OMW has no idea why, but two local TV operations have apparently decided to stop using digital "stretch" mode on locally-produced programming and commercials...on their digital over-air stations.
Sometime in the past few days, both WEWS/5 and WOIO/19-WUAB/43 stopped forcing 4x3 (originally analog) programming to fill an entire 16x9 screen. Actually, as of recent months, WEWS had a partial stretch - to roughly 14x9 - on its locally originated content.
Removing the stretch entirely is a good idea, as far as OMW is concerned. Most TVs and set top boxes handle picture manipulation much better than being forced into a certain mode by a TV station. When WEWS was in the "nearly full" stretch mode, both our cable STB and our HDTV computer tuner couldn't do a thing about it...either making it full 16x9, or reducing it to 4x3.
Bottom line: If the picture is to be stretched to 16x9, let us do it on our TVs or our cable or satellite boxes. On our Scientific Atlanta 8000HD, a simple press of the # key on the remote toggles between three screen display modes.
And there's one big reason this needs to be fixed: the sale of new 4x3 digital sets that don't do widescreen content natively. An RCA model is already on the shelves at your local discount store, and it's just the first of many that will flood the market between now and the end of analog TV, roundabout early 2009 or so.
The only local network affiliate still forcing 16x9 on the digital side is NBC's WKYC/3. FOX O&O WJW/8 has never used fake stretching, as far as we know. And most of the local stations have left non-HDTV network programming (reality shows, news) alone.
While we're on the digital TV beat, OMW notices that local PBS affiliate WNEO/WEAO-45/49 is not yet passing through PBS' prime-time HDTV programming. The Kent-based pubcaster used to run PBS HD 24/7 on its digital channels, but abandoned that recently for financial and other reasons. While adding two additional SD feeds (the Annenberg public affairs channel and The Ohio Channel), WNEO/WEAO was supposed to activate the HD feed from 7 PM to midnight... but has yet to do so. We suspect there are technical reasons behind it.