What Aspect Don't You Understand?

Our good buddy, Pete Pachal, over at DVICE, makes a good point. In spite of technological prowess coming out the wazoo everywhere else, television companies just can't seem to figure out aspect ratios. Back in the day, it was pretty simple. When Thomas Edison was developing the motion picture camera, he had to figure out what configuration a frame should be. After a moment's thought, he decided that 1-inch by 3/4-inch would look about right. And so 4:3 was born. Then things promptly went downhill with a zillion different film aspect ratios. As Pete points out, our browsers can resize web sites when we change window sizes, and iPhones can resize photos when turned 90 degrees, but TVs always seem to look crappy. In particular, the whole 4:3 and 16:9 is screwy. 

Pete suggests three primary reasons . . .

1: TV Equipment is Stupid. There are lots of different aspect ratios out there and there is no system-wide way to keep it all straight through the signal path. When a player outputs a video signal, it hasn't the faintest idea what the screen's aspect ratio is. You, the human viewer, need to do that.

2: Companies are Lazy. It's one of those nagging problems that can be solved, but how would you market it? In other words, would it sell more TV's? It's easier to just shrug and give a "what are you gonna do?" look. A TV that automatically stretches 4:3 internet streaming to 16:9? Hey, what are you gonna do?

3: People Don't Know Any Better. A few black bars, a little stretching - no biggie. If you can see the football and the goal line, it's all good. Sad, but absolutely true.

The Solution. Well, frankly, there's not much we can do about No. 3, so that leaves it to No. 1 and No. 2. As Pete says, with smarter TVs, and easier user control, the problem would be solved. If you want to work on No. 3, be my guest. -Leslie Shapiro

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