What is and isn’t Widescreen

I recently made a purchase on an online auction for some DVDs that advertised being “Widescreen”. Almost all of my television and movie watching these days is done on my Widescreen television, or my widescreen laptop, so I naturally opt for the widescreen version of things when at all possible (and that’s simply ignoring all the other reasons why Pan-and-Scan 4:3 versions of originally widescreen content is stupid ). Upon receiving these DVDs last night, I came upon a startling discovery that has led to this post.

It would appear that there is a decent chunk of the population that doesn’t understand the intricacies of widescreen, and I hope that this information clears up any confusion:

I’d imagine most of us are familiar with the common 4:3 ratio of the classic Television. Most of us are ought ot be familiar with Widescreen as well. You’ll note that most if not all of the new shows airing these days are in widescreen, and I think that’s the bees-knees. Here we have your normal (Well, normal in aspect ratio, at least) 4:3 television show on a old TV, and a Widescreen TV

Classic TV

As you can see, the show looks normal on both screens, but the Widescreen TV has black bars on both sides that display nothing. No part of the image is lost on either set.


Some people may prefer using the entire viewing area of their widescreen set, and that results in this “stretched” view.

Classic TV Stretched

Again, no part of the image is lost, but the aspect ratio is screwed up, and it makes pretty girls look fat. Not ideal, but not awful.


New shows that are aired in a Widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio now face a similar problem. Fitting the entire image into a dissimilar shape means sacrifices must be made:

Widescreen

You can see that the widescreen set displays the entire image using the entire screen. In order to display the entire image, the classic T is forced to add black bars to the top and the bottom of the screen. Thus the entire screen is not used. No part of the image is lost, but the resulting image is fairly small.


To get around this problem, especially with widescreen movies, some idiot came up with “Pan and Scan” or “Full Screen”, which uses the entire classic TV screen to display a movie or show that was originally in widescreen. In order to do this, parts of the film picture are cut out, and (hopefully) the “important” images are presented on the screen.

pan and scan

Certainly not ideal, as parts of the image are lost, but it does utilize the entire part of the screen. This becomes more of a problem when it is clear the entire image is crucial to a scene. For example:

pan and scan

Here it is no longer clear what is happening in the scene. Deciding what is and isn’t important to a scene is suddenly no longer in the hands of the director, and the viewers lose out on the full work.


Leaving aside for the moment differing widescreen ratios (like anamorphic), we are left with just one more example of displaying widescreen content on a screen. It is thus far fairly rare, I believe, but certainly worth mentioning:

Widescreen Retarded

As you can see, this “Retarded Widescreen” manages to capture all the negative things with displaying widescreen content on a 4:3 Television, while managing to doubly punish a widescreen TV. To achieve this, one must first take widescreen content, and then force it into a 4:3 format by permanently adding grey bars to the top and bottom of the picture, as though they were part of the original image. Anyone wishing to watch their “Widescreen” content on the full screen of their Widescreen television are treated to this:

Widescreen Retarded Stretched

I guess in closing, I’d urge you to be careful. If you’re buying DVDs on an online auction site, and the auction boasts “Widescreen” as one of its selling points, be sure to ask the seller if he’s retarded.

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