Fullscreen vs Widescreen

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Fullscreen vs. widescreen

What is aspect ratio?

Aspect ratio refers to the relative dimensions of the film image (the width-to-height ratio) – there are two standard ratios: fullscreen and widescreen.

What is fullscreen?

This is the typical ‘square’ image favoured (until recently) by television presentations. This aspect ratio is expressed as 4:3 or 1.33:1, which means that the frame is 1.33 times as wide as it is tall.

Fullscreen presentations fill the entire screen of standard ‘square’ televisions. If a fullscreen image is viewed on a widescreen television, the screen will be wider than image and black bars will be visible on the right and left sides.

What is widescreen?

Widescreen is the characteristic ‘rectangular’ image favoured by in most film presentations. There are several aspect ratios that may be called ‘widescreen’ but the most common are (in order of increasing width) 1.66:1, 1.78:1 (also referred to as 16:9), 1.85:1 and 2.35:1.

If a widescreen image is viewed in on a standard television, the screen will be taller than the image and black bars visible at the top and bottom. The thickness of these bars will depend on the aspect ratio of the widescreen presentation: the wider the aspect ration, the thicker the black bars.

What is letterbox widescreen?

Letterbox widescreen (sometimes referred to as LBX) is a method of preserving the rectangular image of a widescreen presentation.

Unfortunately, letterboxed presentations (depending on the aspect ratio) do not always reach the sides (left and right) of viewable screen on a widescreen TV set, prompting the need for viewers to use the 16:9 or ‘Zoom’ feature of their DVD player or TV to expand the image causing a loss of resolution. This issue relates only to widescreen TVs.

What is anamorphic widescreen?

Anamorphic enhancement is a process for widescreen TVs where the original image is compressed by 33% in the vertical axis during encoding. When the player decodes the image, the vertical axis is decompressed giving a higher resolution and greater clarity.

Anamorphically enhanced DVDs can be viewed just as easily on fullscreen TVs as widescreen ones although the process is usually not discernible. PC monitors, despite almost universally being 4:3, have a higher resolution than TV sets and so can display the widescreen image in a window 854x480 pixels or higher for NTSC, 1024x576 or higher for PAL).

Despite a common misunderstanding, the term 'anamorphic' does not ensure that the image will entirely fill the screen of a widescreen TV set.

How can I tell if a widescreen DVD is letterbox or anamorphic?

In the ‘Technical Details’ section of the page for each DVD listing is a field highlighted as ‘Screen’. In this field you should find the aspect ratio listed for the DVD in question. Only titles with confirmed anamorphic transfers will display ‘Anamorphic’ in this field. If it does not, the widescreen presentation will be letterbox.

Why can I still see black bars on my widescreen TV?

Widescreen TVs have an aspect ratio of 1.77:1; the same ratio can be expressed as 16:9. Widescreen presentations with aspect ratios higher than this (i.e. 1.85:1 or 2.35:1, for example)will still exhibit black bars at the top and bottom despite these being much less than those on a standard 4:3 ‘square’ TV set.

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