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Could wider aspect ratios be possible in the near future for television shows?


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#1 Reuel Gomez

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Posted 04 August 2013 - 04:57 PM

I couldn't really call myself a comic book fan, considering I'm only really a fan of superhero comic books. But recently (And by recently I mean I'm watching it as I write this) I caught an episode of the new "Avengers Assemble" animated series online (I don't have cable at my apartment) and I noticed that for certain scenes, the aspect ratio changed from 1.78/16x9 to something much wider, even wider than 2.35, and it made me wonder, could cable networks allow for shows, especially live-action scripted programming, to shoot or compose for wider aspect ratios like 2:35? Digital cameras are being used for most of the shows on TV right now, and those such as the Arri Alexa and Red Epic already have sensors that can accommodate anamorphic lenses, so why not? I don't see how hard it would be to do such a thing. Is there something I'm missing here? Because I don't really know much about broadcasting to have any sense of how hard it would be to change aspect ratio.


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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 04 August 2013 - 05:04 PM

It's not hard to letterbox images to shorter heights like 2.40, it's just a resistance on the part of distributors and broadcasters to do so for anything other than short-form material like music videos and commercials because a certain part of the viewership still wants their TV screen filled and complain otherwise, or think something is wrong (and I'm not surprised with some HDTV sets displaying 4x3 and 4x3 letterboxed SD signals in different ways... I've even seen 16x9 signals accidentally displayed stretched and letterboxed to 2.40 on 16x9 monitors.)

 

HDTV broadcast standard is 16x9 and SD is 4x3.  That's it.  Any other shapes are created within these two shapes using letterboxing -- or anamorphosis in the case of 16x9 SD "anamorphic" DVD's (16x9 is squeezed onto 720 x 480 pixels using non-square pixels.)

 

So some SD channels are basically just downconversions of their HD feed, and either display that signal as 4x3 with a 1.78 letterbox, or crop that to 4x3 full-frame.  Trouble is that this SD signal then goes out on cable TV to be displayed on your 16x9 HDTV screen at home.  So now your 16x9 HDTV may display this is a 4x3 letterboxed to 1.78 image inside 16x9, so it appears windowboxed, black borders on all sides... the SD version of PBS appears that way.  

 

So imagine that 4x3 upconverted signal having a 2.40 letterbox instead of a 1.78 letterbox -- it would be a tiny image surrounded by black.  Of course, you could just watch the proper HD channel version but some people don't, or aren't paying for that even though they own a 16x9 HD set, so have to put up with these SD upconversion aspect ratio issues.

 

It's only recently that you could convince broadcasters to make 16x9 full-frame TV shows and not have to compose for 4x3 center extraction, because just five years ago, only about one-third of households had 16x9 TV sets.  But now that has flipped to two-thirds of households having 16x9 sets in the U.S.

 

However, there are still plenty of 4x3 SD channels being broadcast to those 16x9 TV sets, partly for the fewer 4x3 SD sets out there, but also because those channels take up less bandwidth than HD.  So it's a mess right now, until cable TV and satellite decide that all signals will be 16x9 HD.


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#3 Freya Black

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Posted 04 August 2013 - 05:14 PM

Theres nothing to stop them having wider aspect ratio's, except they choose not to. There is a fear that if the video is letterboxed, people will complain that bits of their TV aren't being used or something.

 

It's a bit like recently in the UK a channel broadcast a european drama programme with subtitles which was something that hadn't really been done for many years. It was a good programme and became very popular and then the TV people were really excited that people would watch programmes on TV with subtitles, and then it almost became trendy to have various european programmes with subtitles and there was excitement about this. It was very odd. I'm certain that the series was bought because it was a great series, and people watched it because they like the series, not because it was subtitled. To many of the TV industry folk it was all about the subtitles tho.

 

The guy who originally commissioned it was a German fellow tho, and not one of the usual Oxbridge types who run everything over here. I expect it wasn't a big deal to him and he bought it because he thought it was good and would work on the channel.

 

Basically there all kinds of fears and concerns about things that aren't the core issue in television.

Also, as we were discussing in another thread. Human beings like to invent all kinds of rules for everything.

It's something in human nature.

 

Freya


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#4 Reuel Gomez

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Posted 04 August 2013 - 05:18 PM

It's not hard to letterbox images to shorter heights like 2.40, it's just a resistance on the part of distributors and broadcasters to do so for anything other than short-form material like music videos and commercials because a certain part of the viewership still wants their TV screen filled and complain otherwise, or think something is wrong (and I'm not surprised with some HDTV sets displaying 4x3 and 4x3 letterboxed SD signals in different ways... I've even seen 16x9 signals accidentally displayed stretched and letterboxed to 2.40 on 16x9 monitors.)

But almost everything is letterboxed on Blu-Ray/DVD unless the original aspect ratio is 16x9 or 1.85 (in which case, as far as I know, the frame is cropped to fit the screen) So I don't see what people would complain. Hell, even my mother, who up until recently (when I started reading about all this stuff and told her about it), didn't know anything about this kind of stuff, knew that the widescreen editionion of Spider-Man 2 (which had just come out at the time) had more image than the full screen edition when I kept whining about the fact that the top and bottom were cut off (I was 6 years old at the time, and technically, the top and bottom were cut off seeing as how it was shot in Super 35 and not w/anamorphic lenses...which I ended up explaining to her later on)


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#5 Reuel Gomez

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Posted 04 August 2013 - 05:22 PM

Theres nothing to stop them having wider aspect ratio's, except they choose not to. There is a fear that if the video is letterboxed, people will complain that bits of their TV aren't being used or something.

 

It's a bit like recently in the UK a channel broadcast a european drama programme with subtitles which was something that hadn't really been done for many years. It was a good programme and became very popular and then the TV people were really excited that people would watch programmes on TV with subtitles, and then it almost became trendy to have various european programmes with subtitles and there was excitement about this. It was very odd. I'm certain that the series was bought because it was a great series, and people watched it because they like the series, not because it was subtitled. To many of the TV industry folk it was all about the subtitles tho.

 

The guy who originally commissioned it was a German fellow tho, and not one of the usual Oxbridge types who run everything over here. I expect it wasn't a big deal to him and he bought it because he thought it was good and would work on the channel.

 

Basically there all kinds of fears and concerns about things that aren't the core issue in television.

Also, as we were discussing in another thread. Human beings like to invent all kinds of rules for everything.

It's something in human nature.

 

Freya

Err...crap. If you're talking about this one: http://www.cinematog...showtopic=60227 which I had started a couple of weeks ago, I'm sorry. If an administrator wants to come in and move it over there, be my guest. I probably should have just posted this as a comment to that thread instead of starting a new one.


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#6 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 04 August 2013 - 05:24 PM

I remember this unpleasant anti-letterbox guy in the early 2000's online named Bernie Farber -- he had a whole website devoted to what he called "letterbox censorship", that the black bars amounted to censorship of the image.  He also said he was going to sue cable providers and home video companies for letterboxing under the notion that it was harder to see the smaller image and thus violated the Americans with Disabilities Act!  I think he was actually a lawyer too.  He didn't want to hear any arguments about why a movie should be shown in the theatrical aspect ratio it was composed for.

 

I wonder what his attitude now is with 16x9 TV sets -- is he now just as passionate that old 4x3 materials have to be cropped or stretched to fill his 16x9 set?  Or is he keeping his old 4x3 set going as long as he can?

 

Someone saved his 1999 anti-letterboxing page here:

http://www.angelfire...t/rebuttal.html

 

Looks like his campaign to stop HDTV and letterboxed DVD's went very well!


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#7 Freya Black

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Posted 04 August 2013 - 05:26 PM

There seems to be some slight movement on this in the uk.

Channel 4 look like they are breaking ranks on the issue:

 

“The Mill was shot using a Arri Alexa digital camera system and the grade was performed earlier this year using Autodesk Lustre,” says Paul Ensby, principal colourist, Technicolor Creative Services. “The setting of the series is rural-industrial England during the nineteenth century, so our brief was to be as cinematic as possible to ensure a gritty, authentic look and feel. It was shot using 235 letterboxing which suited the feel throughout the episodes and created a real cinematic atmosphere. We selected a filmic style curve to provide a nice black with plenty of highlight detail.”
 

http://www.televisua...l_nid-3096.html

 

In the past tho, UK TV has insisted that all deliverables must be in 16:9

They made a big thing about it in relation to 2perf and how 2perf was much lower quality than 3perf, because of course it would be cropped heavily to 16:9

 

I hope that there will be more change with this in the future. I think there was also a bit of a thing about how things had to be 16:9 because of the transition away from 4:3 sets. As that becomes ancient history I expect aspect ratios will become more of a creative choice. Just like they don't mandate that everything is shot in colour these days either, because colour is not a big thing any more. Everything is in colour now. It's normal, so B&W can become a creative choice, rather than something that is "Wrong".

 

Freya


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#8 Freya Black

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Posted 04 August 2013 - 05:30 PM

Err...crap. If you're talking about this one: http://www.cinematog...showtopic=60227 which I had started a couple of weeks ago, I'm sorry. If an administrator wants to come in and move it over there, be my guest. I probably should have just posted this as a comment to that thread instead of starting a new one.

 

Reuel, I think you must have misunderstood something I wrote. I certainly wasn't being critical of you for anything.

Thanks for the link to that thread tho. I hadn't read it all and it's interesting to note that other people have picked up on the change that's starting to creep in here in the UK!

 

I think it's a good thing. I'm all in favour of a scope aspect ratio in TV sometimes!

 

Freya


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#9 Reuel Gomez

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Posted 04 August 2013 - 05:32 PM

I remember this unpleasant anti-letterbox guy in the early 2000's online named Bernie Farber -- he had a whole website devoted to what he called "letterbox censorship", that the black bars amounted to censorship of the image.  He also said he was going to sue cable providers and home video companies for letterboxing under the notion that it was harder to see the smaller image and thus violated the Americans with Disabilities Act!  I think he was actually a lawyer too.  He didn't want to hear any arguments about why a movie should be shown in the theatrical aspect ratio it was composed for.

 

I wonder what his attitude now is with 16x9 TV sets -- is he now just as passionate that old 4x3 materials have to be cropped or stretched to fill his 16x9 set?  Or is he keeping his old 4x3 set going as long as he can?

 

Someone saved his 1999 anti-letterboxing page here:

http://www.angelfire...t/rebuttal.html

 

Looks like his campaign to stop HDTV and letterboxed DVD's went very well!

Wow, thank god I was only 1 or 2 years old when this was going on, because if I had been old enough to use a computer and understand the vulgar language my mom uses when she gets frustrated, I would've cussed up a storm.


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#10 Freya Black

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Posted 04 August 2013 - 05:32 PM

I remember this unpleasant anti-letterbox guy in the early 2000's online named Bernie Farber -- he had a whole website devoted to what he called "letterbox censorship", that the black bars amounted to censorship of the image.  He also said he was going to sue cable providers and home video companies for letterboxing under the notion that it was harder to see the smaller image and thus violated the Americans with Disabilities Act!  I think he was actually a lawyer too.  He didn't want to hear any arguments about why a movie should be shown in the theatrical aspect ratio it was composed for.

 

Well I'm all for anamorphic rather than letterboxed DVD's! ;)

 

How strange that is!

I think with some things, it just takes a while for them to evolve.

I like to think so anyway.

 

Freya


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#11 Reuel Gomez

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Posted 04 August 2013 - 05:44 PM

 

Reuel, I think you must have misunderstood something I wrote. I certainly wasn't being critical of you for anything.

Thanks for the link to that thread tho. I hadn't read it all and it's interesting to note that other people have picked up on the change that's starting to creep in here in the UK!

 

I think it's a good thing. I'm all in favour of a scope aspect ratio in TV sometimes!

 

Freya

 Your welcome, and I agree. I just hope that, if and when the day comes that I can enter the film & TV industry as a director, the tools that my DP can use are expanded to the point where I feel that I can create a television series that doesn't feel cheap, something that feels like it has high production values that doesn't necessarily actually have high-production values you know? I think we've reached the point where "cheap" CGI looks like something that was considered "photorealistic" in 10 or 15 years ago. Now imagine how good "cheap" CGI will look in the next 10 or 15 years? Could we finally see motion-capture used on television shows? Who knows? I just like to think that things like these will progress over time.


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#12 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 04 August 2013 - 05:45 PM

I must admit that just about the only whizzy new style of filmmaking that interests me is very wide presentations, possibly wrapped around the audience. It's still a ride film thing, as is 3D I think, but big cylindrical displays are genuinely spectacular.

 

P


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#13 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 04 August 2013 - 07:08 PM

It's all about filling your peripheral vision with very high resolution images -- the screen doesn't have to be wide if it is large enough and you sit close enough and yet the image has enough resolution to hold up to sitting that close, i.e. IMAX.  It's just that if you are limited in screen height architecturally at least going wider and curved is a good compromise, ala Cinerama (2.66 : 1) or even CircleVision.


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#14 Carl Looper

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Posted 04 August 2013 - 08:28 PM

The issue with unused real estate in letter boxing reminds me a bit about D W Griffith, when he invented the close-up - how his producer argued against the close-up, complaining that he was paying for the entire actor.

 

It's interesting how black is the norm for unused real estate in film and tv, whereas white is the norm for the web (think google home page). I guess it's because the computer screen is something associated with day time whereas the TV and movie screen is something associated with night.

 

C


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#15 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 10 August 2013 - 11:14 PM

I have been watching "Borgen" on PBS, the Danish drama -- noticed that it is letterboxed in the HD broadcast to around 2.20 : 1.


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#16 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 11 August 2013 - 02:07 AM

The BBC and Channel 4 in the UK have made some "scope" TV dramas. I guess with the increasing size of television screens directors will want to make use of the wider aspect ratio. Although, perhaps it'll be less likely on the main popular channels, where the viewers are more likely to object..


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#17 Simon Wyss

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Posted 11 August 2013 - 02:20 AM

I must admit that just about the only whizzy new style of filmmaking that interests me is very wide presentations, possibly wrapped around the audience. It's still a ride film thing, as is 3D I think, but big cylindrical displays are genuinely spectacular.

 

There were are back to the old panorama stuff.


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