DVDs play in 4:3 aspect ratio on new digital TV
April 8, 2010 6:32 PM   Subscribe

When I play DVDs on my new digital TV, they still show up in the old 4:3 aspect ratio. What is the best way to change this?

I live in the USA and have a new digital television set. I also have a new DVD player.

When I watch DVDs on the set, they show up in the old 4:3 aspect ratio, so I have black bands on the left and right sides of my screen. This is true even with newer DVDs, such as Mad Men Season 1, which apparently was shot in 16:9.

One way I have found to fix this to change the settings on the TV. I can press a "format" button on the remote and change it to "JUST" (presumably "justified") and apparently this stretches out the picture so the black bands are gone.

What I am wondering is: if the DVD was shot 16:9, why does it come up 4:3 on my TV? Is there some way to adjust the DVD player? (If there is, I can't find it.) Is DVD only capable of 4:3? Does the method of connecting the DVD to the TV matter? (I am using "composite" output, with the Y-Pb-Pr 3-part RCA cable.) Would using the HDMI output help?

Is this like the old VHS movies where the studio would "pan and scan" the movie to fit it in 4:3? If that's the case then using the "format" button on my TV is only distorting the picture.

My discs come from Netflix, if that matters.

I am not terribly interested in getting a Bluray, but I suppose I will if it's the best way to enjoy the set. I know the DVD is relatively low-resolution and I must admit that the new digital HDTV does look good.
posted by massysett to Technology (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I always have to adjust the ratio for DVDs and some shows on my HDTV, depending on the channel. There's a button for this on TV remote control. My TV is a few years old, but I thought that was pretty standard.
posted by something something at 6:41 PM on April 8, 2010

The setting you actually need to change is on your DVD player. You need to tell it that the shape of your TV is "Widescreen" or "16:9".
posted by Mwongozi at 6:43 PM on April 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

If it's shot in 16:9 and shows up in 4:3 on your TV, it should look VERY distorted. If it doesn't look distorted (the people are not stretched out, for example) then the disc itself is actually 4:3. You need to look at the discs and make sure they are the original widescreen version and not 4:3 "formatted to fit" old TVs. Also note that not all movies are shot in 16:9. Some are in an even wider aspect ratio (I think it's 2.35:1), so even with a 16:9 TV you will still get bars at the top and bottom.
posted by buckaroo_benzai at 7:09 PM on April 8, 2010

First, make sure it's actually a Widescreen DVD (not Fullscreen). It'll say on the box, usually the back, down near the bottom, in a long narrow rectangle. Many newer DVDs are both Widescreen (16:9) and Fullscreen (4:3); in that case, to select the right one you either have to flip the disc to the correct side or select it from the DVD menu's Settings page.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:35 PM on April 8, 2010

How are you connecting the dvd player to the hdtv?

If you're connecting it with component cables (3 RCA cables, red green and blue) or hdmi (a single cable with a flat connector that looks sort of like a USB cable), then all you should need to do is tell your dvd player that it's connected to a 16:9 tv. After that, it should send appropriate signals so that your tv knows it's getting a 16:9 signal.

If you're connecting it with an svideo cable (single cable with a round connector with several pins inside) or composite (single RCA cable), then don't do that. To get remotely the best out of your dvd player and tv, connect it with component or, preferably, hdmi. Component and hdmi cables are both dirt cheap over the internet (newegg, monoprice) and stupidly expensive at Best Buy etc.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:46 PM on April 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sys Rq: "Many newer DVDs are both Widescreen (16:9) and Fullscreen (4:3); in that case, to select the right one you either have to flip the disc to the correct side or select it from the DVD menu's Settings page."

Really? Fullscreen crops and flipperdiscs? Still?

You Americans are a very strange people…

(I remember years ago sitting boggled-eyed, reading the pages upon pages of blog and forum posts full of primarily Americans complaining about how their DVD viewing experience was ruined by black bars at the top and bottom of the screen. It was then that I learned that a) the people mastering discs for the American market were stupid 'cos you can just chuck an anamorphic widescreen version on disk and configure it so that you let the end-user deal with how they wanted to play it, b) people were too dumb to set their player to their preference of either letterbox or centre-cut the image, and c) some people were angry about having their viewing experience ruined by being able to see the whole picture as the DP & director intended.

A bit later I learned about the pan-and-scan vectors that can be stored in a DVD .VOB, allowing even 4:3 TVs to track action across the screen on widescreen DVDs. I think in my whole life I've seen 1 disc mastered that way.

Then, 10 years ago, digital TV started here in Australia - and we saw advertising agencies deliver widescreen ads matted into a 4:3 screen, which then themselves had black bars added to the sides to fit into the mandatory 16:9 broadcast. 'Postage-stamping' we called it. That was when I had a little cry, and gave up caring…

Nowadays, I don't even mention it when I see people watching tall skinny actors on their 4:3 set or short fat actors on their new widescreen TV. I even have a friend who thinks the picture on my widescreen set is 'wrong' just because everybody looks normal…)

posted by Pinback at 1:17 AM on April 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

Dvds and bluray discs will still have black borders on the top and bottoms because they are in a different aspect ration then hdtv's
posted by majortom1981 at 5:16 AM on April 9, 2010

The answer you want is Mwongozi's. DVD players have a setting to tell it if your TV is 4:3 or 16:9.
posted by dforemsky at 6:02 AM on April 9, 2010

Pinback, I think the reason nobody used the built-in pan-and-scan feature in the DVD authoring process is because in tests there were many DVD players on the market, presumably including big-name brands whose engineering teams should have known better, that didn't have the video-processing power to keep up. A shame, really.
posted by Joey Bagels at 6:42 AM on April 9, 2010

Some DVDs are in full-frame (although I almost never get them from Netflix any more - I have only had one in the last 3-4 years that I can recall).

DVD players should have a setting to tell it what kind of TV you have. You need to check this and change it to widescreen.

TV might have an input setting to tell it how to handle incoming video - either to display it letterboxed at 4:3, stretch it to fill the screen, or zoom in to fit the width while cutting off the top and bottom. I use the display setting on the remote to switch between these settings, but generally leave the TV to letterbox things on its own. When watching a DVD or an HD channel, I leave it at full resolution; depending on the source this means it's either full-screen (HD TV and 16:9 movies) or letterboxed (top and bottom for movies wider than 16:9 screen, or on the side for standard definition broadcasts). When watching something on TV that is 16:9 formatted but broadcast in standard definition, I change to the setting which zooms and cuts off the top and bottom, to keep the aspect ratio normal for my TV and remove the black letterbox bars that were added by the broadcaster. I don't use the "stretch" setting for anything, because I'd rather have the letterbox bars on the side of the screen than watch things distorted in weird ways.

If you are running video through a receiver you may need to check settings there as well...
posted by caution live frogs at 8:57 AM on April 9, 2010

I just bought an HDMI cable from monoprice.com for $11 including shipping. It solved all my problems.

The DVD player does have a setting for the aspect ratio of the TV. This was already correctly set to 16:9. It also has a setting for what to do with 4:3 DVDs. It can stretch them out on the x-axis, or it can just leave them as is and put black bars on the left and right side.

With the HDMI cable the picture fills up the screen entirely with 1.78:1 DVDs (like "Big Love") and fills up the x-axis leaving black bars on the top and bottom with 2.35:1 DVDs (like "American Beauty.") If the setting for 4:3 DVDs is set to "Normal" rather than "Full," it will play these at 4:3, filling up the y-axis and leaving black bars on the left and right (like "House of Cards.")

This is a Panasonic 720p 32" TV and a Sony DVD player. The DVD player also does upconversion. Apparently the upconversion works only with the HDMI cable.

I am not sure how much the TV is responsible for resizing the picture, as opposed to the DVD player resizing the picture: the TV does allow me to squeeze or chop the picture. So it's not clear to me whether the DVD player resizes the picture, or whether it is telling the TV to resize the picture. But with the HDMI cable the right thing is happening with discs of various aspect ratios, so I am happy.

And watch where you buy HDMI cables. The cable that was $11 on monoprice.com was $50 at Staples, no joke.
posted by massysett at 4:44 PM on April 12, 2010

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