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November 20, 2009 8:52 PM   Subscribe

How can I get a DVD movie to fill (at least one axis of) my screen without compromising the picture quality?

Two years ago we were given a Samsung HDTV, something like 32 inches wide. In the settings, we generally have "Size" set to Just Scan. For normal TV or the HD channels, this works fine. For movies however, there's a problem.

Mrs. RahneFan and I are two different kinds of grumps. I won't watch anything visually intense if the picture quality is sabotaged by intentional distortion of the picture. A circle must be a true circle and the human body must have correct proportions. Details meant to impress me are things I don't want to miss. And nothing should be cropped. Conversely, detail, proportion, and seeing something as it was intended to be seen do not matter much to her, but she hates the so-called black bars probably more than your grandmother does.

Movies on cable channels only display undistorted if we change the resolution to 4:3 instead of Just Scan. So we flip back and forth for that, not a problem usually. But...

DVDs, when the TV is set to Just Scan, display in lovely, crisp detail, but do not fill our screen; the black borders she despises appear above, below, and on both sides. I see the movie, not the black, but like her, I would rather it filled our screen on at least one axis or the other. We have GOBS of space on all four sides, so why can't it be bigger?

The player is a Pioneer, don't even remember how old it is.

The only other options that appear available are 16:9 (unacceptable stretching), Zoom 1, and Zoom 2. Zoom 1 and Zoom 2 are both blurry and crop the movie on all four sides. For example, parts of DVD menus don't even appear onscreen at those settings.

Is there some way to maintain the clarity and detail of a DVD and have it large enough to fill our screen on at least one axis, without stretching or cropping the picture? Some way to make it automatically enlarge whatever is playing, regardless of aspect ratio, until it touches either the vertical or horizontal edge of the screen?

I am aware that movies can be shot in a wide variety of aspect ratios, and that DVDs can be edited with hard matting etc. Will it require knowing exactly what every movie's aspect ratio is and whether or not it has been matted and how, and relearning all this crap every time, and making some odd specific combination of settings to get it right? Shouldn't the technology be smart enough to do this on its own by now?
posted by rahnefan to Technology (16 answers total)
Giving the actual model numbers of the DVD player and TV you're using would really help people help you.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 8:57 PM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

It's probably time to just upgrade and buy an upscaling DVD player. They're easily had for under $100, and the quality on and HDTV is pretty much indistinguishable from a Blu-Ray disc, for the normal viewer.
posted by sanka at 8:59 PM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

(but yes, unfortunately, aspect ratios are something we don't seem very good at: see, for instance, old 4:3 movies projected at wider ratios because it's more "cinematic")
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 9:00 PM on November 20, 2009

Response by poster: sanka, would a Blu-ray player do the same thing, if we go that route?
posted by rahnefan at 9:17 PM on November 20, 2009

You'd need blu-ray discs then. The beauty about an upscaling DVD player is that it formats your DVDs into 1080p. It's not perfect, but it's a hell of a lot better than what you're dealing with. Also I don't think the price of a Blu-Ray disc is worth it, considering your normal DVD's will upgrade so well. I think that's a real reason why Blu-Ray is dying as a format.
posted by sanka at 9:21 PM on November 20, 2009

Blu-Ray players upscale normal DVDs.
posted by zsazsa at 9:39 PM on November 20, 2009

But you have to pay $200 minimum for a Blu-Ray player.
posted by sanka at 9:41 PM on November 20, 2009

"You'd need blu-ray discs then."

Not so fast. Most, if not all Blu-Ray players will upscale your DVD's as well. If you are not really concerned with going the cheapest possible route, then Blu-Ray is the safest bet. It will upscale your DVD collection and be future safe (for the time being).

Another thing you might want to consider about your current setup is what kind of cable you are using to get the video signal from your DVD player to your TV....

Does your DVD player have composite video out (BLUE/RED/GREEN)? If it does, and you are not already using it, it *might* get more pixels to your TV instead of the single yellow video cable you might be using.
posted by TheAnswer at 9:43 PM on November 20, 2009

This is confusing, but part of the problem seems to be about aspect ratios.

Baffleingly, many tv stations still insist on brutalizing films by showing them in 4:3. To me this is just as unconscionable as an art museum exhibiting paintings with huge chunks sawed off the left and right, but this is what we're dealing with. And if you're not careful, you can even buy a "full frame" 4:3 DVD. (if you are buying these, please please stop immediately!!)

So if the image is in 4:3, you can't watch it in 16:9 without stretching or cropping. Lame.

However hopefully most of your DVDs should be 16:9, so you can watch them in that aspect ratio. And some channels like HBO (non-HD) will broadcast some of their programming with black bars on the top and bottom to create 16:9. For these shows, I use "zoom 2," which zooms the black bars off the screen and makes the picture fill my tv. Maybe the quality degrades a little, but it's not noticeable to me.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:00 PM on November 20, 2009

Best answer: Have you told your dvd player it's now hooked up to a 16:9 tv? There should be a setting for that in the dvd player's menus.

What *should* happen if you have your dvd player set to 16:9 is that it should read the aspect ratio flag. For stuff that's 16:9 anamorphic (or wider) it should pick that up and display a 16:9 image. For a movie wider than 16:9, this will include black bars at the top and bottom but it should stretch from side to side. For stuff that's 4:3, it should read that and display it in 4:3 with bars on the sides. The only time it should display with black bars on all sides (windowboxing) is for those relatively rare dvds that are widescreen but not anamorphic -- the original discs of The Abyss and The Thing were like this; I can't think of others offhand.

If your player doesn't have these options in its menus, or won't read the anamorphic flags correctly, then just get a new one. They're practically free at this point.

Looking at the other responses, yes, you might well have to use component outputs to get the dvd player's aspect ratio set properly. If your player doesn't have component out, just get a new one.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:36 PM on November 20, 2009

I have a Samsung TV. It's not yours, but it has Zoom1 and Zoom2, and one of them was actually dead on for this (the other one was shit). Don't use the title screen to test since those may not be letterboxed like the movie.

Do you have an xbox 360? It plays DVDs well, and has a zoom you can increase click by click until you're happy.
posted by fleacircus at 11:39 PM on November 20, 2009

I'm going to go against the crowd and say it's your TV. If the picture isn't filling one of the axes (without zoom), its not handling the inputs properly. Have you tried another input such as composite/svideo/component?

You should never see black bars all around except for the occasional 4:3 commercial fitted to widescreen in 4:3 (if that makes any sense).

FWIW, I have a Panasonic and I have it always set to "just"
posted by wongcorgi at 12:28 AM on November 21, 2009

But you have to pay $200 minimum for a Blu-Ray player.

Far from true -- you can get an LG BD370 right now on Amazon for $150. Walmart carries several in the same price range. FWIW, it's worth every penny to upgrade. Upscaling DVDs will look great, and Blu-Ray discs will look incredible.
posted by puritycontrol at 6:45 AM on November 21, 2009

Best answer: You have black bars on all four sides? Your DVD player is setup incorrectly.

Go into your DVD player settings and tell it that you have a widescreen, or 16:9 TV. Then it will fill the screen horizontally.
posted by Mwongozi at 3:49 PM on November 21, 2009

Best answer: Late to the party, but what ROU_Xenophobe and Mwongozi said. Change the setting on your DVD player to Widescreen (all DVD players should have this option, somewhere), set your TV to whatever setting fills the screen (presumably the "16:9" mode), and you should be set.

If you find this works for some movies and not others, it's because not all DVDs are properly widescreen (this is the case with a lot of older discs).
posted by neckro23 at 10:51 PM on November 21, 2009

Response by poster: Yup, that worked for most movies.

Swear to Cthulhu, she still wants to stretch DVDs of old TV shows (4:3)!! Ain't no remedy for that.
posted by rahnefan at 8:09 AM on November 26, 2009

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