July 24, 2006
Many of you no doubt subscribe to one or more of the various premium HD channels, via cable or satellite and while I agree the more hi-def the better, some channels do a much better job at presenting the directors vision than others.
In my opinion altering the original aspect ratio of films is just as bad as colorization or editing out objectionable content by the broadcaster. The cinematographer’s original vision should be depicted on-screen, not some variation or adaptation of that vision.
At the risk of turning this into an original aspect ratio only lecture, I do have to mention some of the most common aspect ratios as they directly affect the rest of the post. By and large the two most common aspect ratios in use today are 1.85:1 and *2.35:1, obviously 1.85:1 fits into our 16:9 HDTV’s much easier than 2.35:1 (Cinemascope or Panavision)
Not surprisingly it’s those super-wide or scope films that are the crux of my problem with the premium HD channels. As mentioned the transition from 1.85:1 to 16:9 isn’t all that worrisome, while technically not correct it’s far from the annoying mess that cropping/squeezing a 2.35:1 film into a 16:9 frame creates.
Obviously (at least to me) the only proper way to achieve this is to letterbox the scope images into our 16:9 HD televisions, yes letterbox. I know some may loathe the very sight those black bars above and below your HDTV images but this is a simple matter of available virtual real-estate versus the films original aspect ratio.
It’s just not possible to squeeze a 2.35:1 image into a 16:9 field without cropping the sides, horizontally squeezing the image or some combination of the two. I’ve gone into this before so I won’t bore you with all those details again, my real point here was to illustrate the differences in how well certain HD channels are addressing the problem.
Take the image below for example; this shot of iRobot was taken from a recent airing on HBO HD. Notice the forward left robot in the shot, all we can really make out is its left arm, also notice the dark right-angled object in the far right, that’s actually Will Smith’s right shoulder.
Now compare the above shot to one I grabbed from the iRobot DVD in it’s original aspect ratio of 2:35.1. Instead of just the forward left robot’s right arm you can make out significantly more. Also take a look at the forward right robot, instead of just being able to make out its left shoulder you can now see the robots torso and head.
I picked this particular frame for its symmetry but the same pretty much goes for any shot in the film. Anytime two actors, background shot, or pertinent imagery are spread across the frame, you’re going to lose something in the extreme left and right corners.
Now I don’t want to single out HBO HD, all of the major pay subscription channels are guilty of this transgression from time to time, however some are worse than others. I understand that HBO is probably just catering to the ‘why do I still have black bars on my HDTV’ crowd and that’s fine, I recognize that some folks will always view this as somehow wrong. What I’d like to see however (and really expect from a pay channel) is an alternative.
Why not air both versions throughout the month, give us a choice, I don’t know maybe make every Thursday and Sunday Cinemascope nights. Or better yet just note the 2:35.1 airings on the website or program guide, that way everyone gets what they want.
Now if your like me and want as much original aspect ratio HD as you can get, I do have some good news. Both Showtime HD and The Movie Channel HD consistently offer more OAR programming than HBO, however as I’m sure you know, you rarely get the same programming across all three channels so this isn’t a failsafe alterative for all movies.
If this re-direction of your HD programming annoys you as much as it does me, then I encourage you to contact these premium programming providers and request fair time for OAR. After all the squeaky wheel gets the grease and this one is definitely squeaking.
*2.40:1 technicaly, I just haven’t completely broken myself of the 2.35:1 designation.
Posted by Bryan Greenway | | Filed Under HDTV Programming