Appearing on CNN does add 20 pounds to A-Rod and Tiger

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 (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, 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 576x324 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

Here's the video from ESPN.

Check them out and let me know if I'm indeed missing something.

Comments (8)

Said this on 3-12-2009 At 12:22 pm
Is there a tool to look at live Flash Media stream properties? Even a basic one?

Could this visual distortion occur when capturing a 16x9 video signal with a standard 4:3 card and then output the encoded stream at 16x9 ratio (without letterboxing the input)?

Thank you
Jan Ozer
Said this on 3-12-2009 At 12:57 pm
I'm not aware of any tool to look at Flash Media stream properties.

Your explanation could be right, and certainly would explain it. I'm thinking that someone chose the wrong aspect ratio for the compressed output (like 1.33 instead of 1:1), but what really confuses me is why the anchors aren't screaming (I sure would be).
Said this on 3-15-2010 At 06:09 pm

This drives me crazy-- and it's been happening for years.

I can sort of understand when a sports bar in Kansas City chooses to distort the image on their fancy flat panel TV.  But a gigantic international media conglomerate like CNN??  How can they do this?

Said this on 3-15-2010 At 09:26 pm
Crazy, isn't it? They also control the Sports Illustrated site, where they make the same mistake. I totally don't get it - they've got some wonderfully bright production folks over there.

Thanks for weighing in.

Said this on 3-16-2010 At 02:06 am

I think the crazier part is the fact that so few people actually seem bothered by this... that so many people spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on expensive new high definition TV sets so that they can watch beautiful, high quality images but don't seem at all concerned by the bloated, distorted images that end up on their screens.  My brother in law is actually an IT/web design contractor in New York City, and even he doesn't seem to mind the stretched image.  I think it's official... we've crossed into Crazytown.

Said this on 3-16-2010 At 07:35 am

You know, some folks just don't notice- my kids sure don't when they're watching DVDs stretched out of proportion. I'm like you, but we're probably in the minority.


Said this on 5-26-2010 At 04:31 am

Of course you aren't missing anything. The distortion is brutally obvious. They are idiots at CNN, and they keep reaffirming such with dozens of newly released stretched web videos that looks like garbage every single day.  They have been doing this for over four years now.  The commercials preceeding the CNN news videos are usually the correct aspect ratio, then when the news videos start they look awful by comparison.

It boggles the mind to think about the money and effort being spent by a major media conglomerate to create a presentable site, yet a very basic visbility problem most 6 year old kids could identify is not being addressed.

Said this on 5-26-2010 At 07:16 am

I hear you, a real mystery - I especially wonder how the news anchors let them get away with it.

Thanks for dropping by and for taking the time to write.


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