The wide screen saga

Wide screen television sets were introduced in Europe around 1992. At that time, there were hardly any wide screen broadcasts, so in order to move these new wide TV sets, manufacturers included all kinds of artificial picture scaling technologies into their products, stretching out the image just so that the screen is “filled”, and no black bars are visible at the sides of the screen. Of course, even though anyone serious about viewing moving images “the way they are intended” shudders from the idea of sacrifising picture aspect ratio, I can understand that in those early days without any wide screen content available, such technologies were needed just to get the wide screen TV ball rolling.

Then came DVD in early 1997. The first mainstream video format to offer real, anamorphic, wide screen video. The DVD specification cleverly defines that a player must be capable of compressing and letterboxing a wide screen DVD when a traditional 4:3 is connected, while outputting the uncompressed, full frame wide screen image to a wide screen TV. Unfortunately, the type of TV set that is connected to the player needs to be manually selected by the user. Ususally, this setting is burried deep down into the player’s setup menu. And since outputting an uncompressed anamorphic image to a traditional TV would result in deeply distorted pictures, but outputting a compressed letterboxed image to a widescreen TV does no harm to the aspect ratio, all manufacturer’s decided to set the player to “4:3 TV” by default.

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