I've become sensitized to aspect ratio issues by my DVD playing, and have started looking critically at those flat panel widescreen TVs that are ubiquitous in public places these days. I expected to find lots of TVs with incorrect settings that don't match the aspect ratio of the broadcast signal.
What I see instead is:
everything always fills the widescreen all the time no matter what
those "out of focus" extension pillars one used to see on the sides sometimes (right now it's summer 2014) have practically disappeared
often parts of the picture appear mildly distorted, in the way one would expect from the aspect ratio being set wrong
My impression is TV broadcasters have given up on expecting receivers to be set right, and are now broadcasting everything in widescreen (with no pillars) regardless of the original aspect ratio. They mix old cameras with 4:3 aspect ratio and new cameras with 16:9 aspect ratio, yet broadcast everything as 16:9 as though they had all new cameras. 16:9 advertisements are spliced into 4:3 source material with no change. And if there's some sort of statistical overlay (especially common on sports), the overlay may originally be at a different aspect ratio than the picture it's laid on, leading to things like fat baseball players throwing perfectly round pitches.
My question: do others see the same thing, or am I hallucinating?
What you are seeing are idiots who buy widescreen TVs for their location and feed them SD video. In order to get their money's worth out of the widescreen TV, they set it to fill the screen no matter what.
I've given up trying to talk sense into these places. They do not give-a damn.