Criterion's 1.33:1 windowboxing practice - why? (please help)

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Jon Robertson, Apr 30, 2006.

  1. Jon Robertson

    Jon Robertson Screenwriter

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    Since the release of Forbidden Games last December, Criterion has been routinely windowboxing their 1.33:1 transfers, shrinking the image down to include a black border around the whole image (as seen in these reviews of Forbidden Games and The Virgin Spring at DVD Beaver). The purpose of this is to ensure that viewing monitors with overscan can still see all (or almost all) of the image. The major drawback of this process is it compromises transfer quality by not making use of the maximum resolution that DVD is capable of by reducing the size of the image itself. While I can see how this could benefit owners of sets with overscan, it’s still a very compromised situation - even if one gets to see more of the edges, there’s still less actual detail in the image itself.

    It smacks unmistakably of the same reasoning behind their early non-anamorphic stance, which was to benefit the great majority of 4:3 TV owners in the early days of DVD, with many of those discs now appearing like relics from a darker era. The result was, and with windowboxing is now again, a reduction in picture resolution instigated to suit the monitors prevalent at that time. The new generation of plasma and LCD monitors without overscan already solve this problem, not to mention DVD players with the incremental zoom function. While I’m aware a great many people currently have neither, I do believe companies should be keeping their discs looking as good as possible for future systems (I very much doubt we’ll be seeing new editions of La bête humaine or Kind Hearts and Coronets on either high-definition DVD format anytime soon).

    (Aesthetically speaking, watching on a display with no overscan, I find the black border creates an extremely distracting effect while watching the discs – you’re essentially watching a frame within a frame and gives the entire film a kind of ‘antiquated’ air that distances you from the movie itself.)

    This policy is not undergoing a trial period, but something they’ve apparently made standard company practice; I recently recieved an email response stating Late Spring, in addition to all our future 1.33:1 releases, will indeed be windowboxed”. Criterion already have some of the best films ever made on the upcoming slate (Seven Samurai re-release, anyone?) and most people, it seems, have a wishlist of classic foreign and Hollywood films alike that they’d like to see Criterion have a crack at. I strongly feel that all movies, whether cult schlock like Equinox or established masterpieces like A Canterbury Tale should always be presented to their best possible advantage, and the process of windowboxing only results in reduced quality for all.

    Please add your name to this petition and/or email Criterion at either [email protected] or [email protected] (their new public relations chap, it seems) asking them to seriously reconsider this practice. Thank you.
     
  2. Steve Tannehill

    Steve Tannehill Ambassador

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    Maybe they are windowboxing the content because it is 1.37x1 Academy Ratio not 1.33x1. Displaying a movie at 1.33x1 crops the picture slightly at the side. Windowboxing preserves the original aspect ratio.

    This petition is nonsense, and I will not sign it.

    - Steve
     
  3. Mark B

    Mark B Supporting Actor

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    I wish all studios released all their academy ratio films in windowbox, so you won't find any support from me, either.
     
  4. Michael Elliott

    Michael Elliott Lead Actor

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    Agreed. Criterion is doing the right thing.

    Some studios even make their 1.20:1 silent films 1.33:1, which is just as worse as P&S.
     
  5. John Hodson

    John Hodson Producer

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    How does that square with Criterion insisiting that that their transfers are 1.33:1 - genuine question, not being combative.
     
  6. Mark B

    Mark B Supporting Actor

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    Good point. I hate those chopped off heads.
     
  7. Steve Tannehill

    Steve Tannehill Ambassador

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    Good question... we should indeed ask the Criterion folks about this.

    - Steve
     
  8. Jon Robertson

    Jon Robertson Screenwriter

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    The mildest of mild letterboxing would preserve the 1.37:1 ratio, which is something I would have no objection to. Criterion is doing something far more obtrusive - putting a large black frame around the entire image which isn't actually adding visual information to the disc but shrinking the existing image down - and, as far as I'm aware, it has nothing to do with preserving the original 1.37:1 or 1.20:1 ratio (they even stated in the email quoted above "all our future 1.33:1 releases will indeed be windowboxed").
     
  9. Adam_S

    Adam_S Producer

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    It's a damn shame and a stupid practice, window boxing makes sense for chaplin films that have a slighter ratio than 1.37, but wasting video resolution for the five percent of the frame that most likely was never seen in the first place (most projectors in theatres don't calibrate to a perfect projection, they have some overlap, usually about five percent, take a look at a SMPTE calibration frame Robert Harris posted in an article at the bits) is every bit as stupid as not releasing 1.66:1 films in anamorphic.
     
  10. TedD

    TedD Supporting Actor

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    No they're not. What they are doing is throwing away precious resolution to accomodate those who have cheap displays. The very people who probably wouldn't spend the extra money on a Criterion DVD in the first place.

    Those who care enough to have a good displays and/or a good projector that have minimal to no overscan wind up with a smaller image with poorer resolution surrounded by wasted display area.

    If they are lucky enough to have a scaler, or an HTPC with Theatertek or Zoom Player, they can correct for this poor mastering practise, but at the expense of reduced resolution.

    Ted
     
  11. Jeffrey Nelson

    Jeffrey Nelson Screenwriter

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    Ya know, It's not that I wouldn't CARE to have a "good" display, if by "good" you mean brand-new/widescreen/flatscreen/plasma/LCD/whatever. It's that my current 1991 26" CRT still works perfectly well, and, unlike upgrading a film on DVD (which many people complain about doing here), it costs much more than a Hamilton or Jackson. More than a few Franklins, even. So let's not get too terribly classist here.
     
  12. Patrick McCart

    Patrick McCart Lead Actor

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    Well, there are very few silent films that are 1:20:1. Sunrise, City Lights, and Phantom of the Opera are the only three I can think of. Nearly all silents released by WB are films that either didn't have sound-on-film prints (at least for the original release) or has sound-on-disk soundtracks. The Man Who Laughs had a Movietone release in the U.S., but the restored version uses European sources that are full aperture.


    About windowboxing... I really don't mind as long as it's not too extreme. I actually think all films should have at least a little bit of windowboxing to help curb overscan problems. Or at least for certain sequences where full coverage is vital. For example, I like how WB windowboxed one of the montages in Citizen Kane since overscan would really harm it.

    This is just for NTSC, though. For HD, don't windowbox unless it's necessary (like 1.33:1 within 16x9).
     
  13. Michael Elliott

    Michael Elliott Lead Actor

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    Don't forget NOSFERATU, which at 1.33:1 nicely cuts off the vamps head during the famous "coffin rising" scene.

    The "popular" silents that you mentioned might not be 1.20:1 but many of the smaller Edison, Biograph and other shorts should be at 1.20. Most of the early (pre-1900) shorts should have a wide range of ratios but more than often they're just released at 1.33.


    You can have the resolution and I'll have the complete frame. [​IMG]

    If any of you have the BFI disc of THE VIRGIN SPRING compare it to the Criterion.

    I've got a projector so overscan isn't an issue with me but if you are viewing these with overscan then I'd see it as very helpful.
     
  14. Jon Robertson

    Jon Robertson Screenwriter

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    Not wanting to sidetrack, but that's a completely different issue altogether. The famed instance of Max Schreck's decapitation in that shot is to do with the way most prints were originally printed with the frame slightly blown up. My R2 DVD from the BFI of the Photoplay restoration is at 1.33:1 and has Nosferatu's head complete and intact in that shot.
     
  15. Deepak Shenoy

    Deepak Shenoy Supporting Actor

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    This is so damn annoying and Criterion is the last company I would have expected to pull stuff like this - especially after having had an almost perfect track record (at least as far as I am concerned) for so many years. Late Spring, La Bete Humaine and Virgin Spring are some titles I have been waiting for a long long time and it sucks to see them released with thick black borders around the frame (to appreciate the extent of the windowboxing try playing one of these titles on a PC).

    I wonder why they haven't been putting black borders on the sides of the 1.85:1 widescreen frame because people with 4:3 displays that have overscan would also be losing information on the sides of the widescreen frame. How about people with widescreen CRTs ? They would be losing information on all 4 sides. So why not window box widescreen frames too ? Of course I am not trying to give them any more crazy ideas [​IMG]

    -D
     
  16. Michael Elliott

    Michael Elliott Lead Actor

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    We're talking small differences here but you are getting more room at the top with one of the (I think) two DVDs out there with the 1.20:1 image. I'm not saying we're getting extra inches at the top. The difference is something you'd have to freeze frame and really look at but that difference is there.

    That same small difference between the Criterion and BFI discs of THE VIRGIN SPRING won't matter to the majority of the people watching. I doubt many complain when 1.78:1 is shown 1.85 or vice versa.

    Everyone praises Criterion as if they were the second coming of God so are we to suspect that they turned dumb over the past few months? I'm sure they're doing this for a good reason (whatever their reason is).

    As I said, overscan isn't an issue with me so I can only guess this was done so that those with overscan can see the full image. I really don't see the issue if someone is watching these on a 4:3 set with overscan. I understand the complain from those with 16x9 sets. As a projection owner, the issue doesn't bother me one way or another. I know some studios (especially overseas) use a 4:3, 16x9 thing but that probably wouldn't work in this country either.
     
  17. Patrick McCart

    Patrick McCart Lead Actor

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    Actually, I'm pretty sure all those early shorts were full aperture like most silent films. No idea why they would be 1.20:1 since that format wasn't introduced until sound-on-film came about. If I recall, some Biograph shorts were even on wide-format like 65mm (I've seen some images of it), but it was only an experiment with a film or two.

    Also, no DVD's of Nosferatu are 1.20:1. The Transit/Kino DVD is 1.33:1, but it doesn't have decapitating Orlock. I think it is a print source issue - the Image/Blackhawk DVD used an older print and older transfer, which is why it's not very good (though, it has the best score - the organ one).
     
  18. Ira Siegel

    Ira Siegel Stunt Coordinator

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    Can one really see with the naked eye the resolution sacrificed for the window boxing?
     
  19. Vincent_P

    Vincent_P Screenwriter

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    This thread is kind of funny (and sad)- people are complaining about "precious resolution" being wasted on "black bars"...

    ISN'T THAT THE SAME ARGUMENT MANY OF THE ANTI-WIDESCREEN FOLKS HAVE BEEN USING SINCE THE DAWN OF LETTERBOXING???

    Talk about hypocricy in action...

    As for comments about "cheap displays", sorry that not everybody is a millionaire who can afford to have their monitors professionally calibrated to elliminate overscan, and that a conscientious company like Criterion is looking out for them (because the last time I checked, not only the filthy rich were interested in classic films and having them being displayed properly, many less fortunate folks with "cheap displays" happen to love classic films as well).

    Vincent
     
  20. Michael Elliott

    Michael Elliott Lead Actor

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    Yep, a few frames from a Griffith film that was shot wide are out there but sadly the film is lost.


    Edit to add:

    Nice post Vincent. [​IMG]
     

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