Avi Greengart is an expert on the convergence of technology and entertainment. Avi understands TV, video, audio, computing, and wireless, how all these are coming together, and which technologies are likely to survive long enough to make a difference in your life. In his weekly column, Avi answers your questions, does your product research, and provides free advice.
How Enhanced Are "Enhanced for Widescreen TV" DVDs?
Question: How much better do
anamorphic dvd's look on a widescreen TV that enables
AskAvi responds: (November, 2001)
First, let's explain what we're talking about. Anamorphic refers to a type of lens used to shoot widescreen images onto regular film - it optically squeezes the image to fit all the wide image information into the square film cell. Then, in the theater (the type of theater that has gum on the floor), a reverse anamorphic lens is placed over the projector, unsqueezing the image.
DVDs can't technically be called anamorphic - there's no lens! - but something similar can be done. As you'd expect, a regular DVD with a widescreen movie on it has the information for each frame of the film. Since every frame of the movie includes black bars on top and bottom, that's stored too. Play this on a regular TV, and all is fine - black bars and all. Play this on a widescreen TV, and you'll want to use the "zoom" mode, which zooms in on the middle information, more closely matching the rectangular shape of the movie with the rectangular shape of the TV, and cropping the black bars somewhat. Zooming in on the picture magnifies everything in the picture, so it can be just a little bit fuzzy (especially if you're using a front projector on a large screen).
However, the DVD people were pretty clever, and ensured that every DVD player can paint the black bars all by itself. This way, the DVD disc doesn't have to store the black bars. Instead, it can use that space to store extra image information, similar in concept to the way an anamorphic optical lens gets extra widescreen information onto a square piece of film stock. DVD discs recorded this way are called "enhanced for widescreen TVs," or "enhanced for 16x9 TVs," or "anamorphic." Most DVDs nowadays are enhanced for widescreen TVs, and some studios are even revisiting previously released widescreen titles, remastering them, and re-releasing them as enhanced for widescreen TVs. (They usually also add an interview or commentary, call it a "special edition," and charge you more to buy it a second time.) Play one of these on a regular TV, and, if you set up your DVD player correctly, the player draws the black lines on top and bottom. The extra picture information is not used. Set up your DVD player incorrectly, and you won't have black bars on top and bottom - but you'll have a fun house picture where everyone looks tall and skinny. All widescreen TVs can unsmoosh the image, keeping all the extra detail. Some do this automatically, some require you to engage the "full" mode.
So, back to our question. How much better is it? About 33% better. That's how
much extra resolution is on a disc enhanced for widescreen TVs. Of course, your
mileage may vary based on how good your TV set is, how far away you sit, etc.
But in general, the difference is highly visible even to a casual viewer.
Rear projection 16x9 sets start at $2000 for a (really superb) 40" Toshiba. You can get 27" or 32" direct view 4x3 sets from Sony (their XBR line) starting at $1300. You'll even see the added resolution there, but the picture is pretty small. Larger rear projection 4x3 sets with anamorphic squeeze are available from Sony (their HS series) starting at $2500 (for a 53" set), and Toshiba for just a bit more than that (for a 55" set). The Sony sets give you the biggest bang for buck if you plan on watching a lot of traditional TV and want the larger screen size (typically, for sports). DLP and LCD front projectors start at $3500 or so (plus at least another $200 - 300 for the screen). They enable the largest screen sizes (up to several feet across), providing the most visual impact for movies.
*...on tube-based sets, including most rear projection TVs. You can get front projectors that use fixed pixel technologies (LCD, DLP, or D-ILA) in a 4x3 configuration that also have an enhanced widescreen mode - they simply unsqueeze the image electronically before mapping it to the pixels in the center of the display.
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© 2001, 2002 Avi Greengart