The Future of Video Formatting
More and more, directors film their movies with the pan-and-scan process in mind. You may notice the next time you see a movie in the theater that most of the shots have the important information on one side of the screen with a lot of dead space on the other side. In a conversation, for example, the director will show one actor's face at a time, shooting over the other actor's shoulder. The side of the picture showing the back of an actor's head can be removed fairly easily so that it looks like the movie was shot for television.
A few directors also involve themselves heavily in the formatting process, and others are likely to follow. The late Stanley Kubrick shot his more recent movies with both a theatrical and a television aspect ratio in mind, and James Cameron, who uses a special film format, creates both versions when making his movies. The creators of the computer animated "A Bug's Life" actually re-created a lot of the images in the movie, moving the characters towards each other so that most things important to the plot made it into the full-frame video version. "A Bug's Life" is also an interesting case because the video version was not formatted from the film version, but taken directly from the original digital computer images. In these cases the video version is still a different piece of work from the theatrical version, but at least both works come from the same creator.
Eventually, most people will actually have wider televisions, which will make the translation from film to video much easier. Current widescreen televisions have an aspect ratio of 16:9, which is fairly close to the 1.85:1 ratio often used for modern movies. If you watched a 1.85:1 movie full-frame on a widescreen television, you would only lose a small amount of the picture on the sides. If you watched it letterbox, the black bars at the top and bottom wouldn't be that noticeable.
But if you were to take a standard letterbox DVD and show it on a widescreen television, the television would have to essentially zoom in on the DVD image so that it used the entire width of the screen. Magnifying the image in this way doesn't provide optimal resolution, since the DVD image is actually created for a conventional television screen, with resolution space taken up by black bars at the top and bottom. For this reason, DVD manufacturers have recently developed anamorphic DVDs. Movies are stored on anamorphic DVDs as a squeezed 1.33:1 picture, something like the film image of a movie shot with an anamorphic lens. When you play the DVD on a widescreen television, the player unsqueezes it so that it fills the screen. When you play it on a conventional television, the player condenses it vertically and adds black bars at the top and bottom. DVD producers are already releasing movies on anamorphic DVDs, indicating they expect widescreen televisions to grow in popularity in the near future.
The histories of film and television have always been intertwined, and it's a good bet they will continue to influence each other in the future. Television images still lag behind film images in size and resolution, but they're getting bigger and clearer all the time, narrowing the gap (see How HDTV Works). These advances will probably decrease movie theater traffic, however, which may lead to another theater presentation revolution along the lines of the flood of widescreen movies that began in the 1950s and '60s. If this happens, video formatters will have to deal with a brand new group of formatting issues.
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