I sit down this evening to watch Professional Wrestling—erm, the first 2008 Presidential Debate. I’ve got KQED-HD tuned in, the local PBS channel on 9.1. Ray Suarez in the News Hour studio, neat and clean and perfect in every respect. Man, I love HD… until they cut to the feed from Mississippi. All of a sudden it’s Ken Burns & “The War” all over again: audio and video out of sync. Dang!
It’s only a couple of frames off, but it still makes the live feed look dubbed; it’s distracting. So I hit the “last channel” button and get 11.1, the NBC feed (left over from watching “Heroes”). They’ve got audio and video in sync, so I settle in to watch the dead-catting and mud-gobbing in progress.
Only… NBC has a fancy, asymmetrical lower-third banner. Nice, seemingly tasteful,… and annoying: the right-hand side is doing a little animation to pimp “Campaign 08” on NBC’s website. The first time, it’s kinda cute. The second time? Yeah, I saw that already. The third time: OMG, don’t tell me they’ve got this on a loop. The fourth time: OMG, they do have this on a loop; this ain’t a lower-third, it’s a snipe. The fifth time: shall there be no surcease? The sixth time: wait, isn’t there someone talking? Some candidate somebody? Why am I paying attention to this dumb snipe?
The trouble is, that dumb snipe was the flashiest, most motion-filled thing on the screen. It had nothing to say, but it was drowning out the words of the best candidates our two-party system had to offer (with all due and proper respect to Senators McCain and Obama, they’re just a couple of guys in suits, standing still and talking; they can’t compete with flashy graphics designed by seasoned professionals to grab the viewers’ attention).
Boom: type in 2.1 (because it’s easy to remember), KTVU-HD: the same pool feed, but with Fox News banners and framing and tickers plastered all over it. Ack! Run away! Try CBS or ABC? Fine, but I’d have to remember their channel codes and subcodes, which I don’t; and channel-surfing DTV is s-l-o-w. Besides, what’s the chance that either ABC or CBS will restrain themselves from using the debates as a backdrop for their own flashy graphics? Time’s a-wasting; one of these dudes is gonna be the next prez!
Boom: back to PBS, where lips were out of sync, but there was only the static KQED bug in the lower right, and the occasional, subdued PBS tag appearing discreetly and infrequently on the lower left. I could actually focus on what people were saying and give it my full attention. I stayed on PBS through the debate, and through the post-game wrap-up, too.
I know, I know: asking commercial television to respect the content, instead of simply using as a wall on which to scribble promotional graffiti, is so last century. Thank goodness PBS had the guts? taste? discretion? sense? to put the candidates front and center.
Still, I do wish they’d get their A/V sync issues under control.