R.A. Stringer csc
Movie theaters have been projecting widescreen images
since "The Robe" was
released in CinemaScope in 1953. Now widescreen
television is fast becoming a reality. All over
the world, various standards are being set for interim
and subsequent widescreen systems. For producers,
it is essential to consider shooting for widescreen
TV today to insure viability of their programming
for the future. Here are some examples of advancing
television technology in North America:
1. Even now, "improved definition" widescreen
television sets, initially designed for viewing
wide format movies, are available for home use.
2. True High Definition TV 16:9 format television
sets could be available to consumers as early as
1995. Already, HDTV projection systems are in limited
3. Interim widescreen systems using present NTSC
standards are being developed to soften the transition
the regular and wide screen frame aspect ratios?
Present TV screen - 1.33 (4:3)
16mm academy - 1.37
35mm academy - 1.38
Super 16mm - 1.67
Future HDTV standard - 1.77 (16:9)
Standard theatrical wide screen - 1.85
65mm academy - 2.29
Anamorphic (CinemaScope) - 2.36
day consumer marketing:
Thomson Electronics, JVC, Philips, and Panasonic
are introducing 16:9 widescreen televisions with
complex and diversified features to allow consumers
to experience theater-style TV in their homes. These
new models, costing over five thousand dollars,
simply scan more horizontal information from side
to side but still use 525 lines of vertical information.
They use digital circuitry to blow up the picture
until it fills the screen vertically and thereby
eliminate the black bars on letterboxed theatrical
movies. The blow up is enhanced by integral line
doublers combined with converters which upgrade
interlaced line scanning to progressive scanning.
Laser disc players give the best image for this
magnified viewing mode. There is another feature
which stretches the image over the widescreen, as
with anamorphic film projection, which is very effective
if combined with a video source incorporating a
squeezed image. 16:9 home video camcorders, using
digital squeezing or letterboxing, have been available
for a while.
These advanced sets have many other options - dual
tuners, picture in picture, picture outside picture,
or split-screen with two 1.33 pictures on each side.
The Dolby audio system allows for external speakers
to create surround sound. These sets are also "HDTV
ready" with inputs for future tuners, but they
will never deliver true HDTV quality.
These TVs, even though they are expensive options
now, illustrate the leading edge of consumer and
manufacturer interest in wide format systems. As
written in the May 93 issue of Video Magazine: "Thomson's
marketing research revealed that consumers consider
the wide screen a much more noticeable improvement
than the higher resolution of HDTV".
High Definition TV:
HDTV is a technology that offers twice the vertical
and twice the horizontal resolution of present systems,
uses a 16:9 picture format, and delivers state of
the art digital sound reproduction. It is also planned
to be compatible with computer technology and offer
interactive viewer participation and pay-TV applications.
In May 1993, the major competitors in the FCC HDTV
standards race joined forces to settle on a single
North American system and hope to have it prepared
by mid-1994. As written in Video Magazine, August
93: "This unity of purpose has never before
existed in the long, quarter-century slog to devise
an advanced TV signal that everyone can watch, listen
to, use, and enjoy". This alliance helps avoid
conflict on manufacturing licensing, legal inter-bickering
challenges, as well as the choice of the actual
system itself. The alliance wants to begin High
Definition TV transmissions in time for the 1996
Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
There was concern that broadcast transmission problems
would slow domestic HDTV development. But satellite
and digital compression technology are overcoming
these signal problems. Broadcasters who agree to
transmit HDTV within five years from start-up, will
be assigned a second channel to send out HDTV signals,
while maintaining their existing channel. HDTV is
presently broadcast in Japan using analog signals
, but it looks like it will be upgraded to digital
sometime in the future.
16:9 widescreen systems:
When HDTV standards are finally approved by the
FCC and become available to consumers, a big factor
influencing HDTV development will be the expense
of new production and broadcast equipment. As it
exists now, HDTV costs are five times more than
existing NTSC equipment. Only the big networks will
be able to afford a rapid switch to HDTV.
A realistic option to help with the transition to
HDTV will be widescreen products that tie into present
standards. That's where "advanced definition"
525 line digital component widescreen, similar to
the consumer TV technology mentioned earlier, and
switchable (4:3 or 16:9) video cameras will become
a viable production alternative over the next 10
years while HDTV comes on line. Producers will be
able to package widescreen shows in a more economical
525 line component format, and by using converter
technology, broadcast that format over the new HDTV
channels. Sony's research claims there is little
perceptible difference between the 525 line component
format and HDTV for sets under 40 inches. This widescreen
format can be edited using present component systems
(the images will be squeezed), although use of digital
editing equipment helps maintain the resolution
of the wide image. In Europe, "PAL Plus"
is a similar widescreen system which incorporates
present PAL standards into European HDTV development.
The bottom line, especially for cynics who believe
consumer acceptance of HDTV is years away, is that
these interim options will help make widescreen
television a reality much sooner than expected.
It's obvious that 525 line 16:9 televisions
will compete with more expensive HDTV sets for a
525 line component widescreen test productions are
underway now. When it comes to corporate videos,
or on any presentations where your screening facility
is controlled, such widescreen product is a extremely
workable, affordable option.
Widescreen TV works best with a large image. Wide
format projection systems, both HDTV and improved
definition NTSC, are available now. Because of their
new technology and small market, projectors dedicated
to HDTV can cost as much as $100,000. But Sony manufactures
a versatile projector in the $18,000 price range
which adapts to any format, including 525 line widescreen,
HDTV, and computer data. The large image from this
unit is quite impressive, but one limitation is
screen brightness. Back projected, one-piece units
provide improved brightness but the screen is smaller.
These systems will have an effect on many audience
environments, from corporate screenings to laser
disc Expo presentations.
Initially, a HDTV camera will be an expensive item
for smaller TV stations and independent producers.
So this is why manufacturers like BTS and Sony are
working on 525 line widescreen cameras which have
the flexibility to shoot in either 4:3 or 16:9.
BTS has already sold 45 "PAL Plus" cameras
in Europe and will have cameras available in North
America by June 94. Sony is introducing a 16:9 CCD
(switchable to 4:3) with its BVP 90 cameras and
upgrades would be available for present BVP 90s.
The CCD block has a wide format chip which utilizes
the same lens image area as present cameras. The
4:3 image is simply selected from the center area
(75%) of the 16:9 chip. This means when you switch
to 4:3, the image is significantly smaller than
existing cameras, but Sony claims the increased
quality of the BVP 90 helps overcome this limitation.
Another problem is when you switch to the smaller
4:3 image, lenses effectively become more telephoto
and to offset that you would have to add an optical
adapter. Upgrades to 16:9 CCDs will not be available
on Betacam cameras made before the BVP 90, but an
interesting alternative is to use an anamorphic
lens which squeezes the image onto the 4:3 chip.
Basically, the squeezed image becomes compatible
with the 525 line widescreen system. Angenieux has
these lenses available, but they are twice the cost
of a normal lens and are heavier, however they might
be an good option for rental companies. These lenses
would allow rental houses to offer 16:9 product
with their present camera inventory. The disadvantage
when you choose to shoot 16:9 video is that you're
locked into that format, or suffer a quality loss
if you want a 4:3 image later on. Widescreen video
cameras involve some compromise - there is no perfect
solution. But if you insist on shooting videotape,
525 line component widescreen cameras will be much
more realistic than HDTV cameras for several years.
What role with motion picture film play in this
Existing film cameras have the ability to shoot
widescreen footage which can be scanned to any video
format, either for present standards or the future.
Film has an excellent contrast range and is still
very popular for many television applications today.
At present, film is more expensive than tape, but
the price difference will be influenced by new video
equipment costs. Even for producers and networks
who presently shoot on videotape, originating on
film might be a realistic option while they wait
for industry standards to stabilize or if they're
looking for an alternative to widescreen video camera
When you take your widescreen film negative into
post-production, you can choose the video format
to suit the distribution demands or the latest technology.
You can scan center 1.33 for conventional release,
or a widescreen letter box format, or re-release
later in any upcoming systems, including HDTV. There
are scanners available now to transfer film to NTSC
525 line widescreen and even a few machines that
can transfer to a preliminary HDTV format.
How should producers shoot film for future widescreen
There are several film options for widescreen. Some
of the common examples are: Standard 35mm 1.85 which
uses 57% of the full 35mm aperture (because it is
a rectangle in a square frame), Super 35mm 1.85
which utilizes the sound track area for more space
and uses 67% of full aperture, or Super 16mm which
also uses the sound track area and is about 21%
larger than regular 16mm. With film, especially
35mm, you can actually choose your ground glass
aspect ratio as you please. You simply shoot priority
framing for 1.33 (TV safe) but protect (keep image
clear of lights, etc.) for 1.67, 1.85, or 1.77.
This is similar to the framing compromise on 35mm
features (1.85 versus TV cutoff).
Super 16mm was originally designed for blow up to
35mm theatrical release (Company Of Strangers).
There is a quality loss with the blow up, but when
scanned to widescreen TV, Super 16mm quality will
hold up well (as with the present 35/16 video transfer
The NFB, National Geographic, Disney, and Warner
Bros. are a few examples of producers presently
shooting on film and protecting for the widescreen
format. "Destiny Ridge", produced by Atlantis
and Great North was shot in Super 16. "Kung
Fu" was shot on Super 35mm and transferred
to tape at Magnetic North in Toronto. Both these
shows are being released in 1.33 for now.
Will shooting widescreen
When the last significant television evolution -
color - was introduced, producers had to deal with
substantial increased costs. Certainly 16:9 video
cameras will add additional costs, no matter what
system you use. But Super 16mm or 35mm widescreen
production costs are virtually the same as present
TV productions originating on film. Factors like
set design and lighting will be slightly effected.
Scanner systems can handle 35mm widescreen and are
now available for Super 16mm, even with pan and
scan features. Transfer rates at Medallion-PFA in
Toronto are the same as regular 16mm. The cost of
Super 16 (stock and process) is approximately 70%
less than 35mm. With Super 16mm you also have a
built in theatrical release blow up potential at
This is an exciting time in television history.
New products and concepts catering to widescreen
television will be introduced at NAB in late March.
Widescreen television will not only broaden the
horizons for producers and broadcasters, but it
will change the shape of television on millions
of TV screens around the world.