Digital TV watchers had better get used to those black stripes that have begun cropping up on their screens. TV3's largely unannounced switch to widescreen broadcasting may have left exasperated digital viewers banging the top of their television sets in frustration at the fluid nature of their picture shape - but it's the future.
TVNZ plans to follow suit with a switch to widescreen digital at the end of July and, within a decade, it may be the only signal being broadcast to the nation's screens.
TV3 viewers who receive the channel through a digital source have been left baffled by the black borders appearing seemingly at random at the top and bottom or sides of their screen.
Katie Guy, a 23-year-old PhD student, has a widescreen TV and said the overall effect was "crappy".
"I don't like the inconsistency. It affects some programmes but not others. It [black borders] happens on The Simpsons but it goes back to normal for Home and Away.
"Also, not knowing [about the change], we thought there was something wrong with our TV, or that maybe we'd pushed a button. It ... is really annoying," the Aucklander said.
It's a view shared by many, if TV3's somewhat sheepish reaction is anything to go by. "I guess this is the future," said broadcast operations manager Kris Johnson.
The majority of New Zealanders still view television through a square (4:3 ratio) cathode ray tube (CRT) screen and receive an analogue signal. They've not been affected by the change. But for the nation's digital viewers, TV3's April 11 leap into the future has been a mixed blessing.
Most programmes now appear in 16:9 widescreen. But many, including advertisements and some news clippings, are squared off by black borders on the sides of the screen.
Reaction has been "mixed", Mr Johnson said. "People who have widescreens and appreciate stuff in its proper aspect ratio are loving it and will put up with the black boxes as long as the stuff that is widescreen fills their screen.
"Then you get those who think they know what widescreen is - and just want it to fill the screen no matter what it is. They are pretty upset."
Eventually, all TV viewers will have to come to terms with a fluctuating screen size. All new content being supplied to the TV companies will soon be in widescreen. But older episodes of The Simpsons, for example, and archive news footage is in 4:3 format. That means viewing John Campbell in widescreen before cutting away to a square picture of old footage.
"The problem when you migrate to widescreen is that you haven't instantly got all of your programme material in widescreen format so you have to convert it," said Doug Stevens, TVNZ's resources manager, who is overseeing the state-owned station's planned July 31 switch to widescreen.
"Some way down the track everything we all put to air will be widescreen and everyone will be happy. The problem is we've got this transition period, at least a year, depending on how many thousands of hours of content we've got in 4:3."
Ray Bailey, a salesman at Harvey Norman's Botany Downs store, estimates 95 per cent of TVs sold there are now widescreen. Of roughly 100 models in store, just three are square CRT sets.
"That's where everything is going. Any DVD you buy - even the old movies that have been digitally remastered - are in widescreen.You'd be crazy to buy a 4:3 square tube TV."
And soon you won't be able to. Glass tube production is due to be phased out this year, said Mr Stevens.
As for TV3, a feared ratings drop-off hasn't materialised. Figures provided by AGB Neilsen show viewership of the flagship 3News programme has remained steady.
"News was the programme we were most worried about and it doesn't appear to be affected that much," said Mr Johnson.
He was, however, slightly regretful about the lack of publicity over the switch. "There are two sides to it - do you want to do a big fanfare and have the whole thing fall over? ... But I do wish they'd publicised it a bit more too."By Steve Deane Email Steve