Q. What is meant by the term ‘Aspect Ratio’?
A. The aspect ratio of a film is essentially the ‘shape’ that the film is shown in, a specification which varies from film to film. Films made prior to 1954 were generally filmed in Academy standard ratio, which is about 1.37 to 1 (roughly similar to a standard television screen) other formats are generally “wider” including 1.66 to 1 (VistaVision), 2.35:1 (CinemaScope) and others.
Q. What does “Letterboxed” mean?
A. Standard television sets have a ratio of roughly 4:3, whereas most films seen in the cinema are much wider. Thus, in order to view a film in its correct aspect ratio on a standard television, a compromise must me made, to do this, the picture is reduced in size and black bars appear at the top and bottom of the screen.
Q. What does “Pan and Scan” mean?
A. Pan and Scan is an alternate system used to adapt a film so that it fits on a standard television screen. This system crops the image so that it is the shape of a standard television screen, the image shown varies depending on where the essential action is taking place on the film. Although the image is bigger and fits entirely on a standard television screen, up to 50% of the original image is lost in this method, depending on the film’s original aspect ratio.
Q. What does “Anamorphic” mean?
A. Anamorphic widescreen is designed to provide a higher definition image in a widescreen format. Looking closely at your television you might spot that the image consists of hundreds of horizontal lines which, when viewed from a more sensible distance form an image. Discs formatted anamorphically (or labelled ‘enhanced for widescreen televisions’) essentially are made up of more of these ‘lines’, resulting in a sharper image on widescreen televisions. Anamorphic films will work normally on standard televisions, although they will not benefit from the enhancement.
Q. I heard someone say that the black bars at the top and bottom of the screen cut off the picture.
A. A myth, you see more of the picture, it is just a little smaller.
Q. So are all forms of full screen formats inferior?
A. Not at all. As mentioned before, films made prior to 1954 are pretty much full-screen anyway, while some recent films – such as The Blair Witch Project, and most of Stanley Kubrick’s work – were originally made with a standard television in mind. In addition to this, films such as Disney’s A Bug’s Life were actually re-tooled so that they would fit on a full-screen television without losing any of the image or resorting to displaying black bars.