Ever Look Up "Anamorphic" In Dictionary? .... No Wonder It Confuses Many DVD Buyers!

Discussion in 'DVD' started by David Von Pein, Sep 1, 2003.

  1. David Von Pein

    David Von Pein Producer

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    "Anamorphic":

    "adj -- [NL anamorphosis distorted optical image] (ca. 1925): producing, relating to, or marked by intentional distortion (as by unequal magnification along perpendicular axes) of an image."


    To the novice DVD buyer, who might be unaware that Anamorphic = A Good Thing, terms like "distorted optical image", "intentional distortion" and "unequal magnification" surely can't be real, real pleasing! [​IMG]

    After looking up the term in the dictionary, an uninformed buyer just might be inclined to run like a scared rabbit right back toward the Full Screen section for all their future DVD purchases!

    After all, this novice disc-purchaser is going to probably think that FF is much better than that "awful, intentionally-distorted anamor-phucked [​IMG] stuff". He might think: Who wants a picture that's "intentionally distorted"?!

    I didn't really understand fully what the term meant until visiting the HT Forums, and other websites. Heck, I'm probably not alone here when I say that I'd never even heard of the word "anamorphic" before the "DVD Fever" hit.

    For those who have just a passing interest in Home Theater (and its terminology), I can easily see how this funky term, "Anamorphic", could produce a frown and a furrowed brow once a first-time buyer heads for the dictionary. [​IMG]

    Don't you agree that perhaps a clearer video description of DVDs, without including that confusing "A" word [​IMG], should probably be utilized on packaging? "Enhanced For Widescreen TVs" seems much better and more easily understood by the masses.

    Anybody have any funny "WHAT THE HECK IS ANAMORPHIC?!" horror stories? [​IMG]
     
  2. Rob Gillespie

    Rob Gillespie Producer

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    I think it was a mistake to label 16:9 transfers as 'anamorphic', a term which traditionally relates to the optical distortion of film images for projection.

    It would have been better just as "Enhanced for widescreen TVs" or similar.
     
  3. streeter

    streeter Screenwriter

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    Rob, I agree. I think that's where a lot of confusion originates. When I was in college, someone asked my film theory professor what the 'anamorphic' on the back of his DVDs meant. My professor then proceeded to explain it in terms of filmmaking and projection.

    Moron.
     
  4. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    Also agree with Rob. My prefered term is "16:9-encoded."
     
  5. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

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    The vast majority of DVD cases that I see do not use the term "anamorphic". "Enhanced for widescreen TVs" or some such has been the more common labeling convention for a long time now.

    M.
     
  6. Robert Dunnill

    Robert Dunnill Second Unit

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  7. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    There is no stretching of any kind involved. One simply outputs in a 16:9 window while the other is 4:3. The word "anamorphic" is entirely misleading and inappropriate.
     
  8. Robert Dunnill

    Robert Dunnill Second Unit

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    The raw DVD image is 1.5:1, and if its 72:79 non-square pixels are interpreted as intended (most set-top DVD players do), the image as a whole takes on an aspect ratio of about 1.37:1, which must be "stretched" (that's the term they use) by the display into correct 1.78:1 proportions.

    After wrestling with this problem for a while, it occurred to me that the "stretching" could be done in the digital domain on a home theater computer, and a 1.78:1 image sent directly to the display with no further formatting required. The result was a huge improvement in image quality with reference DVDs, although the flaws of lesser transfers became glaringly apparent.

    RD
     
  9. Josh Steinberg

    Josh Steinberg Lead Actor
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    As a film student and enthusiast, I dislike the use of "anamorphic" in reference to DVDs. It would be one thing if the word wasn't used in relation to movies before DVD, but it was - a type of "scope" film using a lens to squeeze the image during photography to capture a wider canvas. For people in the industry, who study the industry, or are big fans of the industry, anamorphic has been in the lexicon for quite some time.

    When I hear the word "anamorphic" I don't think of DVDs immediately - I think of a film with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.
     
  10. Bill Burns

    Bill Burns Supporting Actor

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    What follows are my thoughts on the matter, but I don't believe I'm what anyone would lovingly call a techhead (particularly a video techhead), or they at least wouldn't do so in matters of accumulated knowledge even if they might in matters of enthusiasm, so if I'm on the wrong course with any of my tech musings below, I readily invite correction by those in the know:

    "Knowing is half the battle," as a certain G.I. used to say. [​IMG] The key isn't the denotation of "anamorphic," but how the word is used and why it's used, its connotation(s) within the world of films and DVDs.

    The average consumer who buys a DVD player, hooks it up to a 4:3 set, fails to set the menu to downconvert the image, and plays an anamorphic disc is going to see something very similar to the 35mm negative of a film shot in anamorphic 'Scope: a vertically elongated image in which everything looks much too thin. The image appears horizontally "squished," just as it does on an anamorphic 'Scope negative and anamorphic prints. In a theatre, when this image is projected through the proper lenses, it is elongated horizontally and takes on its proper dimensions. At home, a display device must compress its scan lines into a smaller (1.78:1) window (or a widescreen set must simply have an anamorphic mode for incoming signals, as I believe all do by now), vertically compressing or horizontally elongating the incoming image by virtue of this scan line compression, and ... bada bing, everything's good, and the signal has taken advantage of those scan lines (lines of resolution) ordinarily wasted on "black bars" for 1.78:1 images (wider films, of course, continue to have small black bars).

    When one sits down with the facts in hand and visualizes the matter, it becomes clear -- but when one looks at a box without any previous research or education about the technology involved, confusion is a certainty ("say, what's this 'DVD' stuff anyway? Do you have to rewind them?" Yep, I've heard almost that exact question!). "Knowing is half the battle."

    But I disagree that "anamorphic" is a bad term. A film image is distorted so as to take better advantage of pixels of resolution (or scan lines on a CRT) otherwise wasted, and a display device returns that signal to its native dimensions while preserving the increase in resolution. Similarly, a camera lens distorts a wide image so as to take better advantage of available negative space, while projection lenses return it to its native dimensions with that extra resolution intact (Super35 skirts this a bit by using a larger aperture but omitting anamorphosis in its 'Scope version). I'm no technician (as you can probably tell), but the explanation really isn't as complicated as it seems once you think it through.

    If "anamorphic" gives the buying public cause for frustration, just imagine what the competing HD-DVD technologies, with their myriad of native video resolutions, scalable output resolutions (if I have that right), bandwidths, audio resolutions, and supported compression codecs are gonna do. [​IMG] If only one emerges (as it eventually must), how many different kinds of product will it support, and what won't it support? Good luck to the non-technophyle (the ones who still, as the old joke goes, have VCR clocks that are only right twice a day [​IMG]), who'll probably stick with DVD until they stop making them (or until rental copies eventually stop working from years of scratching and goodness knows what else), just as so many have stuck with VHS through six plus years of DVD and counting.

    Incidentally, here's a quick question: if internal scalers are destined to output supported HD-DVD resolutions, will this do away with anamorphic encoding as we know it? A film would presumably be encoded to full resolution within the HD-DVD spec, whatever that comes to be (hopefully 1920 x 1080p), and simply scaled as appropriate to fit within any display device. Computers can do this now for DVDs (with wide DVDs encoded at the full resolution of the format, having as they do as little dead space -- "black bars" -- left unused as possible, generally looking the best), but set top players simply output the anamorphic signal and a CRT or other standard anamorphic display serves it up natively by compressing its scan lines into a 1.78:1 area (such things can be "forced" in SMs for some 4:3 sets, though if not offered as an automatic function by the manufacturer this is, of course, a very risky place for consumers to fool around, as they could ruin their displays). Anamorphic is thus the "standard" of DVD: encoding images within a 1.33:1 frame while maximizing the use of space for 1.78:1 anamorphic-capable sets -- but an internal scaler could display a resolution natively to 1.78:1 without any necessary anamorphic chip, right? Or is that not right? If it is, I'd assume there'll be no such thing as "anamorphic encoding," under any name, on HD-DVD.

    But as is often the case, I may have this back-as*wards. It can become confusing, but hey, it's fun. And the end result is a phenomenal home video representation of a feature film (or of course video itself), and that is cause for great celebration, however much confusion persists about they ways in which it is accomplished. [​IMG]
     
  11. DaViD Boulet

    DaViD Boulet Lead Actor

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    Hey Bill,

     
  12. Jerome Grate

    Jerome Grate Cinematographer

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    Very interesting, I'll adjust my phrase when explaining the difference between non-anamorphic and anamorphic films by using enhanced for 16:9 on DVDs. Sounds better.
     
  13. Robert Dunnill

    Robert Dunnill Second Unit

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  14. DaViD Boulet

    DaViD Boulet Lead Actor

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    good points.

    But I disagree on one point:

     
  15. Robert Dunnill

    Robert Dunnill Second Unit

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    DVD as it stands is essentially a 4:3 product, with the 16x9-enhancement essentially being a tack-on (as it was with laserdisc).

    When I say "intended" aspect ratio, I mean the combination of the 1.5:1 raw pixel grid and the 72:79 pixel aspect ratio, which renders a result of approximately 1.37:1 proportions. This 1.37:1 result is what gets sent out of the analog inputs of most set-top DVD players, and it requires the 33% "unequal magnification" in the horizontal axis to assume its proper proportions.

    Ain't it cool the techo-babble we discuss in these threads? [​IMG]

    RD
     
  16. DaViD Boulet

    DaViD Boulet Lead Actor

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    Hey Robert,

     
  17. Bill Burns

    Bill Burns Supporting Actor

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    Robert, laserdiscs never offered anamorphic enhancement (under any name) here in the states. I understand there were HDTV platters in Japan for a while, but whether these offered any sort of non-4:3 encoding (whether they were natively 16:9 frames, and if so whether there was any way to properly play them at 4:3) I don't know. All domestic laserdisc players and platters were 4:3 encoded, with widescreen material letterboxed within that frame.

    David Boulet wrote:
     
  18. Bill Burns

    Bill Burns Supporting Actor

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    Oh wait ... wait ... something just dawned on me. You mentioned, above, David, that the 720 x 480 pixel resolution of DVD is a resolution consistent in both the 4:3 and 16:9 frames ... hmmmm. This is tricky without the ability to diagram what I'm describing. Bear with me again:

    If 720 x 480 of pixels are sent out to the display device, how are they arranged/sized? Is that signal sent out as a 4:3 shape (1.33:1) or a 16:9 shape (1.78:1)? Letterboxed, unenhanced material and Academy Ratio/Silent Aperture material is presumably sent out as 4:3, and is there then a flag telling the player to send out 16:9 "enhanced" material as 1.78:1 (16:9)? If this is the case, will a 4:3 display device simply "horizontally squish" all of those pixels, flagged at 16:9, into a 4:3 space because the 4:3 device has no ability to display 16:9? This would create, I think, the look of an anamorphic film frame (a 16:9 image compressed into a 4:3 image), but the actual image coming out of the player is not elongated, it's 16:9. Is that the deal here?

    If so, then letterboxed widescreen material is sent out as a 4:3 flag (it's recorded within that shape, or rather within those 4:3 dimensions), and natively recorded 16:9 material is sent out as a 16:9 flag (it's recorded within the 16:9 dimensions). The number of pixels remains the same, but more of those pixels are used in "enhanced" material because the native 16x9 shape is the same shape used for a 1.78:1 film, reducing the need for wasted black bar dead space.

    Eureka. That makes perfect sense! The use of the word "anamorphic" describes the look of the image on a 4:3 set, but does not, as David and others have explained, describe the actual look of the film as recorded. Widescreen sets would have to include a proper 16:9 flag so that they could recognize the incoming signal, but I may have been completely wrong about early sets -- the only reason to build them as 1.78:1 in the first place would be to display material of that shape, so a flag for it should be a given, long before anyone was thinking in terms of HDTV in the States, and certainly DVD.

    I believe a few cobwebs of misconception have cleared in my noggen. This also helps a great deal in understanding the process of downscaling HD. My thanks once again to all.

    On the "anamorphic" name front, again, the image as seen on a 4:3 set appears elongated for enhanced material, and this is probably why the name has stuck. "Enhanced" isn't accurate, either, as the image hasn't been additionally processed or altered -- "reshaped" is most accurate! Recorded as and flagged for 16:9, instead of recorded as and flagged for 4:3. But for the average consumer, "sharper" is probably the only term that would be clear without the need of additional research.

    I'd still like to do away with "black bars" as a term, though, as I really do think a great many people are confused by it, believing image area has been obscured (which it has with physical mattes, but so it is in theatres, too, and correctly so). "Dead space," space left over by the correct shape of the image, is more on target. [​IMG]
     
  19. Robert Dunnill

    Robert Dunnill Second Unit

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  20. Bill Burns

    Bill Burns Supporting Actor

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    My Sony Wega 32" automatically reduces its scan line spacing to 1.78:1 when fed an anamorphic/enhanced signal, and does not do so for a 4:3 signal. I don't have to select anything -- it's automatic. How could this be done without a flag or some sort of marker indicating the proportions of the incoming signal?
     

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