widescreen film to come on to see how it works for 1.85:1/2.35:1 titles.

Embedded "Window-boxing" most frequently occurs with movies that are native wide-screen that have been previously modified for 4:3 "Academy ratio" viewing, and then re-modified for 16:9 screens, resulting in widened, and squashed distortions, on a very tiny "Window-boxed" picture.
When "Window-boxing" occurs with movies that were originally shot in 4:3 "Academy ratio" ratio, it again is more typical when the equipment used to stream is not properly adjusted (calibrated) to avoid such a "Window-boxing" effect. Either from the source stream (TCM) or from the TV Provider's  stream, and again, when there is hardware/software issues during "up-scaling" and "down-scaling" to or from SD to HD (and vice-versa) during the channel conversion process.
Generally the native 4:3 "Window-boxed" images, though tiny, often appear relatively distortion free.

So as an alternate "work-around" option (while waiting for this problem to hopefully resolve favorably) I reiterate that you can use the WATCH TCM ON-DEMAND on-line internet website (Not your TV Service Provider's On-Demand feature) to access and stream a movie in the comfort of your home on a PC or other device, and then relay that movie to your larger screen TV via a HDMI cable, or through WiFi.
The movies that I have currently watched this way, have fortunately been streamed in their native aspect ratio's (4:3 or 16:9, or wider) with No "Window-boxing."
Just a suggestion.

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Unfortunately, the online TCM On-Demand feature isn't available to folks in Canada, but I have lots of DVDs and blu-rays to tide me over. Sadly, I had to just delete any of the TCM programs I had on my DVR from the past week. If I could get Filmstruck in Canada, I'd subscribe to that in a heartbeat.

A technician from Eastlink Cable came to my house this afternoon, and was able to tell me (as opposed to the customer support people who bent over backwards to avoid admitting there was a problem) that the signal they are receiving for a number of channels was compromised in this way, and it just happened all of a sudden last Thursday morning (when I was recording Calamity Jane). History Channel and one of the news channels were also affected, and he's had multiple complaints about it. They've been trying to fix it in-house, and currently we've got a compromise situation where at least the films are back to the proper shape, if not the proper size.

At least it was good to talk to someone who didn't a) think I was making things up and b) didn't treat me like an annoyance (although I guess I am trying to be a squeaky wheel in trying to get the one channel that I pay them for every month to at least look watchable). I'm sure he's just as annoyed by the company policy that requires a service call for every complaint, even when the problem is back at their end.

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On 6/29/2018 at 3:53 PM, swac said:

Unfortunately, the online TCM On-Demand feature isn't available to folks in Canada

That is unfortunate.
They no doubt use the location and range of your TV Service provider to identify whether you are a U.S. based customer or not. Likely the same with your ISP address.
Though when I have been traveling throughout the states and in Canada, I have had no problem (at least not the last time) in signing-in and receiving TCM using my TV Service Provider account info. 
Probably if you are traveling in the states and attempt to log-in with your Eastlink Cable account. They will identify you as a Canadian customer, not by your current physical location, but by the location of your TV Service Account.

On 6/29/2018 at 3:53 PM, swac said:

A technician from Eastlink Cable came to my house this afternoon, and was able to tell me (as opposed to the customer support people who bent over backwards to avoid admitting there was a problem) that the signal they are receiving for a number of channels was compromised in this way,

Customer "Service" Representatives are too often lacking experience and ill-informed, and often are "trained" to read from a scripted algorithm of questions and answers.
Their calls are monitored and they have a vested interest to rightly or wrongly defend the company they work for.

An experienced field technician knows better what is actually going on in your area, and is more able to freely (and honestly) speak off the cuff, if so inclined. 

On 6/29/2018 at 3:53 PM, swac said:

it was good to talk to someone who didn't a) think I was making things up and b) didn't treat me like an annoyance

Tell me about it!

On 6/29/2018 at 3:53 PM, swac said:

I'm sure he's just as annoyed by the company policy that requires a service call for every complaint, even when the problem is back at their end.

If he's an honest man, No doubt!

Service calls are a frequent source of revenue for the company.

In my area any maintenance issue from beyond the pole and line to the "box" on building is on them.
Anything from their box into the building is subject to scrutiny, with the potential to bill the customer (i.e. any problem that they attempt to "fix" that is not directly related to their own defective equipment). 
If they come into your house and simply flip a switch or make some minor adjustment to make something work, they can bill you for their time. 

I rarely accept a CSR recommendation to have a tech come to my residence.
I own everything but the TV Service Providers receiver (which I now must rent), and have enough functional (and quality) spare parts (modems, routers, cables, back-up PCs, TVs, etc.) and am savvy enough to be able to trouble shoot my own equipment and rule-out the majority of such problems experienced at my end.

However, when I see a frayed or downed line (esp. after a storm) that feeds into my node, I am only to happy to report it and have a tech come out for repair.
Generally that is all it takes and I am up and running again.
Of course that rarely applies to the frequent issues that generally derive from TCM. 

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