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There never was a golden ratio
July 5, 2013 1:57 PM   Subscribe

There are many subjects that will get people mad on the internet, but in cinephile circles, the reddest flag is aspect ratio. Ever since the bad old practice of pan and scan was abandoned, DVD and Blu-Ray releases have tried to echo the widescreen aspect ratio that a film was released in, but that's often very hard to get right. Most recently, the Blu-Ray reissue of Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon resulted in prolonged arguing and triumphant research. How did things get so confused? Filmmaker John Hess is here to explain, with an extensive and excellent history of aspect ratios.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard (91 comments total) 57 users marked this as a favorite

 
The difference between 1.66:1 and 1.85:1 is, as some of the links note, not very large. I can see why people, even "cinephiles," might not notice or care.

What I don't get is how most people seem literally incapable of even noticing when a video is playing a grossly incorrect ratio. And TVs! Even nice modern ones can't detect aspect ratio or automatically zoom on letterboxed content. Drives me bonkers, that does.
posted by 4th number at 2:03 PM on July 5, 2013 [29 favorites]


I remember looking at TVs in the late 1990s/early 2000s that had a 16:9 aspect ratio and my (brand new at the time) wife saying, "Buy me one of those and I'll love you forever..." but at the time there weren't many ways to take advantage of the widescreen format and they were SO EXPENSIVE. How times have changed.
posted by Huck500 at 2:04 PM on July 5, 2013


This made me go look at my Criterion Monty Python and the Holy Grail Laserdisc and Supercop Laserdisc... and my Blood Red® Evil Dead Laserdisc... sigh.
posted by Huck500 at 2:09 PM on July 5, 2013


What I don't get is how most people seem literally incapable of even noticing when a video is playing a grossly incorrect ratio. And TVs! Even nice modern ones can't detect aspect ratio or automatically zoom on letterboxed content. Drives me bonkers, that does.

Yep. Even worse is when the aspect ratio of something was screwed up when it was converted to digital/re-encoded/etc. Then you have to do the dance of trying to force it to display at the correct ratio and euughhh.

And of course no one else in the room can tell it's wrong.

And don't even get me started on people who not only don't notice that stuff, but don't notice the terrible audio+video quality and will sit and watch entire tv episodes on youtube in 360 or 480p when it's just a sea of blocks.

One of the things they'll do to me in hell is strap me down clockwork orange style and make me watch shows and movies i love in 240p with the aspect ratio smushed.
posted by emptythought at 2:15 PM on July 5, 2013 [24 favorites]


In the olden times, when they would play movies on TV, they would often run the opening credits in widescreen and then switch to pan-and-scan when the movie proper began. When I was a kid, this always caused a momentary feeling of panic, because I was deathly afraid they weren't going to switch to the "correct" fullscreen mode after the credits and I'd be forced to watch the whole movie squished between the dreaded black bars of death! (What can I say? I was a kid, and I was stupid.)
posted by Atom Eyes at 2:16 PM on July 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


Plus the frame doubling that all modern TVs seem to have on by default! I can not watch anything but sports like that but nobody else seems to care.
posted by wemayfreeze at 2:19 PM on July 5, 2013 [8 favorites]


Are any modern movies filmed in 4:3? I can't remember one.
posted by octothorpe at 2:19 PM on July 5, 2013


Are any modern movies filmed in 4:3? I can't remember one.

The Artist was 4:3, but it was deliberately trying to be retro.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 2:21 PM on July 5, 2013


4:3 can return! Just market it as "Tallscreen".
posted by TheophileEscargot at 2:25 PM on July 5, 2013 [17 favorites]


Are any modern movies filmed in 4:3? I can't remember one.

The awesome Meek's Cutoff. I asked the director why she chose this and she said that, like the characters in her film, she didn't want the audience to be able to see too far ahead.
posted by dobbs at 2:27 PM on July 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


16 mm movies are sometimes shot in 4:3, e.g. Yes Sir! Madame... (1994), El Mariachi (1992), probably others.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 2:28 PM on July 5, 2013


Plus the frame doubling that all modern TVs seem to have on by default! I can not watch anything but sports like that but nobody else seems to care.
I like it. People need to get over their obsession with low frame rates being "better". A whole generation of people will grow up without thinking that moves are "supposed" to be 24fps, and that sensible frame rates "look wrong". And I say good riddance.

I do notice when those interpolaters glitch out and can't figure out exactly what to do when when scenes change, though. I guess due to their trying to do it in real time.

I also think 4:3 is a better aspect ratio for TVs. A 16:9 screen looks "bigger" then a 4:3 screen when they go from floor to ceiling, like when you're projecting something - but obviously a 4:3 screen is bigger when the limiting factor is width.

Unless your screen goes all the way from the floor to the ceiling you're not getting anything "bigger" by going 16:9
posted by delmoi at 2:29 PM on July 5, 2013


I also think 4:3 is a better aspect ratio for TVs.

It sure makes the cathode ray tube easier to build!
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 2:32 PM on July 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


Unless your screen goes all the way from the floor to the ceiling you're not getting anything "bigger" by going 16:9

Well, no, but aspect ratio isn't just about square-meterage. An artist doesn't randomly choose the aspect ratio of a canvas and a scene of, say, a desert stretching for miles isn't "the same" if you add a couple more feet of sky to the top and a couple more feet of empty sand to the bottom. As long as the TV/DVD/BluRay/Netflix/Whatever player is set up to automatically adjust to the aspect ratio of the original source, and as long as the director/cinematographer knew how to use the format they were filming in, I'm happy.
posted by yoink at 2:45 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Are any modern movies filmed in 4:3? I can't remember one.

The start of "Oz: The Great and Powerful" was filmed in Academy Ratio and in B&WM*. It, of course, goes wide screen and color when Oz gets to Oz.

I knew it was going to happen, it was obvious it was going to happen, and yet, it was still very cool when it happened.

People need to get over their obsession with low frame rates being "better".

There is a big difference in look between filming at 24fps and 48fps, and that's because of the shutter speed. Your longest shutter speed is limited to the frame rate, because you can't have the shutter open on two frames at once. So, at 24fps, you can't have a shutter longer than 1/24sec. In fact, it's even more limited, because you need time to advance the film and lock the next frame into place. Typically, you run a 180° shutter -- the shutter is literally a spinning disk, in sync with the film transport, and 180° is masked and 180° is open. So, you're shooting at 1/48th second exposures.

Now, with 48fps and a 180° shutter, you're shooting at 1/96ths a second. What does this mean?

1) You have half the light striking the film. You have to compensate either with more light, which makes the shot harder on the actors and more expensive, or you have to increase the aperture, which shortens your depth of field.

2) Objects move half the distance in 1/96sec than they would in 1/48sec. This has the effect of reducing motion blur in the frame, and there is a big difference between 1/48 and 1/96.

Now, you can always reduce the shutter speed -- use a 270° shutter, and the film will be exposed half as long -- 1/96th for 24fps, 1/192nd for 48fps. But the longest exposure you can get is limited by the shutter time and the frame rate. Theoretically, that's 1/24th for 24fps, but there's *always* some time.

So, 48fps film has a different look -- there's less motion blur, so everything is sharper. You get twice as many frames that have less motion blur. On the scale of a modern TV, this is quite noticeable, on a theatre screen, it is a *very* different look.

Is it better? Is it wrong? That's a question of opinion. Is it different? Yes, it is very different. Roger Ebert was a known proponent of both higher resolution (65mm and 70mm) film stock and higher frame rates, like Maxivision 48. Other critics dislike them.

ISTR recall that The Hobbit series is being shot at 48fps. So, you can go see yourself.




* Actually, it looked more like a sepia duotone than pure black and white.
posted by eriko at 2:49 PM on July 5, 2013 [24 favorites]


Don't have anything to add, just thanks, I always felt like I should know about this stuff but didn't.
posted by skewed at 2:54 PM on July 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


It sure makes the cathode ray tube easier to build!
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 4:32 PM on July 5


I'm curious, why is that?
posted by erikgrande at 2:54 PM on July 5, 2013


...will sit and watch entire tv episodes on youtube in 360 or 480p when it's just a sea of blocks.

If 480p is insufficient for your youtubing, you are a "cinephile". In the bad sense.
posted by DU at 2:56 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm curious, why is that?

A 4:3 aspect ratio perhaps allowed use of less glass to withstand the pressure of the vacuum inside, because of less mechanical stress at the corners, than with a wider aspect ratio. Though I can't believe that this would still be an issue with today's designs (where CRTs are still made). Perhaps they would now just use pour more glass at the weaker spots or use a different type of glass?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:02 PM on July 5, 2013


yeah, a glass vacuum chamber is strongest (and therefore most durable and easiest to make) when it is a sphere, and 4:3 gets closer to that optimal spherical shape. This was probably much more of a concern in the very early days when they were first standardizing TV though.
posted by idiopath at 3:04 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I like it. People need to get over their obsession with low frame rates being "better". A whole generation of people will grow up without thinking that moves are "supposed" to be 24fps, and that sensible frame rates "look wrong". And I say good riddance.
Personally, I'm all for higher frame rates if it's recorded in the source material, but I absolutely hate frame interpolation. Every instance of this technology I've encountered adds a weird, glitchy jerkiness to human movements that makes everybody move like robotic bird people trying to pass for human. I think this technology is particularly bad at handling rotation and facial movements; if you ever see somebody talking while turning their head with frame interpolation turned on, it has this wacky fast-slow-fast-slow cadence that I find incredibly disturbing.

The only time I've found frame interpolation useful is when combined with 3D. I think the 3D effect falls apart when tracking quickly-moving objects at 24fps; instead of looking like an object moving through space, a fast object looks like it's blinking in and out of existence. In this case (mostly action movies), I'll turn on frame interpolation in order to maintain the illusion of 3D despite the weird avian-human hybrid actors.
posted by strangecargo at 3:05 PM on July 5, 2013 [10 favorites]


lulz at the Shane article.

Last night you expressed a hope that our correspondence would be concluded with your reply. The suggestion is that you find corresponding with me about the Shane Bluray unworthy of any more of your time. I will therefore be brief and to the point.

followed by 9 paragraphs of "you are wrong and dumb and your father would be spinning in his grave if he knew what you'd done"
posted by russm at 3:06 PM on July 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


This kind of thing is why I let the viewers control the display settings for my thought bubbles.
posted by srboisvert at 3:11 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm curious, why is that?

Consider that CRTs need to be evacuated to high vacuum in order to function. It's much harder to build a glass vessel that can withstand the stresses involved the closer it is to a sphere. Complicating things further is the high degree of deflection needed to get electrons to reach the far corners of a widescreen TV. I seem to remember that in order to avoid serious image quality issues at the far sides, widescreen TVs tended to require either exceptionally expensive deflection assemblies or be unacceptably deep, especially for an era where flat-panel plasma and LCD models were the exciting new thing.

Mek used to have a 1080i CRT. It was awesome, but honestly, TVs are better now in basically every way.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 3:18 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


What I don't get is how most people seem literally incapable of even noticing when a video is playing a grossly incorrect ratio.

If the aspect is wrong, and the people are stretched, you can just view the screen from about 20 degrees off-axis and the geometry will be correct. That way there are two places to view the correct geometry instead of just one!
posted by StickyCarpet at 3:21 PM on July 5, 2013 [9 favorites]


Well, no, but aspect ratio isn't just about square-meterage. An artist doesn't randomly choose the aspect ratio of a canvas and a scene of, say, a desert stretching for miles isn't "the same" if you add a couple more feet of sky to the top and a couple more feet of empty sand to the bottom.
Artists don't have a choice about what aspect ratio they film in. They may chose shots to look best on a 16:9 screen if that's what they're shooting for. On the other hand, they may chose shots to look best on a 4:3 screen. For example, a scene of someone climbing a tree or any other vertical image isn't enhanced by lots of dead space to the left or right.
Now, with 48fps and a 180° shutter, you're shooting at 1/96ths a second. What does this mean? ... 2) Objects move half the distance in 1/96sec than they would in 1/48sec. This has the effect of reducing motion blur in the frame, and there is a big difference between 1/48 and 1/96.
That's not true, if you're shooting digital, you can use two sensors and have frames overlap in time if you want, or you can shoot in 1,000 FPS and create 'virtual' exposures with as much light as you want from when you want for every frame, you can have 60fps with exposures 0.25 seconds each if you want.

If you want motion blur you can interpolate and extrapolate from frames to create intermediate frames to form the blur.

People's thinking is so limited and mechanical when it comes to this kind of thing. It's ridiculous.
1) You have half the light striking the film. You have to compensate either with more light, which makes the shot harder on the actors and more expensive, or you have to increase the aperture, which shortens your depth of field.
Or you can just use a more sensitive sensor.
If 480p is insufficient for your youtubing, you are a "cinephile". In the bad sense.
Ugh, I can't stand 480p. I turn everything up to 1080p if it's available, even just videos of people talking.

And even at 1080p on youtube, I still see tons of compression artifacts, and the fact it's limited to 30fps is super obvious as well.

Video quality isn't like high-fi audio where only hardest of hard-core can tell what's happening. Video quality today is still far, far less then what your eyes can see. It's incredibly obvious.
posted by delmoi at 3:23 PM on July 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


Why are we talking about aspect ratios in this thread when we could use it as an excuse to gush about Barry Lyndon?
posted by shakespeherian at 3:31 PM on July 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


I patiently wait for a laser projector that doesn't speckle or cost the earth while we watch our games and movies on an old 720p projector because I categorically refuse to buy a huge glass panel. They're just stupid. Incredibly stupid. Only slightly less stupid than big glass tubes. Big glass panels need to die. Projection systems or roll-up OLED or quantum dot panels, I don't care which, are the real future.
posted by seanmpuckett at 3:32 PM on July 5, 2013


Artists don't have a choice about what aspect ratio they film in.

Er...you seem to have misunderstood me. I was talking about artists who paint paintings on canvas. I was making the point that the aspect ratio is a large part of how we "read" a given 2-dimensional image.

On the other hand, assuming that you thought by "artists" I meant "directors" then I don't really understand your point either. Of course they "have a choice" about this: at least, in many cases. Do you think that the Director of The Artist, say, was randomly allotted Academy Ratio for that film in some kind of piece of dumb luck? Films are still released in many different aspect ratios to this day, and the choice of aspect ratio has a lot to do with the aesthetic choices the director and cinematographer are making.
posted by yoink at 3:36 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


we watch our games and movies on an old 720p projector

Projection systems are great in a lot of ways, but not everyone can have a dark room dedicated solely to movie-watching, and that's pretty much a requirement. Big glass panels will, of course, eventually die away, but the alternatives are either impractical for many or hideously expensive.
posted by yoink at 3:39 PM on July 5, 2013


If 480p is insufficient for your youtubing, you are a "cinephile". In the bad sense.

The resolution isn't the issue here, it's the horrible over-compression and the fact that the source files used for youtube are often also horribly compressed especially if we're talking about say, an hour long movie. The fact that the size of the frame increases in resolution takes a complete back-seat to how intensely youtube applies it's compression algorithms to the source file when it's preparing them for the smaller frame sizes.

That compression, plus the video being blown up on say, a 50in plasma screen just looks horrible. However, for instance my wii looks perfectly fine running at 480p on the same screen.(even playing netflix!)

I'll happily take the title of "the bad kind of "cinephile"" if that's too "picky" or makes me sound too much like a 5 year old who doesn't want to eat his broccoli.

This is also a good place to note that 480p DVD rips often look totally fine, and that vimeo manages to not shit the bed at this too. I'm specifically talking about youtube here.

I also think 4:3 is a better aspect ratio for TVs.

A far more compelling argument here is that 4:3(or even 5:4) is a superior aspect ratio for computers.

Think about it, 16:9 or 16:10 is shit for anything but video in that aspect ratio, or software that is specifically designed to take advantage of the widescreen format like a lot of left-to-right music production stuff.

Almost everything you do on a computer including browsing this website involves scrolling vertically. Why the fuck should screens be wide instead of tall? I use one of those pivoting monitor stands at work, and if it wasn't for the fact that i get all kinds of viewing angle issues and distortions(ugh, crappy TN panel) i'd run it in the "tall" format 100% of the time.

I patiently wait for a laser projector that doesn't speckle or cost the earth while we watch our games and movies on an old 720p projector because I categorically refuse to buy a huge glass panel. They're just stupid. Incredibly stupid. Only slightly less stupid than big glass tubes. Big glass panels need to die. Projection systems or roll-up OLED or quantum dot panels, I don't care which, are the real future.

I somewhat agree with this. For several years i used a decent quality projector as my only "screen" that wasn't attached to a small laptop. I used it for everything. Gaming, watching all types of video, just surfing the internet, etc.

The biggest issues i had with it were absolutely having to be in a dark, or at least dim room, the fact that no matter how nice of a projector i had getting it to truly look "in focus" and sharp was a bear and was never quite perfect(Which is an issue i've noticed even on really, really spendy runco based systems installed professionally in everything up to and including an actual "theater" in a mansion), and the bulbs.

Lasers and properly high resolution, probably 4k will solve two of those. I have, however, never come up with or heard of a good solution to the room lighting issue. Will paper thin laser projectors that can put out 25,000 lumens without breaking a sweat solve that? maybe. But the image getting washed out by ambient light was far and away my biggest complaint. As much as i don't like how my plasma looks and dominates the room, it looks almost as good on a bright sunny day with all the curtains open as it does in the dead of night.

Don't get me wrong, i love the idea. And there were many times i enjoyed it. I too hate the fact that my large plasma is just sitting there being a grey brick on my wall whenever it's not in use. Tvs ruin the interior design aesthetics of any room you put them in unless they're very well integrated and it's a large room. There's a million other reasons the concept is bad and totally stoneage tech that i'm sure you also know of.

And inversely, The ability to have 120+in screen that was pretty much the majority of an entire wall in a room with 10 or 12 foot ceilings was amazing. Especially when we'd get a big group of friends over and watch TNG or something. As was the ability to just pick up the shoebox sized projector and just carry it in to another room with one hand, or even just bring it over to a friends house.

Projectors are rapidly getting a lot better and i'm interested to see where that goes. But where they are now is about where they were 5 years ago, which .eft them as kinda cool but with serious limitations.
posted by emptythought at 3:45 PM on July 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


A far more compelling argument here is that 4:3(or even 5:4) is a superior aspect ratio for computers.

Think about it, 16:9 or 16:10 is shit for anything but video in that aspect ratio, or software that is specifically designed to take advantage of the widescreen format like a lot of left-to-right music production stuff.


Hear f***ing hear. A widescreen monitor is great on the desktop if it's large enough overall to show two documents side-by-side in a comfortably usable resolution. But on a 13.3" or less laptop it's stupid. Once you subtract desktop panels (somewhat OS-dependent), title bars, menu bars, tool bars, address and bookmark bars you've got dick to work with.

Also, for any given physical width, and a usable keyboard enforces a lower limit here, widescreen really means "shortscreen": it's actually less pixels than the equivalent 4x3 so I wish they'd stop bragging about it.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:57 PM on July 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


Are any modern movies filmed in 4:3? I can't remember one.

"No" (2012), but that was also trying to be retro.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 3:57 PM on July 5, 2013


The reason laser projectors speckle is because the light is polarized. If you just shine a laser at something the dot will look speckled in your eyes (but if you take a photo, you won't see it) I guess you might be able to fix that by using two lasers with opposite polarizations on top of eachother.
posted by delmoi at 3:58 PM on July 5, 2013


A far more compelling argument here is that 4:3(or even 5:4) is a superior aspect ratio for computers.

Google's new Pixel computer uses this logic. Gorgeous screen on it.
posted by dobbs at 4:18 PM on July 5, 2013


To be fair, pan and scan versions of almost all movies are still made, but rarely used for anything besides television, airlines, and international releasing. If a movie is shot 2.40, they will use pan and scan to make a 1.78 version for full screen HD. Blurays generally aren't made like that, but a lot of televised movies are aired with that version.

Are any modern movies filmed in 4:3? I can't remember one.

Gus van Sant shot Elephant in 4:3, but that movie is more than a few years old now.

And the opening of OZ wasn't shot in native 4:3, all of that was done in post.
posted by dogwalker at 4:31 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've experienced some terrible chops of films when shown on cable tv, but in all honesty reading that link about "Shane" simply made me conclude that the author was a classic anorak. Reading the comments though, it appears a lot of other people interested in aspect ratios don't take him seriously either.
posted by modernnomad at 4:35 PM on July 5, 2013


You have half the light striking the film.

Film? What's this "film" of which you speak?

The industry is rapidly switching to electronic "filming". Soon, film in Hollywood will be just as rare as film in your corner drug store.

And since CCDs are a lot more sensitive than film, shorter exposure time doesn't result in reduced quality.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:59 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Google's new Pixel computer uses this logic. Gorgeous screen on it.

128:85... weird. Look very similar to the 3:2 screens on the original titanium powerbook g4 honestly, and i always thought that "kinda wide" ratio was the perfect compromise.

I hope more manufacturers adopt it, even though i know they wont. Widescreen laptops just look more modern, and that's what sells. It won't surprise me if more laptops start looking like the Vaio P soon(i actually owned one of those and sorta loved it. The display was brilliant for working on two things side by side unlike most not quite big enough for that 16:9 screens. The only issue with it was that the integrated graphics were too terrible to even smoothly play youtube, and it was generally underpowered. Really cool little toy though in the same way the OQO and Vaio UX were.)
posted by emptythought at 5:05 PM on July 5, 2013


I generally don't think of myself as having been cool as teenager. Yet I was cool enough to convince my grandmother to accompany me to Barry Lyndon when it was new and in the theaters (I had my learner's drivers license so needed an adult on board).

And whatever aspect ratio it was, it was sublime. And I think she liked it even more than I did. Like being inside a painting, is how she put it.
posted by philip-random at 5:38 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


OLED screens are the future. True, rich, velvety blacks and absurdly wide color gamut really sell it for me.

When I first got my Galaxy Nexus, with its 720p SAMOLED screen and ability to play full HD without stuttering, the first thing I did with it, before even changing over the SIM card, was watch Baraka and Barry Lyndon on it back to back. I was living in a basement with no natural light at the time. It was amazing.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 5:43 PM on July 5, 2013


Jack Nicholson should've been cast as the lead in Barry Lyndon.

(We mostly watch stuff on a decent old cathode Toshiba monitor which was once state of the art. I like how it smooths things out. Often playing old VHS, which if you don't expect black to be perfect black sometimes looks surprisingly good, if you can believe it. We'll upgrade eventually. Nothing lasts forever.)
posted by ovvl at 5:46 PM on July 5, 2013


It's very simple really, there are folks who watch OAR at home, and there are folks who don't care about movies and don't really like them but watch them anyway because it's something people do.

It's like how some people love food, and some people just eat, annoyedly, to survive.
posted by trackofalljades at 5:52 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I remember when widescreen first became widely available and people started clamoring for widescreen even when the original aspect ratio was standard. Buffy was never meant to be widescreen except for OMWF and Angel was only supposed to be widescreen from season 3 on, but the R2 releases for both are all widescreen, and even the R1 Angel release of Season 2 got fucked up. Ugh.

(I've also heard folks complain about there being no widescreen releases of Casablanca.)
posted by kmz at 6:07 PM on July 5, 2013


There's always been a lot of misunderstanding about this. Personally, I think that the transition to wide aspect ratio televisions has meant that the problems and confusion are reduced rather than increased. Though not eliminated.

A particular confusion I recall was people failing to differentiate between simple cropping, pan-and-scan, and unmasking of 4:3 targets converted from widescreen. The first is of course terrible and rare. The second is less terrible, common, but pretty awful. The third, though, could be fine. Or not.

I'm not an expert on this, so those more knowledgeable are very welcome to correct me, but I think that one of the standard 35mm cameras and film used for motion pictures is a square frame and one of two things happen to result in a 16:9 aspect ratio: either the frame is masked at the camera, or at the projector. The latter is why you might see a boom mike in the frame while watching a movie at the theater — the projectionist has improperly masked the film.

If it wasn't masked at the camera, then the full frame is available for a transfer to the 4:3 format. Then you don't have to pan-and-scan and, in fact, you don't lose information, you gain information. Which won't work if the photographer assumed that it would definitely be masked and so there are things like boom mikes in the frame.

However, increasingly in the seventies and the eighties, filmmakers were cognizant of the likelihood of their movies eventually shown on television. Initially, on broadcast networks as movies of the week and such, and then later, of course, VHS rentals. So some photographers starting framing scenes with an awareness of both aspect ratios — ensuring that the full-frame would be okay for television, but still primarily being concerned with the widescreen photography.

So sometimes a 4:3 version of a film was just fine. It wasn't pan-and-scan, it wasn't even cropped.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:30 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Are any modern movies filmed in 4:3? I can't remember one.

4:3 can return! Just market it as "Tallscreen".


A large portion of some of the most successful films of the last half-decade have been shot and exhibited in a ratio very close to 4:3 -- but since it is almost literally marketed as "Tallscreen," no one noticed.
posted by chortly at 7:38 PM on July 5, 2013


So some photographers starting framing scenes with an awareness of both aspect ratios — ensuring that the full-frame would be okay for television, but still primarily being concerned with the widescreen photography.

ISTR about this time a bit of publicity for some TV shows including "bonus content" in the HD areas; i.e. if you saw it widescreen, you'd see interesting detail on the sides that SD televisions wouldn't show.

I thought it would be pretty funny if they could shoot in such a way that the story was significantly altered if you saw it on widescreen: you see some actions, objects, signs, clues, maybe a newspaper sidebar during a closeup, which gives you information that SD viewers don't have and ultimately makes it a materially different viewing experience, or even a substantially different story.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:49 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


So sometimes a 4:3 version of a film was just fine. It wasn't pan-and-scan, it wasn't even cropped.

In theory, everything you said could be true. In reality, it's incredibly rare.

Even though the film frame is basically 4:3 to begin with, the image is really only shot for the 1.78 or 2.40 in mind. The "crop" is rarely done in camera, and for film done at the theatre projector (digital projection has it done during the encoding process). It would take too long to plan for two or three aspect ratios at once, if it's even possible all the time.

I have seen some filmmakers who position their 2.40 image higher in the frame to make the transition to 1.78 easier, and I have seen a couple directors start their 1.33 version from the full image instead of their original aspect, BUT they always pan and scan nearly every shot from there on out.

All of this is rapidly changing as digital capture replaces film. There really isn't a standard for capture ratio, while the three main display ratios haven't really changed. So people are shooting all kinds of crazy (even within the same project) and shifting/cropping in post to generate a consistent image.
posted by dogwalker at 8:25 PM on July 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


IMAX, that is to say.
posted by chortly at 8:27 PM on July 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Are any modern movies filmed in 4:3?

A bit of analog film trivia: with the exception of Meek's Cutoff, the 35mm prints of Academy ratio films made in the last few years have actually been printed as 1.37 nested within 1.85 (you see this with the occasional rerelease, too: here's an example from the recentish rerelease of A Trip To The Moon).

This is done because most multiplex-style theaters only have "flat" (1.85) and "scope" lenses on their film projectors (if they still have film projectors; most don't), so the studios and distributors want(ed) to give them a 1.37 image that's properly projectable with their flat lens.

(Nested 1.37 is a sad, vestigial film format - the spiritual opposite of the exuberant, stupid ambitiousness of 16mm anamorphic 'scope!)
posted by bubukaba at 8:48 PM on July 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


One of the great things about the absurdly gorgeous One From The Heart, beyond soundtrack, is its loving embrace of a glorious old aspect ratio. Beautiful film.

The inability of everyday people to detect when their damn TV is stretching, compressing, or otherwise mangling the image is up there with trying to untangle a big ball of wire coathangers on the list of frustrations that would lead me to rain nuclear warheads on the planet if I had access to the button. I'm convinced that the hoopla about the "obesity epidemic" is just the result of everyone stretching their videos horizontally in their stupid new TV sets.

I'll continue to rant uncontrollably about what the widescreen marketing fetish has done to computer monitors, but at least for now, I can turn my iPad on its side to write in portrait mode.

Sigh.
posted by sonascope at 9:39 PM on July 5, 2013


Are any modern movies filmed in 4:3?

The Blair Witch Project
posted by ethnomethodologist at 9:39 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


"I'm convinced that the hoopla about the 'obesity epidemic' is just the result of everyone stretching their videos horizontally in their stupid new TV sets."

I only download and watch things on my computer, years of DVDs and internet movie/show watching have made me completely unable to tolerate advertisements, so getting a new television hasn't been a priority for me. And I'm poor.

So I'm not familiar with what actually happens in practice with these TVs. Are they forcing all programs to fit the aspect ratio of their display? Surely they're not stretching 4:3. Are they? I don't understand what y'all are saying is happening.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:12 PM on July 5, 2013


Are they forcing all programs to fit the aspect ratio of their display? Surely they're not stretching 4:3. Are they?

Yes, this is happening. My parents bought an HD 16:9 television but don't get the HD cable service so everything coming in is 4:3. They purposely want to stretch the image (horizontally) because they "paid for the whole screen." I know other people who take the same approach. It's bad.
posted by dogwalker at 10:21 PM on July 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wow. And it doesn't look terrible to them. Wow. I'm having trouble with this concept.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:39 PM on July 5, 2013


but at least for now, I can turn my iPad on its side to write in portrait mode.

Monitors that can pivot 90 degrees between portrait and landscape have been around for a very long time. I have a 20" 1600x1200 (i.e. 4x3) that's at least ten years old that does this. At the time you needed to install a driver to get it to automatically respond to the change in aspect ratio but I think most standard Windows and OSX drivers handle it now.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:10 PM on July 5, 2013


The guy who wrote the article criticizing Leon Vitali and whining about what the right aspect ratio is for Barry Lyndon ends the article by saying it all doesn't matter anyway because he feels the movie is terrible and boring.. thus proving he's a frickin' moron!
posted by ReeMonster at 11:10 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Motion smoothing on HDTVs drives me bonkers. All of a sudden 200 million dollar movies look like old episodes of Dr. Who or Dark Shadows. I remember the stressful days before I even knew what the problem was, and my friends didn't notice or know what I was taking about. JUST FIX IT BEFORE I SMASH YOUR TV!!

At least the film critics at the Onion are on my side.
posted by dgaicun at 1:24 AM on July 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Motion smoothing on HDTVs drives me bonkers. All of a sudden 200 million dollar movies look like old episodes of Dr. Who or Dark Shadows."

I'm going to both agree and disagree (like delmoi above) about this.

But first I want to point out that basically no one I've ever discussed this with in person has had a clue about the difference in appearance between film and video. Which amazes me because I can't even remember when during my childhood that I first recognized the difference between television that was shot on video and shot on film. It's like the most obvious thing in the world to me. So I share your pain.

And I'll agree with you that motion smoothing of blu-rays of films and similar works that were shot at 24fps should look they way they were intended to look — they should be shown at 24fps. It should be noted, however, that the default settings of consumer televisions, even now in the days of HD and flatscreens, totally screw up the color and gamma and so we're already not seeing it as it was intended.

That said, disliking a new production (such as The Hobbit) with a high framerate because it makes it look like a "soap-opera" — that is, shot on video — is silly. It's one-half just cultural inertia such as resisting talkies or color and one-half "video is cheap so things which look like video are inferior". I'm not saying that artistic expression shouldn't use whatever medium it prefers — that's why there's still black-and-white films. Using 24fps for its own merits is fine, just because it's expected is less fine.

A higher framerate is increased realism. What's happening perceptually is that although human vision interprets still images above about 18fps as motion, it still is sensitive to the difference between that speed and about 50fps. I've heard that 60fps is the rate above which we're mostly unable to distinguish any differences. But 24fps is close to the threshhold where things don't look quite real. Which is great, if you want that effect! But 48fps or 60fps is great for realism.

Motion pictures are weird. André Bazin argued for realism in film because he saw it as the art form that was most realistic. He thought it should play to its strengths. I think he was right and wrong — it's very effective as realism but that also means that it's very effective to subvert it. So I think that for many or even most purposes we'll transition to higher framerates and it'll be a good thing we did. But I think that there should be accomodation for the slower framerates, especially for presenting older material that was produced at those framerates.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:12 AM on July 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, sharpness is evil.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:13 AM on July 6, 2013


The situation is even more complicated than suggested here.

Cinematographers (and I am one) for years have had to shoot prepared to be shown in a variety of different ratios. Many features were shot full frame but composed for 1.85:1 (which as been the cinema 'standard' for the last four decades in the US and UK - but you wouldn't guess it from the orginal presentation) which is why you sometimes see mikes in the top of frame. If you shot with a 1.85:1 gate then you had to make sure there is nothing too important on the edges as that was likely to get cropped for TV (4:3) distribution.

In TV in the UK it got even more complicated as for a while, in the transition to 16:9, the BBC had a compromise ratio of 14:9 (only the BBC of course), which meant there was less cropping at the edges on 4:3 but a thin black line at the top and bottom for 16:9. Until HD became common, Super16mm was the standard for shooting TV drama in the UK - this has a ratio of 1.66:1 - just under 15:9 - so again you couldn’t be sure the full frame height was going to be transmitted. In fact, shooting for TV you always had to leave a big margin at the edges of frame where nothing important happened because of the overscan on CRT TV sets (not really relevant with digital TV, but the tradition continues).

It's also worth pointing out that in Europe, 1.66:1 and 1.75:1 were also common standards. And cinemas would regularly file out their gates to match the shape of their cinema screen and create standards of their own. I've also seen films projected in cinemas out of rack, so the top of heads are cut off or sub-titles projected over the first two rows of the stalls. Even in modern digital projection, DCP (the format used for digital cinema distribution) allows for not only 16:9 and 1.85:1, but 1.9:1 and 2.39:1 too. It is unlikely that many cinemas will have screen masking that actually matches those ratios.

All in all, the chances of seeing a frame exactly as the cinematographer wanted to frame it are rare. There is always a compromise.
posted by rolo at 2:49 AM on July 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


I didn't read the article and most of the comments here. But I want to bitch about the Flat vs. Scope thing from the viewpoint of a former projectionist that actually hates movies. The only movie I have seen in a theater since I quit my job as the projectionist/technician for all Regal theaters in Southern Oregon is Finding Nemo. And that is only because a woman I fancied wanted to see it. I still can't watch movies in theaters. The projectionists never do things like focus the Xenon bulb and it drives me insane.

Fun fact: The height of the screen in the theater is the same for flat and scope. We used masking on the left and right to slide in and out to cover the screen. There was a button on the projector to move the masking. The masking was actually moved by garage door openers.

So movies are built on the make-up table. A two hour movie generally comes in six parts if it is polyester. Then we have to deal with the mylar header and ads and all the stupid THX and trailers before movies. So in the end a movie was around 15 parts we had to splice together. And we had to add foil cues to trigger automation. There was a cue when the credits started to roll that would trigger the lights to go up and the magnets to hold the doors to turn on. And also for sound formats to switch. Some Trailers were on in SR*D and others in SDDS. So we would have to tell the CP how to deal with audio.

But back to aspect ratios.. The switching between lenses and moving the aperture plate would always fail.

Scope and flat use two different lenses. And there is also a thin sheet of metal before the light hits the film-gate and lens that blocks light. So the lens would need to change (a motor did this) and the aperture plate had to move. We could trigger the switch with a small piece of foil tape. But it never really worked.

Here is the great part. They would send us the trailers to in the cans the film came in. So it was a lot of mixing flat and scope. I am kinda drunk.

Once I become a technicians apprentice I had to help with the construction of a new theater in Salem Oregon. I was tasked with grinding down aperture plates for both scope and flat lenses. I was unemployed a week later.
posted by johnpowell at 2:54 AM on July 6, 2013 [9 favorites]


Monitors that can pivot 90 degrees between portrait and landscape have been around for a very long time.

A genuine generation ago, I actually had what might have been the very first one, the Radius Pivot, which was CRT-based and worked relatively well, and was happy when I heard that many LCD monitors could be configured that way until I tried it.

In that case, the directionality of LCD does it in for me, because that slightish shift of contrast you get from top to bottom on a normal monitor is something you get used to, but with the screen tipped, you're putting each eyeball into its own contrast zone, which is strobey and off-kilter and makes my head hurt. I think a tablet gets away with it by being smaller and having a higher pixel density, but I've tried the portrait thing with a lot of LCD monitors and given up in despair every time.
posted by sonascope at 3:21 AM on July 6, 2013


48 fps will always look like crap. For the past 15 years people have been working very hard to make video looks like film, it was the holy grail of videographers at the begining of the 00's, shallow depth of field and 24fps.
When Canon released the 5d, every young filmmakers bought one because it looked like film and it didn't cost a leg.
Kids will not get used to 48fps as looking sexy. Kids who have never seen a polaroid camera are using apps on their phones to make their digital pictures look like polaroids.
And polaroids are objectively shitty in terms of image quality.
The jittery movements created by using 24fps is a huge part of what makes movies movies as opposed to television.
No one wants to go to the theatre to watch something that looks like a soccer game.
The people who are pushing for 48fps are doing s3d (Cameron, Jackson) and in s3d 48fps resolves a problem caused by the jitters of 24fps, so it makes sense (even though it still looks bad).
Since s3d is going away very soon, the push for 48fps will also die a rightfull death.
posted by SageLeVoid at 3:55 AM on July 6, 2013


The attachment to 24 or 25fps is an interesting one. One explanation is, of course, it simply the historic connotations with film as being important, tv as being transient. Some people perceive TV as 'present', film as 'past'. Whatever it is, most filmmakers working on video in recent years seem to prefer the 24/25 look over the 48/50fps look (interlaced TV is really 48 or 50 interlaced fields rather than frames, but the principle still counts).

My theory is that the just perceptible flicker of 24fps induces a slight dream-like state, it creates a space between the frames for our imagination to work. I have no real evidence to back this up, just the fact that most people to seem to prefer the film look to the seamless video look and it seems too fundamental just to be explained by a historical or sentimental attachment to cinema.

Part of the magic of the traditional cinema experience was may have been the fact that, for half the two hours or so you spent in front of the screen, you were sitting in total darkness.
posted by rolo at 4:11 AM on July 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


In that case, the directionality of LCD does it in for me, because that slightish shift of contrast you get from top to bottom on a normal monitor is something you get used to, but with the screen tipped, you're putting each eyeball into its own contrast zone, which is strobey and off-kilter and makes my head hurt. I think a tablet gets away with it by being smaller and having a higher pixel density, but I've tried the portrait thing with a lot of LCD monitors and given up in despair every time.

Tablets get away with it by being LED backlit, and having IPS displays(mostly the second one, but the first doesn't hurt either. IPS kills the viewing angle and contrast issues, and the LEDs kill the slight flicker of the old CCFL backlights.

If you try it on an actually quality new monitor that clears those hurdles it looks totally brilliant. There's plenty of 21.5in IPS monitors floating over from korea on ebay(which i'm suspicious are, like the 27in korea monitors, the panels from iMacs) which for under $200 will give you absolute bliss doing this.

Motion smoothing on HDTVs drives me bonkers. All of a sudden 200 million dollar movies look like old episodes of Dr. Who or Dark Shadows. I remember the stressful days before I even knew what the problem was, and my friends didn't notice or know what I was taking about. JUST FIX IT BEFORE I SMASH YOUR TV!!

My friend inherited a small, but good LCD tv from a guy who moved out and abandoned almost all his stuff. Higher end sharp with all the modern bells and whistles of "smart" functions and apps. It has this.

The satanic thing? even if you shut off this setting the 3-4 places it shows up IT WILL NOT TURN FULLY OFF. We screwed around with it for easily 20 minutes digging deep in to the menus, googling the problem(which found tons of pissed off people!), etc. Every menu switch that said "truemotion" and stuff was off but it would not die. We double checked that we weren't doing it wrong and it definitely wasn't a PEBCAK situation.

This is not the first time i've encountered a newer tv that just absolutely refused to stop doing this too. And it gets doubly painful and whatisthisidonteven when it does it really jerkily and poorly here and there too. It's like early 90s sony handicam smooth and then suddenly it jerks to a few frames of normal and back to it when motion starts and stops because it's trying to "smartly" engage and disengage the smoothing only when X amount of pixel change or "action" is going on. I could at least put up with it in a frog and boiling water sense if it didn't keep showing me the stark contrast, and every single TV i've seen with this "feature" does that.

Any sort of upconversion has always sucked. At most, the sucking was mitigated by really nice upscaling/3:2 pulldown/upconversion over the years. But it definitely still sucked.

And now they're taking all of our nice, pure, digital source material that's at it's own proper resolution and frame rate and everything and slapping this crap on it and making it really hard to actually shut all the way off? get out. And this is of course also ignoring the fact that it's essentially tweening frames. You know, like motion blur. The kind of motion blur that response times, refresh rates, and LCD tech has been battling since the fucking 80s. They are literally recreating an artifact that everyone hated which was a "feature" of LCDs in software. This is madness. This isn't even like hipstamatic or instagram trying to recreate potentially aesthetically pleasing old camera attributes, it would be like having a "kazaa emulator!" mode in the newest version of itunes that dowmsampled everything to 3mb 96 or 128k MP3s.

I'm going to keep using my "professional display" panasonic which predates this until it completely dies and the magic smoke comes out. This stuff is absolute shovelware and i can't abide.
posted by emptythought at 5:04 AM on July 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm looking forward to the first major motion picture release in iPhone portrait aspect ratio, because we all know it is the best aspect ratio.
posted by scruss at 5:31 AM on July 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


If I remember correctly, Gus Van Sant released Elephant as 4:3 in theaters, and on DVD as as a double sided 4:3/16:9 disc.

Re: motion smoothing - I first saw it in a Sony store five years ago, standing beside a cinamatographer associate. We were both flummoxed. They were showing a Sony produced movie on DVD, with the screen set to maximum 'smoothing.' we tried to explain to the store manager that Sony had spent millions of dollars to make sure the movie didn't look like that. He told us that they were required to display the product that way & that he couldn't tell the difference. Which was a lot like telling us that what we did for a living was not just irrelevant but actually invisible to him. A TV salesman.
posted by rock swoon has no past at 5:36 AM on July 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wow. And it doesn't look terrible to them. Wow. I'm having trouble with this concept.

It gets worse.

There are people who have an HD set but keep tuning to the SD version of the channel out of habit, and have their tv turned to stretch-o-vision. So when the network is showing 16:9 content, they're watching 16:9 set into an SD 4:3 image, stretched wider so it actually looks kinda like a 2.39:1 image with fat people.

And if you ask them, they like it that way. Because some people need to go to the reeducation camps.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:51 AM on July 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


Nothing makes me weep for the future more than watching an HD movie channel where the film is letterboxed inside of a cropped 4:3 region.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:55 AM on July 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


It gets even worse than that: these folks vote.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:06 AM on July 6, 2013


scruss: which iPhone aspect ratio? It varies by model...
posted by edd at 7:35 AM on July 6, 2013


I've been trying to figure out for years now if the attachment people feel to lower frame rates is a sentimental artifact. But I've come around to rolo's point of view. I've seen too many non-cinephile's look at a TV in "sports" setting and cry "Why does Lord of the Rings look so crappy?!?!?" to think that only snobs notice. The extra sharpening and extra frames really does seem to kill some kind of aesthetic engagement, I think by providing too much data to the eye (cf. Scott McCloud's ideas about how lower-data depictions of characters encourage engagement). It's weird, but it seems to be happening.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:25 AM on July 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


As a total non-cinephile but avid gamer, I find some films almost unwatchably shit-looking, entirely down to the 24fps refresh. I'm used to 30fps and 60fps updates, and the closer to 60, the more realistic, to my eye. I downloaded some 48fps test clips and found myself wishing all films were made that way.

It's just what people are used to that colours how they perceive framerate. And terrible, overcompensating TV equipment, of course.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 8:34 AM on July 6, 2013


ArmyOfKittens - for me, cinema is not about realism. How can it be? It's a constructed language, a form that has developed over the last century.

But maybe, from a gamer's perspective, you are looking for something else - more of a window on to the world, an extension of your own eyes.

Of course this argument has been going on for a long time. In the 80s, Douglas Trumball introduced his Showscan system, running 65mm film at 60fps. This was seen as a breakthrough at the time.

I dunno, maybe I'm wrong. I will always shoot at 25p rather than 50i, given the choice. But maybe in another generation's time the 'film look' will be forgotten and all will be a seamless flow.

By the way, in the USA you have an additional element on movies shown on TV - the 3:2 pulldown thing, trying to fit 24fps to 30. That looks weird to us. In Europe it's simpler - we just run them at 25.
posted by rolo at 9:00 AM on July 6, 2013


A large part of the difference in presentation with framerate is down to motion blur. Double the frame rate and you cut the motion blur in half. Actually more than half, because there is inter-frame time that must be accounted for.

Faster frame-rates make movement crisper, but this crispness belies the way our eyes actually perceive motion, which is in constant time.

A shiny ring fast moving across the your FOV in the real world appears as a bright line; similarly anything moving quickly is blurred by the limitations of our visual system.

In 24p with a proper shutter speed, that shiny ring is recorded as a line, albeit somewhat broken up.

At 48p, the line segments are much shorter and begin to break up into strobe and flicker.

So, in my mind, the motion blur of 24p captures the ephemeral nature of continuous movement much better than 48p or 60p does.

And that's why high frame-rates are not All That.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:03 AM on July 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


"In the 80s, Douglas Trumball introduced his Showscan system, running 65mm film at 60fps."

I actually saw that at his theater at the Galleria in Dallas in 1984. It was pretty amazing.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:03 AM on July 6, 2013


rolo: "But maybe, from a gamer's perspective, you are looking for something else - more of a window on to the world, an extension of your own eyes."

I wouldn't say I have a "gamer's perspective"; I watch a lot of filmed entertainment. What I meant by referencing gaming that was that cheaply-produced TV wasn't my only exposure to decent framerates. I don't associate them with sport or soap operas. And what I'm looking for in a piece of entertainment depends on the story it's trying to tell me.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 9:31 AM on July 6, 2013


I was working on soap operas during the changeover from SD to HD, and the shit that cameramen have had to deal with is epic. They're still forced to shoot in both formats on the fly. I have no idea how dudes who work in sports do it.

Also interesting, I worked on a show in the 90s that was processed in post to give it that film look. The show looked awesome, but was totally painful to watch.
posted by nevercalm at 10:33 AM on July 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't want to plunge deeply into the framerate argument in an aspect ratio thread, but speaking for myself, I watch everything with frame interpolation on. My TV does it very well, and everything is smooth and crisp and you can see much more detail during any scene with motion in it.

That said, when I first tried it, everything looked laughable. For some reason, the funniest moments were whenever anyone would turn to face the camera -- instant soap opera effect. But I decided this was pure prejudice, learned during childhood in just the same way I learned to associate sepia with nostalgia, jean jackets with coolness, and of course the usual host of unconscious racial, gender, and class filters. I decided that associating clarity and smoothness with low-classness, just because everything heretofore shot that way had been crappy, was not worth the loss of visual clarity. So I stuck it out. It took about 20 hours (a large chunk of it spent watching Chuck, which was right on the edge anyway) before I untrained myself and could just appreciate the visuals without the cultural baggage.

And as for authorial intention, as a one-time literary critic, I am well aware that we violate that routinely and regularly, and indeed authors expect this. I don't read 19th century novels in serial newspaper form, I don't want TV commercials that TV shows are clearly expecting, I can pause stuff, I watch movies at home that were clearly intended primarily for theater viewing, I watch older TV and films that were clearly meant for a contemporaneous audience, I read websites in RSS feeds, old books on my phone, and for decades (and even today) the vast body of movie knowledge underlying the wisdom of the critics and directors I most respect was gained by watching thousands of 24p films on a 60 fps interlaced TV set. The fact that the visual texture of a panning shot is slightly smoother and clearer than the director expected is a trivial violation, particularly when it gains me so much more visual information.
posted by chortly at 11:25 AM on July 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


...a trivial violation, particularly when it gains me so much more visual information.

I think the fallacy here is that you're gaining information. The extra frames (actually, I guess extra fields would be more accurate) are interpolated from the preceding and succeeding frames. There's no more information, the TV is just filling in holes mathematically.

Back to the aspect ratio discussion, I've worked with most every contemporary ratio - including 9x16 vertical. The right ratio totally depends on the project.

Shoot whatever works best. As long as I never have to see something shot 16:9 or wider 'protected' for 4:3 again. That is truly disastrous.
posted by rock swoon has no past at 3:28 PM on July 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


> which iPhone aspect ratio? It varies by model...

The vertical one. You know, the one that makes your cinephile friend cringe.
People are tall things. People take movies of people (sometimes things). Since movies of tall things work best in a tall aspect ratio, it is the best one. There may be several, but they are all the best.
posted by scruss at 4:24 PM on July 6, 2013


I had to deal with a brand new (cheap) TV this weekend that had no way to disable the "auto motion" feature and I was the only one who noticed. My own personal Twilight Zone episode.

George_Spiggott: I thought it would be pretty funny if they could shoot in such a way that the story was significantly altered if you saw it on widescreen: you see some actions, objects, signs, clues, maybe a newspaper sidebar during a closeup, which gives you information that SD viewers don't have and ultimately makes it a materially different viewing experience, or even a substantially different story.

My Name is Earl snuck a few HD easter eggs in the first season (2005). I had the same thought about the additional possibilities, but then the writer's strike happened in 2007-08 (which led to a glut of reality TV that still hasn't gone away) and the digital spectrum switchover was in 2009; most people had transitioned to HD before then. So there was a very brief window for this realistically happening.
posted by Challahtronix at 5:15 PM on July 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


...a trivial violation, particularly when it gains me so much more visual information.
I think the fallacy here is that you're gaining information. The extra frames (actually, I guess extra fields would be more accurate) are interpolated from the preceding and succeeding frames. There's no more information, the TV is just filling in holes mathematically.


Yes, I know what interpolation means. The "me" who gains information is me, that is, my brain. This is easily verified by that fact that one can read panning text with frame interpolation on that one cannot otherwise read. The same goes for a host of other details. The appearance of greater clarity is not an illusion.
posted by chortly at 7:18 PM on July 6, 2013


bubukaba: Even weirder than nested 1.37 is how they released GONE WITH THE WIND back in 1998: there, rather than nesting the Academy ratio image within the 1.85 image area (which itself is nested within the larger physical 1.37 film frame: if you look at the actual film frame, it looks like a combination of letterboxing and pillarboxing, with black on all four sides of the image), GWTW was distributed with the 1.37 image horizontally squeezed into the center of the frame (again, looking at the actual film frame, there would be black to the left and right, and a horizontally squished image in the center).

Presenting theaters would then use a 'scope lens to unsqueeze the image and present the 1.37 image in the center of a 2.35 screen. Sounds pretty crazy, but -- arguably -- you might get more overall resolution that way; certainly you get more vertical resolution.

More about this GWTW wackiness over at film-tech.com
posted by orthicon halo at 6:52 AM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I had to deal with a brand new (cheap) TV this weekend that had no way to disable the "auto motion" feature and I was the only one who noticed. My own personal Twilight Zone episode.

I just bought a Seiki SE50UY04 and was disappointed in the default menu options as well. It's a 4k display and there was no way to turn off the awful auto-sharpness upscaling from there. There is a secret factory menu though that let me adjust a lot more options.

Warning: use the factory setup menu very carefully and at your own risk. There are buggy menus in there and options that can brick the unit. If you go straight for the picture adjustments, you should be fine though. To get into the factory setup menu, push MENU and then 0 (zero) four times. Should work for your model as well and it may contain the option to disable the frame interpolation.
posted by Foolhardy at 10:35 AM on July 7, 2013


bubukaba: The logic to the GWTW wackiness is, I guess, that few theatres were geared up to show Academy, but all could show 1.85:1 and 'scope and would have a set of lenses for each (cinema projectors generally don't have zoom lenses).
On a regular (1.85:1) projector lens, Academy would overflow top and bottom. The only solution would be to keep to the height of the 1.85 letterboxed frame and crop the edges as well.
Using the anamorphic lens you can at least use the whole height of the frame - but, yes, you would pillar box the edges.
You are certainly starting with a bigger image on the print this way and, if the scope lenses were as sharp as they should have been (and very often they weren't) you'd get better resolution.
posted by rolo at 11:12 AM on July 7, 2013


Man, I actually saw Gone With The Wind presented that way when I was a kid. If only I'd known!

for scruss: A recent vertical aspect ratio film, Tacita Dean's FILM.
posted by bubukaba at 12:39 PM on July 7, 2013


Buffy was never meant to be widescreen except for OMWF and Angel was only supposed to be widescreen from season 3 on, but the R2 releases for both are all widescreen, and even the R1 Angel release of Season 2 got fucked up. Ugh.

I'd love to know the story of this release. I had imported the R2 releases because they were out years before the R1, and it looked so unnatural. Everything on set was clearly blocked for 4:3, so why?
posted by evilensky at 3:21 PM on July 8, 2013


Because tons of whiners don't care if the original was clearly shot for 4:3. They want widescreen because their TVs are 16:9

Google some entitled whiny posts about say, star trek TNG(which is actually a bit tragic. It was shot on film but edited and VFXed on video) or babylon 5. No 16:9 or wider originals exist, but everyone is clamoring for it and would happily buy some kludgy poorly done conversion like what's being talked about here.

There's also some interesting stuff like star trek TOS that was shot on film in a wide aspect, but edited in 4:3 for TV. The originals were still in the vault, so they were able to retouch it and release it in 16:9 without much fuss(although i hate the cgi they added in. There was apparently a hd-dvd release that was wide but without the cgi. i really wanna see that),

Basically, the people slightly above the screen-stretchers want widescreen no matter what, and would much rather have a shit conversion or hack job than just watch it as the creators originally intended.

I guess were fortunate that a lot of shows before the 80s and even into the 90s were shot on film, and a lot from the late 90s on were shot wide so there isn't a lot to fight over and screw up here... but it's still irritating. And only slightly less irritating than when i see someone with hd cable/satellite service and an hdtv who hooked it up with composite cables and watches in blurry stretch-screen.
posted by emptythought at 3:29 PM on July 8, 2013


The reason laser projectors speckle is because the light is polarized. If you just shine a laser at something the dot will look speckled in your eyes (but if you take a photo, you won't see it) I guess you might be able to fix that by using two lasers with opposite polarizations on top of eachother. -Delmoi

I believe that the reason that lasers sparkle is because of wave interference... Similar to the dual-slit experiment where you see an interference pattern appear, the sparkle is from the photons interfering with themselves due to small imperfections in the surface.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speckle_pattern
posted by Vamier at 10:08 AM on July 11, 2013


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