Allright, I've got most of the text down that I'm going to be putting into my new tutorial. I want you folks to review it for me and tell me if anything is misleading, inaccurate, etc. Let's work this together to get the most accurate description possible before I implement it. ----------------------------------------------- Aspect ratios Webster's dictionary defines "aspect ratio" as "the width-to-height ratio of a film or television image." A normal television set has an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, also commonly called 4:3. That is, the width is 1.33 (or 4) units wide for every 1 (or 3) units tall. A TV that is 20" wide, for example, will be 15" tall. Widescreen television sets, on the other hand, have an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, or 16:9. A widescreen set 48" wide would be 27" tall. But what about movie theaters? They do not have a fixed aspect ratio, per se. While most theater screens are roughly 2.35:1, they use curtains to change the aspect ratio of their screen as seen by the audience. Depending on the ratio of the film being shown, the curtains will open or close enough to match the ratio of the screen to that of the film. Most television shows have an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, the same size as your TV. This is why they fit perfectly on your screen, although more and more shows are using wider ratios. Films, on the other hand, have various aspect ratios ranging from 1.33:1 to 2.76:1 with the vast majority using one of two ratios: 1.85:1 or 2.35:1. There is no hard rule here, however, and directors are free to use any aspect ratio they wish. When a film or television broadcast is at a wider aspect ratio than the device it's being displayed on, you will see black bars above and below the content. The size of these bars varies depending on the differences between the screen's ratio and the film's ratio, but aside from 1.33:1 television broadcasts and movie theaters with adjustable screens, the aspect ratio of the content rarely matches the screen. As you can see, even widescreen television sets will display black bars with many films, although the size of the bars will be significantly smaller than they would be when viewing the same film on a standard (4:3) set. [ main menu ] - [ replay ] - [ next section: pan & scan ] Pan & scan This may come as a surprise: The movies you may be used to watching are not properly presented on your TV. They have been altered in order to fill your screen up, and carry a notice informing you of this alteration. (This film has been modified from it's original version. It has been formatted to fit your screen.) Unfortunately, most of us are completely unaware of the extent of the alteration. This tutorial will attempt to explain it to you. A properly presented film - that is, one that has not been altered - looks something like this. If this looks odd to you, it's because you have been watching improperly presented movies in your home. It just so happens that the large majority of VHS videos have been modified to be shown in this improper manner. In a properly presented film such as the one shown here, the black bars above and below the action are perfectly normal. Nothing is "cut off"; in fact, there isn't any film there to begin with. This proper presentation of a film is often referred to as OAR, or Original Aspect Ratio. So how did all of these VHS movies end up being shown improperly? When movies were originally released on home video, consumers wanted their screens filled up. However, if you tried to fit a movie with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 into a standard TV's ratio of 1.33:1, it would be incredibly distorted. Quite simply, the only way to make it fit and keep the dimensions accurate is to modify it. Therefore, a process called "pan & scan" was developed. Pan & scan starts by eliminating large portions of the film, typically 33% to 50% depending on the film's aspect ratio. What's left of the image is then enlarged to fit a standard 4:3 television set. This artificial enlargement decreases the quality of the film, so the end result is a film that isn't complete and has a poor picture. Now, pan & scan doesn't always cut-out the same part of the picture. It "pans" and "scans" the image left and right to keep the action centered on your screen. For instance, if three characters are speaking to one another, a widescreen (or OAR/Original Aspect Ratio) film may show all three characters simultaneously throughout the scene. Pan & Scan will show only two at a time, switching back and forth between which two are displayed depending on where the conversation is centered. This takes place throughout the entire film. The large majority of VHS videos are released in pan & scan format. I feel the problems with pan & scan are too major to simply ignore. When I watch a film, I want to see it in it's full glory - the same way I saw it in the theater. I don't want to watch a cut-up, low quality version just for the sake of filling the screen. Thankfully, the DVD format addresses these concerns. This is why the vast majority of DVD releases are in widescreen. Unfortunately, some DVDs are still being released as pan & scan titles, so you must be careful which version you buy. You can usually find out whether a title is widescreen by looking at the back of the case. Pan & scan movies are often labeled "full screen", whereas movies presented in their Original Aspect Ratio will say "widescreen", "letterboxed" or "anamorphic". [ main menu ] - [ replay ] - [ next section: letterboxing & anamorphic ] Letterboxing & Anamorphic Widescreen movies released for home use are either letterboxed or anamorphic. The differences between the two are as follows: Letterboxed films are preserved in their original aspect ratio by means of adding black bars to the top and bottom of the film. Your TV expects a specific image resolution and will not display properly if it does not get that resolution, so the film is padded by adding black bars of the appropriate thickness to give the TV the signal it needs. This letterboxing process allows you to watch the full movie on your 4:3 television set. Watching a letterboxed film on a widescreen TV, however, would normally result in bars appearing on the left and right sides of the image in addition to the black bars above and below it. Thankfully, widescreen TVs will stretch the letterboxed image both vertically and horizontally to fill the screen and remove the side bars. However, if your film has an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 or greater, the black bars above and below the image will still be present on your widescreen TV due to the wider ratio of the film. The only problem with stretching the letterboxed image like this is that it decreases quality. Any time you stretch or enlarge an image, you're going to lose resolution, and thus quality suffers. Enter anamorphic DVDs. The anamorphic process places a larger image on the disc that has been compressed horizontally. This results in more lines of resolution being used to store the image, and less being wasted to the storing of black bars. The problem, of course, is that the image is distorted - you wouldn't want to watch it like this. Therefore, upon playback your DVD player stretches the image horizontally, restoring the appropriate dimensions. Since this image has only been stretched once (horizontally only, instead of both vertically and horizontally as in letterboxed movies), the loss of quality is halved. This results in an image that looks significantly better than it would have had it been letterboxed. Of course, this only works with widescreen TVs. Anamorphic discs will play just fine on a standard 4:3 TV set, but you won't see the benefits of the anamorphic process unless your TV has a 16:9 squeeze mode. This squeeze mode compresses the image of your 4:3 TV set to fit in the center of the screen, effectively giving you a 16:9 widescreen set. If your TV has a squeeze mode, you can watch anamorphic discs in all their glory. [ main menu ] - [ replay ] - [ next section: progressive scanning ] Progressive scanning A typical television signal is interlaced. That is, the electron gun scans the screen twice to produce an image. On the first pass, it fills in every other line of resolution (odd lines). Then, it takes a second pass and fills in the missing information (even lines). This happens very quickly, so your eyes don't see it, but it's there nonetheless. The benefits to an interlaced signal are reduced hardware (television set) costs to reproduce it and reduced bandwidth in transmitting the signal. Progressive scanning, or non-interlaced video, is a feature incorporate into specific progressive scan capable DVD players. Progressive scanning fills in every line of resolution in a single pass, reducing flicker and improving picture resolution and overall quality. Computer monitors have been non-interlaced for years now, however, regular television sets still are not capable of this. Therefore, a high definition TV is required to use progressive scanning. (Most progressive scanning DVD players have two outputs - one interlaced for regular TVs, and one non-interlaced for HDTVs.) If you have or are buying a high definition TV set, a progressive scanning DVD player and appropriate component (not composite) cable connection is highly recommended. ------------------ -Ryan (http://www.ryanwright.com ) Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you do criticize them, you'll be a mile away and you'll have their shoes.