- The HCE Video Series
The story below was originally published on Theo’s Roundtable, for which I am contributing writer.
With so much attention being paid to pixels nowadays, it’s easy to overlook arguably the more influential part of what makes a film feel cinematic—its aspect ratio. An aspect ratio is merely the relationship between an image’s width and height. Most of today’s HDTVs (and the upcoming Ultra HD ones) use the aspect ratio known as 16:9. That ratio is seen as a standard among HD broadcasts and so has been widely adopted as our aspect ratio of choice. It also allows for most every other aspect ratio to fit inside its frame relatively easily with little to no cropping or other adjustments. But is the 16:9 aspect ratio cinematic?
No. Not even a little bit.
The truth is our home formats have never really had a lot to do with Hollywood’s professional cinematic ones. “Flat,” or non-anamorphic films, enjoy an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, meaning the image is almost twice as wide as it is tall. When 1.85:1 is displayed (properly) on a 16:9 HDTV, the viewer should see slight black bars top and bottom, though most HDTVs are preset to crop 1.85:1 to fill their screens.
Speaking of black bars (something many of us thought we left behind with the death of 4:3 TVs), the anamorphic or “scope” format uses an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. When 2.35:1 content is, again, properly displayed on a 16:9 screen, very pronounced black bars should appear top and bottom. Now, there are wider aspect ratios than 2.35:1—there is 2.40:1, as well as others on up to 2.93:1, which is how the famous film How The West Was Won was originally shot. But for the most part, anamorphic films employ either 2.35:1 or 2.40:1. The larger point being, neither flat nor anamorphic aspect ratios conform exactly—or, sometimes, even remotely—to our larger 16:9 standard.
It’s not that 16:9 is bad; it’s just not very cinematic or true to the cinematic experience, if we’re being honest. While I don’t know of any commercially available 1.85:1 aspect-ratio projection screens for home use, thereare 2.35:1 screens available. The problem with 2.35:1 screens, for many, is that in order to view anamorphic content properly, there are added requirements for the viewer. That is, the owner of said home theater must also account for items such as an anamorphic lens, which can get costly, though companies like Panamorph have found ways to lower the costs dramatically. You also need a projector or video processor with an anamorphic mode, which will digitally “stretch” the incoming signal across the projector’s full 16:9 chip rather than waste resolution on projecting the black bars. And of course you need a 2.35:1 screen. With the bulk of Hollywood films having been shot in Cinemascope (anamorphic) or being currently filmed in said format, the want to incorporate that wider-than-widescreen aspect ratio in your home theater may be great. However, noteverything is shot in anamorphic, meaning concessions will have to be made.
For instance, Saving Private Ryan was shot in 1.85:1, meaning on a native 2.35:1 screen, you’ll have to endure black bars—only they’ll be located along the left and right sides rather than top and bottom. The same would hold true for those who watch broadcast-TV material in their theaters. Moreover, if your anamorphic lens isn’t motorized—meaning it can’t automatically remove itself from your projector’s light path—you’ll also be sacrificing horizontal resolution when viewing non-2.35:1 content. Not a lot, but enough.
Then there’s the issue of variable aspect-ratio films…
The Home Cinema Experience
Latest Video Review
Latest Forum Posts