Crop 'em, Danno! The Aspect Ratio Police Are On The Case

When I was young, I loved going to the movies. I loved widescreen epics in Cinerama, Cinemascope, Super Panavision. VistaVision, etc. Watching these movies on TV, however, was painful because I could tell I was not seeing the entire image.

When DVD's appeared in 1997, there was somewhat of a respite. A lot of DVD's had both "full screen" and "letterbox" versions. Now I could enjoy these films at home the way the director intended them to be seen.

You'd think that transitioning from the old 4x3 TVs to new, widescreen 16x9 high definition TVs would put the kibosh on this practice, but it's only introducing new aberrations.

Years ago, I insisted that the technician that installed my HD cable box show me some HD content. All he did was put on a standard definition channel and press the "wide" button. I had to convince him that was not HD. After a while, we figured out that the HD channels started at channel 701. (There are reported cases of consumers watching standard definition broadcasts on their high definition TV's because they didn't know that the high definition channels were simulcast on a different channel.)

Broadcasters are still transmitting 4x3 content at 16x9, so everyone looks fat! Consumers are being duped into thinking that a standard definition image stretched to 16x9 is high definition. There are many public places such as bars, restaurants, airports and other venues with widescreen TVs that either don't have high definition service or they don't know the difference, and display standard definition content stretched out. Widescreen films that should be letterboxed, even on 16x9 TV's, are still being cropped "pan-and-scan" style to whatever aspect ratio is being broadcast.

I've long fantasised about giving out citations to networks, broadcasters, and proprietors of private venues who violate the aspect ratio of the original material, so I created my blog to cite those who continue with this horrible practice, and acknowledge those who get it right! [Aspect Ratio Police]

Tony Hurd has worked for Industrial Light & Magic, The Orphanage, Colossal Pictures, WGBH/Boston and KQED/San Francisco doing both special FX and production work. He knows his stuff. Tony Hurd now works at Polygon Entertainment.

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