Widescreen Unravelled Part 4

We’ve now added a new set of feature pages to the site and the first feature to have been upgraded to the new dynamic format is Michael Brooke’s excellent Widescreen Unravelled article which looks at the ins and outs of the various widescreen ratios. It also goes into some depth on what the term ‘anamorphic’ actually means…

Anamorphic DVDs
Many DVDs are described as being “anamorphic” or “enhanced for widescreen/16:9 TVs” (both mean the same thing) – and if you’ve read any of the reviews in DVD Times, you’ll probably have picked up the impression that these are very desirable things (and you’d be right).
So what is an anamorphic DVD, how does it work, and why should you prefer it to the more conventional variety?
An anamorphic DVD is capable of storing pictures at a significantly higher resolution than a non-anamorphic DVD – and when displayed on a 16:9 TV, this results in considerably sharper pictures, with much greater fine detail. True, they’re still nowhere near the resolution offered by a 35mm print in a cinema, but for the time being a well-mastered anamorphic DVD offers you the best picture you can get on a home video system.
So how do they work?
Let’s say the film you’re watching features the following image:

Before DVD and digital television, this image would have had to undergo either panning and scanning or letterboxing to reduce it to the small screen:
Panning and scanning fills the TV screen with the image, but at the expense of chopping off a significant amount of the original picture – as much as 43% if the image was as wide as 2.35:1Letterboxing preserves the correct aspect ratio, but at the expense of significant loss of definition due to dramatically reduced picture height.

Anamorphic DVDs offer a third option – and one that’s far more effective, because it preserves the original aspect ratio without losing definition, thus solving both of the problems illustrated above. The image on an anamorphic DVD is “squeezed” so that the picture fits the 4:3 frame – so our example would look like this:

Michael Brooke

Updated: Jan 13, 2002

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