4:3, 16:9, Anamorphic, Widescreen, CinemaScope, Panavison, Pan
& Scan, Letterbox - the list goes on! But what do all these
alien names mean? When we go to the cinema to watch a movie we will
see a picture like the one below:
But when we watch the same movie on VHS video we may get something
It is a terrible loss of detail, I know. In the past
TV screens could not show wide pictures. So the film industry thought
up ways they could convert widescreen movies so they can be viewed
on our home TV's.
In the picture below the red outline represents the
size of your TV. With Letterboxing the picture is shrunk to fit
the whole thing in and black bars are added at the top and bottom
to fill the gaps.
PAN & SCAN
This method is called Panning and Scanning because the the movie
is re-recorded from the cinema screen, but the camera pans left
and right to scan only for the parts of the movie that are vital.
Most old VHS movies are Pan & Scan and, as a result, many of
the fine details of the movie were lost. In the picture below the
red square represents the only parts of the movie that would be
recorded to video with Pan & Scan.
Anamorphic resizing is the royal magic trick of the DVD revolution.
The whole movie is recorded at full resolution but the image is
literally squashed out of shape and no fine details are lost!
It is only with the relatively new introduction of wide screen
TV's that it has been possible to view anamorphic movies at full
resolution. A DVD player has a built in function that allows it
to re-stretch an Anamorphic movie out to full size again. This
way anamorphic DVD are able to take full advantage of whatever
extra resolution specifications advances in TV technologies make.
If your TV is not wide enough to take an anamorphic image, then
the image will just be Letterboxed and look like any widescreen
If you have already decoded a Widescreen DVD to your computer,
you will probably find that the picture is still squashed. It
is not an error with the ripping process, but rather the computers
inability to resize the image as would be done on a normal DVD
player. The above picture is a 720 x 576 PAL rip, but when opened
in a DVD player it will be resized to something like 852 x 480!
If you find that the DVD of your favorite movie doesn't say widescreen,
it may be an idea to wait a bit before you buy it. Sometimes they
are replaced by the widescreen versions later on, and you will end
up buying the movie twice, no doubt to the joy of the movie industry
Yes, many of you have looked on a DVD box and read Anamorphic
Widescreen 16:9 2.35:1 and thought 'what the Fu*k!' Nevertheless,
most of you will be familiar with the idea of ratios even if you
think you don't. Imagine, for example, you are mixing a
cocktail drink. It is four parts vodka to three parts of soda.
That would be a ratio of 4:3. It doesn't matter if you used four
gallons of vodka to every three gallons of soda, or four egg cups
of vodka to every three egg cups of soda, it would still be a
ratio of 4:3!
Aspect ratios work exactly the same way. Interestingly enough,
your TV screen is probably an aspect ratio of 4:3 too =o). That
is, three parts down by four parts across. But to say a picture
is always four by three parts makes it hard to make exact measurements.
Instead an alternative system is used; we measure the height and
the width. For example, in the image below we have a ratio of
1.33:1 (or 1.33 to 1). The 1 can be anything. Imagine, for example,
the blue rectangle below was 1 meter high. The width would then
be 1.33 meters across, or, if you like: 1 meter and 1 meter 33
This is why aspect ratios are used on DVD's. It doesn't matter
what measurements we use, it could be millimeters, centimeters,
pixels, points, whatever. It always remains in perfect shape if
we resize it by the aspect ratio it was originally. There are a
couple of 4:3 aspect ratios, for example 1.25:1, 1.36:1, but DVD's
that say a ratio of 4:3 will usually use 1.25:1.
A second very often used aspect ratio is 16:9. That is, sixteen
parts to every nine parts. This is basically what you will get
from a widescreen TV.
There are a myriad of possible ratios for widescreen. But probably
the most used of them for DVD's will be 1:85:1 (American), 1.66:1
(European), 1.77:1 (British) and especially CinemaScope at 2.35:1
(worldwide). CinemaScope are also sometimes called Panavision
or just WideScreen. Of course, it could be a mistake to say any
aspect ratio is just British or just American etc., because studios
just use the ratios they feel are best for their audience.
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