Wider Widescreen

May 1, 2006

wider wide screen - 2001

Why does it still have black bars? I thought this was widescreen? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this conversation with my customers. I don’t blame them in the slightest however, to the uninitiated 16:9, 1.78:1, anamorphic and 2.35:1 probably sound like a foreign language.

To defuse some of this confusion I generally begin by telling them that movies are shot in a variety of aspect ratios, two of the most common being 1.85:1 (Widescreen) and 2.35:1 (CinemaScope or Panavision) with 1.66:1 (European widescreen standard) occasionally thrown into the mix as well.

One thing all of the above aspect ratios have in common however is that none of them fit perfectly into our 1.78:1 (often referred to as 16:9) displays. This mis-match of source and display aspect ratios is why we have black bars of varying height above and below our beloved movie images.

Early on in the development of HDTV, manufacturers and broadcasters knew they would have to adopt a compromised aspect ratio that adequately fit these varying sources onto our screens. It was ultimately decided that 1.78:1 (also known as 16:9) would be that format. At the time those early HDTV pioneers decided that 16:9 was the best bridge between our standard 4:3 televisions and widescreen movies.

Now that HDTV and its 16:9 aspect ratio has filtered down to even the most mundane of programming, some of us are left wondering if 16:9 is really wide enough for accurate reproduction of those epic films shot in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Obviously 16:9 is here to stay, but some front projection owners have decided to take things into their own hands. That thing is called Constant Height display.

I suppose it could go by several names but whether you call it 2.35 front projection, CineWide, or home CinemaScope, the net result is the same; super-wide 2.35:1 aspect ratios presented in their full width with no annoying black bars above and below the image.

The most important difference with these constant height projection systems versus 16:9 based displays is that in selecting different aspect ratios only the image width is changed. The screen height remains the same thereby eliminating those annoying black bars.

An additional side benefit to 2.35 front projection is increased resolution. With the necessity to render those pesky black bars removed, the entire DMD or LCD panel in the projector is utilized to render video and not dead-space above and below the image.

Some of you might ask why didn’t manufactures adopt 2.35:1 as the HDTV aspect ratio and save us from those annoying bars? The short answer is the above mentioned easier transition from the 4:3 aspect ratio but there are other, costlier reasons as well.

Starting with the basics a 2.35:1 screen is wider, costs more to ship and is generally less than ideal for use with 4:3 and narrower widescreen formats. Add to this the scan converters sometimes necessary for ensuring proper image re-sizing and/or even the need for special anamorphic lenses and it’s easy to see how 16:9 became good enough.

2.35:1 constant height front projection systems:

Even with all the potential difficulties involved in setting up a 2.35:1 constant-height front projection system, some enthusiasts find the lure of properly formatted 2.35:1 images at home too hard to resist.

There are generally two methods for achieving a Cinema-Scope front projection system at home. One is a preconfigured off-the-shelf solution (Runco’s CineWide system comes to mind) with the second method being the use an anamorphic lens combined with a pre-existing video projector and the use of a scaler or DVD player with stretch-mode for handling the image stretch and re-sizing duties.

Even though the second method mentioned sounds more complicated than the first, it could be handled by most technically adept hobbyist and likely for less than the pre-configured option. My goal here wasn’t to get into a long drawn out parts-list of what’s necessary to achieve home CinemaScope but rather to share the basics and other sources of information I have with you on the subject.

Pre-configured systems:

Runco AdStarting with the pre-configured systems: Runco as I mentioned before offers a turn-key solution they call CineWide. Runco offers the CineWide option with several of their projectors however if your unfamiliar with Runco be prepared for a case of sticker shock, this probably wouldn’t be considered a ‘budget solution’ in many circles. Note: Vidikron (owned by Runco, also offers CineWide systems.

An example of Runco’s CineWide process can be seen in the illustration to the left.

From Runco’s CineWide page: “The video processor anamorphically “stretches” the 2.35:1 image vertically to completely fill the display’s imaging chips. This allows all pixels to be used.

The anamorphic lens then “stretches” the image width to 2.35:1. Correct geometry is restored, while 100% of the pixels are now used to maintain full resolution and eliminate black bars.”

Another front-projection company offering pre-configured 2.35:1 systems is Digital Projection, which offers an anamorphic lens for their Mercury and dVision projectors. But I’m afraid this one also falls into the ‘if you have to ask’ category of pricing.

The last pre-packaged 2.35:1 front projection solution I’m aware of comes from Sim2, who have recently begun bundling their popular CX3 projectors with an anamorphic lens. Although it hasn’t been specifically mentioned, Sim2’s Grand Cinema HT3000 1080p DLP projector, could likely be paired with a anamorphic lens as well. 1080p resolution combined with a true 2.35:1 aspect ratio sounds like home cinema nirvana to me.

I’m not a Sim2 dealer so I don’t have access to their pricing, but the standard CX3 lists in the 17k range and of course the anamorphic lens option would add to this price.

Again these three ‘pre-configured’ options listed above are only the ones I’m aware of at the moment; however I wouldn’t be surprised if other manufacturers see the light and begin offering super-wide solutions of their own.

Moving onto ‘kit’ or add-on 2.35:1 front projection solutions:

If you’re interested in turning your front-projection based home theater into a CinemScope movie-palace but you aren’t necessarily looking to replace your current projector, Prismasonic offers high quality all-in-one kits that contain anamorphic lenses. The lens assemblies are offered with either manual or remote control

Basically if you’re watching anything other than 2.35:1 source material you leave the lens in pass-through mode, alternatively if you’re watching 2.35:1soruce material, select the stretch mode to view the source material in its proper aspect ratio and without formatting bars.

The Prismasonic system requires the ability to ‘stretch’ the video vertically and then the lens handles the horizontal stretch. This is handled by either a DVD player with stretch-mode capabilities or a video scaler with similar functions. Obviously the scaler would be a more universal solution as it could be used with broadcast signals as well as DVD source material.

Prismasonic’s website is an excellent resource of information for converting your 16:9 projector into a 2.35:1 capable device. A couple of areas of interest include an illustrative why anamorphic explanation, overall system specifications, compatible projectors and a before and after screen size calculator.

Summary:

Are these wider widescreen systems for everyone? No, if your comfortable with the occasional formatting bars on your 16:9 screen or aren’t quite ready for the tinkering involved with properly setting up and calibrating a 2.35:1 front projection system, then my personal inclination would be to steer you away from such a set-up.

However if you want to view 2.35:1 source material the way it was meant to be seen and are comfortable the idea of installing the anamorphic lens assembly or purchasing one of the aforementioned off-the-shelf solutions, then your ready for a whole new home theater experience.



Posted by Bryan Greenway | | Filed Under Home Theater Projectors


Comments

  • Tinker

    Dumb question? Is the 2.35:1 projected image supposed to be seen on 16:9 screens or does it require a new screen dimension?

  • Tinker

    Dumb question? Is the 2.35:1 projected image supposed to be seen on 16:9 screens or does it require a new screen dimension?

  • Kelsci

    Some years back, video magazine had a drawing of the various aspect ratios in the form of various rectangles one aspect ratio over the others. It demonstrated why the 1:78 to 1 ratio was chosen. I was stupid not to save that article in not realizing how important a topic this would become.

  • Kelsci

    Some years back, video magazine had a drawing of the various aspect ratios in the form of various rectangles one aspect ratio over the others. It demonstrated why the 1:78 to 1 ratio was chosen. I was stupid not to save that article in not realizing how important a topic this would become.

  • B.Greenway

    I knew I was forgetting something when I wrote this!

    http://www.panamorph.com/

    Another anamorphic len’s supplier.

  • B.Greenway

    I knew I was forgetting something when I wrote this!

    http://www.panamorph.com/

    Another anamorphic len’s supplier.

  • B.Greenway

    Hi tribster,

    Sure you can stretch 4:3 source material to fit into a 16:9 display but this destroys the original aspect ratio thereby making it something I’d never want to view. But sure its always an option I guess.

    However, there is no other way to properly format 2.35:1 source material into a 16:9 display without introducing formatting bars, at least not one that maintains the original aspect ratio.

    Just to be clear, the article is about properly displaying 2.35:1 source material, not just the removal of the formatting bars. It’s just a simple matter of display real-estate, 16:9 is simply to narrow to display 2.35:1 source material at full screen height.

  • B.Greenway

    Hi tribster,

    Sure you can stretch 4:3 source material to fit into a 16:9 display but this destroys the original aspect ratio thereby making it something I’d never want to view. But sure its always an option I guess.

    However, there is no other way to properly format 2.35:1 source material into a 16:9 display without introducing formatting bars, at least not one that maintains the original aspect ratio.

    Just to be clear, the article is about properly displaying 2.35:1 source material, not just the removal of the formatting bars. It’s just a simple matter of display real-estate, 16:9 is simply to narrow to display 2.35:1 source material at full screen height.

  • tribster

    There is a way around this problem Kind of-A Projector with adjusting properly(HDTV or Standard).

  • tribster

    There is a way around this problem Kind of-A Projector with adjusting properly(HDTV or Standard).