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Stretch-o-Vision is a neologism used to describe the practice of upconvert video in the 4:3 aspect ratio to the widescreen aspect ratio such as 16:9 in various ways, causing a distorted picture. The use of the term "stretch-o-vision" to describe this process was popularized as a term for the practices of the American cable television network TNT for dealing with standard-definition programming on their high-definition simulcast feed, TNT HD. However, this term can be used to describe this type of stretching in general (including implementations of it built into most high-definition television sets).

Background

HDTV programming is broadcast in the 16:9 aspect ratio, a widescreen image. However, most SDTV programming is usually broadcast in the 4:3 aspect ratio. Most widescreen television channels broadcast non-widescreen footage with pillarboxing.

TNT HD and FlexView

TNT HD, launched in 2004, is a simulcast of the main TNT network, and airs the same programming as its standard definition counterpart, substituting in high definition versions of programming when available. However, some of TNT's programming is not produced in HD or are not available to the network in HD, and due to possible difficulties in obtaining high-definition telecines of some movies, some movies cannot be presented in true HD.

However, senior vice president of broadcast engineering at TNT, Clyde D. Smith, was against pillarboxing for several reasons. These included possible issues with burn-in caused by pillarboxing on plasma televisions, the inability of some older HDTVs to stretch 4:3 content automatically, the comparison of the stretching systems in HDTVs to funhouse mirrors, and the desire for a more "pleasant" and consistent viewing experience, as all programs would be either aired in true high definition or stretched to 16:9 by the system, describing a transition from a HD program to a 4:3 standard definition program as "jarring" to an average viewer.

TNT partnered with Teranex to develop their own in-house upconversion system called FlexView, a system which upconverts and scales the original standard definition video into a "enhanced viewing experience" for widescreen, by using a nonlinear method to stretch more near the edges of the screen than in the center of it. After a year of use on TNT, the FlexView system became available to other HD broadcasters, and is also now used by other networks such as HGTV, and also TNT's sister network, TBS HD (launched in 2007). WPCH-TVmarker in Atlantamarker (originally WTBS, carrying TBS) does not use this system, as the only HD programming it shows are Atlanta Braves games.

The various Discovery Networks HD channel simulcasts also do some stretching with SD programs, but in most cases programs on their networks air instead in the compromise 14:9 format, where some upper and lower portions of the picture are lost and the picture fills most of the screen with only slight pillarboxing. Paid programming is aired in 4:3 as HD infomercials are still very rare.

Even though TNT intended the system to improve the experience, the FlexView system has been frequently criticized by viewers of high definition channels, with people noting that the upconverted programming has a softer look, is stretched in places, and is not in true high definition. As part of the criticism, viewers have commonly referred to 4:3 broadcasts stretched in this manner as being in "Stretch-o-Vision". In recent years, TNT HD has increased the amount of true HD programming on their service, and has aired more movies in HD.

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