There’s nothing like a televised presidential debate to bring out the best and worst in the candidates - and the broadcast networks bringing home the event.
Where and when else does a video geek get to compare/contrast the picture and sound quality of ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS? All carried the same signal “feed” of last night’s debate and theoretically should have produced identical results.
Yet as delivered via DirecTV to a carefully tweaked, Panasonic Viera GT50 series plasma TV and good quality surround system (Onkyo receiver, Bose home theater speakers) there were clear winners and losers last night, both in sheer tech performance and the subtle ways viewers may have reacted to the candidates.
Big Bird’s favorite PBS should also be President Obama’s. Delivering natural looking skin tones of African-Americans is difficult on many TVs, a critical barometer of the set’s color accuracy. But the combo of the more subdued, naturalistic PBS broadcast signal and the 2012 model Panasonic television gave the Prez a “black like me” presence that seemed honest and true, that connected as well as his pontifications on foreign policy. By contrast, Governor Romney looked pale and wan on the public broadcasting channel. PBS’s revenge for his threat to eliminate their federal funding? Uh, doubt it.
By comparison, ABC. CBS and NBC signals cranked up the color temperature, all putting a warm glow on the proceedings to make the pictures “pop.” It’s a strategy likewise deployed by TV retailers - adjusting demo TVs to the so-called “torch” mode.
Governor Mitt Romney looked best on CBS and ABC – healthy and vigorous, not too overly made up. President Barack Obama‘s skin tone veered towards pumpkin orange on CBS – a pre-Halloween stunt? – and on ABC to a sallow, yellow-tinged complexion with light-capturing “hot spots” that made his forehead and cheeks glow . Some might have taken that as a subconscious cue Obama was sweating - the famous kiss of death for Nixon in his debates with JFK.
With the color red pushed hardest on NBC 10, Obama's look veered to the pinky side of African-American skin tones (an unintentional underscoring of his mixed parentage?) A rosied-up Romney looked like he’d just stepped off a sailboat after a lovely afternoon cruise. Or maybe had tied a couple on before the debate. But he’s a Mormon and doesn’t drink, right?
In sound reproduction, ironically, PBS showed dead last. Its’ audio processing “chain” (identified on my receiver as Dolby Pro-Logic IIx) made the candidates sound like they were debating in a huge hall or spooky bell-tower inflicted with a heavy, nasty echo.
ABC. CBS and NBC’s audio processing all lit the “Dolby Digital” identifier on my Onkyo receiver. CBS uniquely extracted a quasi- surround signal from what may have been a single channel source. Listening on the 5.1 channel sound system made for the liveliest, attention grabbing, you-are-there viewing experience. And even with just the TV‘s speakers blasting, the CBS presentation offered a nice bit of left/right channel separation to clarify the candidates’ interruptions and maybe their philosophical differences.
ABC’s signal also suffered - though not quite as badly as PBS - from too much vocal echo. The hidden implication here: both candidates were double talking.
NBC ‘s minimalist monaural processing produced a warm, natural presence that moved both candidates closer to our ears, suggested intimacy and confidence.