NewsHour High-Definition Broadcast FAQ

Such a change will prompt many questions from our audience, so the Online NewsHour assembled the following brief list to answer questions you may have. If your question is not answered, please feel free to ask us through the link at the bottom of this page. We will continue to update this list with more answers as the transition unfolds.

Thank you for your interest as we make this significant technological change in order to bring our viewers a more vibrant NewsHour broadcast.

Will I need a high-definition television to watch the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer?

No. However, if you have a high-definition television (also known as HD, HDTV or hi-def) you will notice a remarkable difference in picture clarity — a larger picture, sharper details and more vibrant colors.

I have a standard-definition television and the NewsHour looks different on my TV. Why are there black bars across the top and bottom of the screen?

This format is called letterbox, and because the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer is now being broadcast in high definition, this effect is normal. This letterbox format, which is sometimes known as widescreen or 16:9, is similar to how motion pictures are filmed and often presented on DVD or VHS.

As we make the transition to HD, you will also notice some of the program has both the letterbox bars at the top and bottom as well as globe graphics on the right and left. This is known in the broadcast industry as the “postage stamp” effect. That happens when the material we want to broadcast was produced for the tradition 4:3 or standard-definition television. As more broadcasters produce in high-definition, you will see this effect less often, but for now much of the footage used on the NewsHour may appear in this manner.

Is the NewsHour’s transition to a high-definition broadcast related to the nationwide Digital TV transition in 2009?

Partly. Since high-definition television is a form of digital television and offers the highest picture quality of all digital broadcast options, the NewsHour has decided to take the digital transition one step further by going to HD.

On Feb. 17, 2009, all TV stations will cease broadcasting on their current analog channels and switch to digital broadcasting. With digital TV, picture and sound are processed with the same code used for computers. This allows more information to be broadcast, meaning higher resolution, more detail and sharper images for viewers. Some broadcasters may choose to use this additional capacity to send multiple channels of traditional standard-definition television, but many within the commercial and public broadcast community plan on using this bandwidth to transmit HD programming.

Switching to digital broadcasting also will free up the airwaves for wireless signals and public and safety communications.

If you currently watch television using an outside or indoor antenna, your TV is probably analog and you are receiving an analog signal. As of February 2009, you will need to purchase a digital broadcast receiver to replace your older analog antenna. Beginning Jan. 1, 2008, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration is offering coupons to those with analog televisions to purchase digital TV converters. You can call the NTIA at 888-388-2009 to request coupon information.

If you receive cable or satellite service on your analog TV, you won’t need to make any changes to receive digital broadcasts.

I have heard there are two different formats for HD — 720p and 1080i. Which one is the NewsHour broadcast in and does it affect me?

The digital television standard allows broadcasters to choose among several different formats that they can transmit. There are two high-definition formats: 720p and 1080i. The NewsHour will be broadcast in the 1080i format, which provides the highest-possible resolution. That said, any HDTV receiver is required to receive both formats.

Where can I find more information about the digital TV transition?

The Federal Communications Commission has created a Web site for consumers explaining the transition to digital TV.

The Consumer Electronics Association has also produced this Frequently Asked Questions document about the transition to digital broadcasting as well as HD broadcasting.

The National Association of Broadcasters — a group that represents all broadcast (non-cable) stations and networks — has also put together this site to explain the digital transition.

I still have more questions about the NewsHour’s transition to high-definition broadcasts. How may I get them answered?

If you have further questions, please check out our online forum on the NewsHour’s high-definition transition.