We’ve all experienced watching movies in the wrong aspect ratio. This often occurs because the movie is in standard definition, but the image is stretched by your TV to fit the screen, making the characters look like the “before image” in a bad Jenny Craig commercial. Or worse, a full screen HD version of the movie or TV program is formatted by the broadcaster or streaming service to play in widescreen—making it impossible for you to adjust.
Why are there so many different aspect ratios? Today’s primetime television shows are shot to fill the screen of a typical 16×9 (1.77) widescreen HDTV. But, many older TV programs are shot in a 4×3 (1.33) because that was the typical picture size of that old CRT TV in your basement. By contrast, Hollywood typically produces films in either 1.85 (Widescreen/Flat) or 2.39 (Scope) to fit the most common movie theater screens (IMAX is a whole different story). When played back correctly in the home, most movies have letterboxed black bars on the top and bottom, letting you see the entire frame the way the director intended.
With many broadcasters and new streaming movie services distributing content in a variety of picture shapes and sizes, the burden is put on you to figure out how to manually adjust the aspect ratio settings on your TV. In some cases, you won’t be able to correct the picture at all because the broadcast or content source has already stretched a full screen image to fit your widescreen.
Help may be on the way thanks to a new blog site founded by Tony Hurd, a former FX professional from Industrial Light & Magic and The Orphanage. The Aspect Ratio Police blog is designed to educate consumers, broadcasters and other content distributors about the correct use of aspect ratios. In fact, Hurd plans to use his new blog to cite broadcasters and other public venues for flagrant aspect ratio abuses. And we encourage all THX Test Bench readers to send him tips to track down abusers.
And don’t forget, THX Media Director was created to address this very problem that frustrates so many of us.