Ben-Hur. Lawrence of Arabia. 2001: A Space Odyssey. When these classics are shown on Turner Classic Movies or you watch them on DVD or Blu-ray, there are black bars above and below the image, even on your widescreen HDTV.
Not for long, if Vizio and Philips have their way.
Both companies will begin selling ultra-widescreen HDTVs at some point this year – neither company would be pinned down on either pricing or availability – eliminating the horizontal black bars.
These new ultra-wide HDTVs will have an aspect ratio of 21:9, as opposed to the standard 16:9. Not only will you be able to view all widescreen movies in their original widescreen glory sans black bars, but you'll be able to get a vertical window of internet apps on one side of the screen and still have a full 16:9 area to continue watching TV.
'Aspect ratio'? Wha' dat?
Let me 'esplain.
"Aspect ratio" is how the shape of a rectangle is described mathematically, by comparing the width vs. the height. In the HDTV world, "16 x 9" (also written 16:9) – think way back to your high school algebra on how a ratio is expressed – indicates a rectangle measuring an arbitrary 16 units wide and 9 arbitrary units high. Old regular analog TVs had an aspect ratio of 4:3 – they were only slightly wider than they were tall.
In the movie world, these aspect ratios are expressed somewhat differently. Old, squarish movies, pre-The Robe in 1953, all were shot in the so-called "Academy" (as in Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Oscar people) ratio of 1.33:1 – one and a third arbitrary units wide by one arbitrary unit high. This Academy ratio corresponds closely with TV's original 4:3 aspect ratio.
Widescreen movies are shot in a variety of techniques or standards, each with their own aspect ratio. Most prominent of these standards was Panavision, which has a standard aspect ratio of 1.85:1, a bit wider than 16:9, and CinemaScope, with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 or 2.39:1. Panavision films also can be 2.35:1 or 2.40:1. (The Panavision logo contains three concentric rectangles representing its three primary aspect ratios – 1.33:1, 1.85:1 and 2.35:1.)
Modern epics including Gladiator, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and current cinema favorites Toy Story 3, Black Swan, True Grit and, god help us all, the Green Hornet, are shot in 2.35:1. The Dark Knight actually flucuates between 1.44:1 (IMAX's aspect ratio) and 2.35:1 – watch it again just for the aspect ratio shifts, you geek. And that wacky Avatar was shown in both 1.85:1 and 2.35:1, depending on the venue.
16 x 9 HDTVs have an aspect ratio a bit less wide than 1.85:1 (actually 1.78:1, but who's counting?), which is the ratio of most of today's movies. When you watch a theatrical movie on HBO or Showtime or Starz! or whatever, the film is slightly trimmed (or, in the case of 2.35:1 films, radically trimmed) on the sides.
If you see black bars above and below the movie image, you're actually seeing the film in its original aspect ratio.
Ultra widescreen HDTV models
And now, class, time to apply our new knowledge.
To review, Vizio and Philips will start selling ultra-widescreen 21 x 9 HDTVs, an aspect ratio corresponding to the CinemaScope ratio of 2.35:1 (actually 2.37:1, bu who's counting?) and a pixel count of 2560 x 1080p, compared to regular HDTV's pixel count of 1920 x 1080p. No black bars above or below modern 2.35:1 widescreen movies.
Vizio will sell two active shutter 3D-compatible (yes, they also display 2D movies) ultra-widescreen models, the 50-inch (measured diagonally) XVT3D50OCM, and the 58-inch XVT3D58OCM. Availability and pricing details are even vaguer for a 71-inch model. As noted, Vizio's Internet Apps will be displayed in a thin window on the left of the screen (5 x 9 aspect ratio, if my math is right), allowing you to browse the apps menu while continuing to watch a full 16 x 9 image on the rest of the screen.
Philips also will sell a 58-inch 21 x 9 set, also at yet-to-be-determined time and price, the 58PFL9955, also active shutter 3D compatible, also allowing its NetTV internet apps menu to be shown in a thin window off to the side.
I've seen the Vizio – and I want one, even if it is an LED LCD set and not plasma (I'm such a purist).