Originally Posted by HomeVideoGuy
However, 4:3 material has black bars on each side of the screen as well on most but not all channels. Is this normal? Does it have anything with how they are encoding it at the station?
The station is upconverting SD programming to HD by interpolating extra pixels in the image, and adding blank bars on both sides to fill out the 16:9 frame. They do this because it's not possible to switch the broadcast signal between SD and HD "on the fly." Because it's physically a HD signal, your recorder handles it like any other HD signal, by letterboxing it.
And, most of all, since it is downconverting the digital HD signal to analog for recording, is it actually recording my shows like this or just displaying them like this? I haven't tried playing the recordings on another player just yet.
I can't answer that because I don't have the unit in question to check for myself.
PS. Why couldn't they just tune in the digital SD sub-channel and record that to disc similar to how DirecTivo's just save the digital DirecTV feed to disc?
Not all broadcast stations send out both HD and SD digital signals with the same material. In my nearest city (Greenville SC), only two out of seven stations do this. If you do have both signals available on different subchannels, it's up to you to pick the one that you want to record.
Look in your manual to see if there is an option to "zoom" an HD signal so as to fill the screen vertically and crop off the side panels to maintain the proper aspect ratio.