While traveling on my summer holidays, I visited some folks who had bought large screen TVs. Since I still am hanging on to my old 21 inch Sony, I had a chance to learn a few things about these new (and expensive) toys.

First of all, some people with big screen TVs think they are automatically getting an HDTV image. But at least some are in the know enough to realize they have to get a special box for HD signals from satellite or cable and pay extra for the few available channels with limited scheduling. I saw some Olympic events on HD and it was quite impressive - images which would motivate people to purchase a wide screen TV. But the Olympic programming was not up to date and limited to certain events. NBC kept running an impressive sequence of aerials of Greece as a trailer / filler. Of course, no one can rent HD movies yet, so the potential of enjoying HD is severely limited until things get moving towards a more complete HD distribution.

But my main concern relating to my cinematographer’s craft was the 4x3 pictures coming from all the other channels. The NTSC pictures are blown up way too much by these 50 to 70 inch screens. I would think that viewers should at least set the screen up for 4x3 with bars on the side, but when I mentioned that to them - they didn’t get the picture - ordinary viewers have a lot of problems with the concept of screen formats - they just feel cheated when they see extra black bars. So, they use the 4x3 expanded option to fill the screen they paid so much for. This results in extra top and bottom cutoff and stretched images that make the actors instantly gain a lot of extra weight. Some sets have an different expanded setting which keeps the center area normal and expands the edges only, which gives a weird fish eye effect on pans. Not only do viewers want to fill the screen, but some have been told by installers or instruction manuals that they should not use any setting which shows black bars because the screens will memorize the edge line - so why bother offering that option?! Even on letterboxed DVDs (or broadcast letterbox shows) viewers want to eliminate the top and bottom borders, so they use a 4x3 blow up setting, which of course cuts the sides and blows up NTSC even more.

So all this means that big screen viewers are looking at Standard Def pictures blown up beyond resolution limits and with much more cutoff than was ever intended! This phenomenon will be around for awhile I fear - it’s something we never had with regular TVs - viewers could never play around with the framing as much before. These new TVs offer too much abuse of our carefully composed pictures! From now on, better set your safe action at 70% or less!

Richard Stringer CSC


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