Ever since DirecTV launched a slew of national high-definition channels last October and November, it's been the only place most Americans can get their Cartoon Network, Sci-Fi, and Bravo networks in high-def. On Monday, Dish network caught up somewhat, announcing the activation of a total of 22 new high-def channels, including those three and many other national, high-interest channels--as well as a few lower-interest ones, including World Fishing Network HD. Twenty of the channels are supposed to go live Monday, and the last two, the regional sports networks (RSNs) Comcast Sports Network Bay Area HD and Comcast Sports Network New England HD, will be activated Wednesday, according to the company. Check out the full list of new channels on the official press release.
According to our count, the new additions bring Dish's total number of HD channels to 95, just under DirecTV's 104. Excluding RSNs, on-demand/Pay-per-view channels, exclusives like Dish's Voom channels, and duplicate East/West feeds, we count an even 50 national and local HD channels on Dish Network, and 60 on DirecTV. Dish is still missing some well-known networks like FX HD, MTV HD, and Nickelodeon HD, while DirecTV still doesn't carry World Fishing Network (the nerve!) or ABC Family HD, but overall DirecTV still maintains an advantage in channels we expect more people care about.
For a full breakdown of Dish vs. DirecTV's high-def programming, and how it currently compares with cable and Verizon Fios, check out the big chart.
Of course, just because a channel has a big "HD" stamped next to it in the on-screen programming guide doesn't mean you'll be glorying in full-fledged high-def every time you turn it on. In fact, most of the new channels Dish added, and indeed most so-called HD channels on any provider, deliver a steady diet of upconverted programming that originates in standard-def--and usually doesn't look much better when shown on an HD channel. Worse, many HD channels stretch their squarish 4:3 shows to fill the rectangular 16:9 HDTV screens, resulting in shorter, fatter people, oblong circles, and similar distortions. I flipped by something on HGTV HD and even noticed the tell-tale disproportional stretch similar to some HDTVs' "panorama" or "Just" modes, where the sides of the screen are stretched more than the middle in an attempt to make people in the central area of the screen look less distorted.
For the record, I'm with most people who care: I wish all broadcasters would show all content in the original aspect ratio, and leave it to us to press the "aspect" or "zoom" or "format" keys on our remotes to fill the screen if we so desire. To date, some do (Jake 2.0 on SciFi HD, when I checked, had the proper black bars to either side of the 4:3 image) but many do not. The excellent guide to DirecTV's channels at Digitalcaffeine.com breaks down which channels stretch and which leave the program unaltered--it applies equally to other providers, including Dish. Unfortunately, the anti-stretch-o-vision petition has been closed.