Why Am I Still Getting Black Bars On Some Blu-ray Movies? I Thought Blu-ray Was Supposed To Fill My Hdtv? Why Am I Still Getting Black Bars On Some Blu-ray Movies? I Thought Blu-ray Was Supposed To Fill My Hdtv

Last Update date : 2011.01.16

 To understand the survival of black bars in the age of widescreen TVs, we first need to discuss the concept of aspect ratios.  We’ll need a bit of math to get through this one, but we’ll keep it as simple as possible.

In the classic Hollywood era—the age of The Wizard of Oz, Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, etc.—films were shot and distributed in roughly the same square shape that your old pre-HD TV would eventually take. The exact aspect ratio was 1.37:1. What this means is that no matter how tall the screen was, it was exactly 1.37 times as wide. With the advent of television and its 1.33:1 aspect ration though, Hollywood decided to do something that the home format couldn’t: they started making films wider and wider, beginning with The Robe in 1953. Many of these films were 2.55 or even as much as 3 times as wide as they were tall.

Since then, films have come in all shapes and sizes, a fact you may not have noticed in the cinemas because theaters (as well as some high-end home theater screens) use curtains and lenses to crop and vary the screen’s height and width to match the image perfectly. So the vast majority of widescreen films, with their 1.85:1 aspect ratio, are projected with the curtains closed slightly. And given that the screen is so large, we don’t notice that there’s any unused screen real estate.

The interesting thing, though, is that the 1.85:1 aspect ratio happens to be a reasonably close match for today’s widescreen HDTVs, which measure 16 units of width for every 9 units of height, which translates to roughly 1.78:1. That’s why you don’t notice the very miniscule black bars on the bulk of Blu-ray discs. Chances are, the images spills off the sides of the screen just a bit, anyway (this is known as overscan).

But roughly a third of all widescreen movies are intended to be viewed much wider than this, and since your HDTV’s screen can’t spread out laterally, the only solution that maintains the director’s vision for the look of the film is to shrink the image to use the entire width of the screen, and then rely on the black bars at the top and bottom that were necessary for all widescreen films back in the days of our old boxy non-HD sets.

Interestingly enough, if you’re a fan of the classics, you may have even noticed a few Blu-ray discs with black bars on the sides of the image. Don’t adjust your set. There’s nothing wrong with your screen. Until someone invents a TV that stretches and squishes to match the multitude of aspect ratios in which films have been shot and projected, some films are simply going to have to be framed to fit our static screens.


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