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Home Theater Hacks by Brett McLaughlin

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Hack #13. Figure Out Aspect Ratios

This hack explains the difference between the 4:3, 16:9, and 1.85:1 aspect ratios. You'll learn what TV is best for you, why black bars are good, and how to make sure you get the "theater" in home theater.

Many first-time DVD buyers notice that DVDs are mostly in the widescreen or letterboxed format, which have black bars at the top and bottom, and they wonder why. The next time you go to your local movie theater, take a close look at the movie screen. You will find that modern movie theater screens are actually rectangular in shape (they are much wider than they are tall), as Figure 2-3 illustrates.

Directors shoot their movies in such a way that the shape of the finished picture is a rectangle. While you watch a movie in the theater, take note of how wide the movie picture is.

Now, when you get home, look closely at your TV set. Your TV set (if it's a standard TV) is basically a square (see Figure 2-4).

Typical movie screen aspect ratio

Figure 2-3. Typical movie screen aspect ratio

Typical TV screen aspect ratio

Figure 2-4. Typical TV screen aspect ratio

From the Big Screen to the Small Screen

To make the rectangular picture you saw at the movie theater fit in your square TV the studio uses one of three processes in preparing the DVD release.

Pan and scan

The studio cuts off the sides of the rectangular picture and ...

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