I’m a big fan of CNN, it’s a site that I visit frequently. Every time I go, however, I’m surprised that most of their videos are still presented with distorted aspect ratios. I guess it can happen to any producer, though you would have thought that CNN would have it figured out by now. Or, maybe it’s just me.

Here’s a screengrab from a video about Alex Rodriguez’s recent steroids admission on CNN. Note that it was video provided courtesy of ESPN, which is why their logo is embedded.

Here’s pretty much the same frame from the video posted by ESPN.

Looks even more smarmy, doesn’t he, but certainly at least 20 pounds lighter. And then there’s Tiger, on his recent return to the Accenture tournament. Here he is on CNN, where it looks like he may have added a few pounds during his recent layoff to recuperate from surgery.

Here he is on the PGATour.com (logo on the upper right), svelte as ever.

Below I’ve embedded two videos with Tiger footage, one from CNN, the other from ESPN, so you can see what I’m talking about with live videos. In the meantime, what’s the lesson? Basically, it’s that if you’re doing everything correctly on the editing, encoding and player side, video on the web should look just like a digital photo. 

For example, in the frame below, the left side is a frame grab from a streaming video on the CNN site, the right a still picture of Anderson Cooper from his blog, at http://ac360.blogs.cnn.com.Obviously, there’s a problem.

Here’s a comparison of ESPN’s Pat Forde. No similar issue, but someone should definitely tell him to lighten up on the hair jell. And white shirt, black suit? Oh, my aching contrast ratio. But I diverge.

Somebody tell CNN, would you? I first noticed this back in 2006, and had long hoped that they would find a solution. Kind of a shame, because they’re doing so many other things right.

For example, here’s the file summary from MediaInfo. CNN is publishing at 576×324 at an efficient 500 kbps, using On2’s VP6 codec. Frame rate is 29.97 fps. On the audio front, CNN is producing at 96 kbps using mono audio, in CBR mode. This tends to prove my mantra that if your audio source is primarily talking heads, mono is preferable to stereo.

Inlet Semaphore shows us that CNN inserts a key frame about once every 7-8 seconds, a bit more conservative than the one every ten seconds that I recommend. Still, the video quality looks flawless —  I just wish the aspect ratio was right.

If you do contact CNN, tell them not to send any cameras my way. Trust me, though Tiger and A-Rod can afford to add 20 pounds to their skinny frames when posted on the CNN site, I surely cannot.

Here’s the Tiger video from CNN

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