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post #1 of 49 Old 02-16-08, 05:20 AM Thread Starter
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Movie Formats: why are there so many?

After having upgraded my display to 106" 16:9 FP, I noticed most of my favorite movies are having black bars (well like my 29" SD TV). I couldn't imagine so many of the good movies are 2.35:1. Yet all pixar and some movies are 16:9 enhanced and will fit fine to the screen. But SD TV from the other side will have side bars.

When stretching to 16:9 with a 29" display was acceptable, it is not even thinkable with a 106" display:raped:!!

It is sad that with a 16:9 display we are still having bars, and Masking systems are not an option for me.

Why so many formats? How can people calculate the required screen size when the format is not fixed? Moreover the beautiful look of a flat pannel or "tableau" goes when there are bars.

Are some movies sold as differnent versions: anamorphic and 16:9 or 1.85:1? So that one can chose the most suitable format for his display?

Why doesn't the industry have a fixed standard format?

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Yamaha RX-V2500, Wharfedale Diamond 9.6 Fronts, Wharfedale Diamond CM Center, Diamond DFS Surround and rear, Behringer FBQ 2496, Dual RL-P18s 625L LLTs, Dual TA-2400 Pro (2 * 2000 W Amp), Samsung HD870 DVD player, Carada BW 16:9 106" screen, Epson TW-2000, 60 Gb PS3
Important HT proverbs:
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- "you can never have too big a screen" (talking about still pictures)


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post #2 of 49 Old 02-16-08, 05:55 AM
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Re: Movies Formats: why are there so many?

You have to go back to the fifties to understand why there are so many aspect ratios and
formats. Here's the timeline...

In the late forties, television gained in popularity until it usurped motion pictures as the
dominant mass media. By 1951, moviegoing attendence had been cut in half from about
90 million weekly to 45 million weekly. Theaters were closing everywhere and the film
industry needed to do something to bring back viewers. One simple option was to switch
to color since television broadcasts were black and white. Incrementally, more and more
movies were shot in color. That helped a bit but it still wasn't enough to fill the movie
palace seats.

1952 was a groundbreaking year in that two formats were introduced that were not only
smash hits but changed the industry permanently. Cinerama and 3-D.

Each process offered the polar opposite visual effect. Cinerama was an extreme widescreen
format that had an aspect ratio of 2.76 x 1 that was projected on a deeply curved screen.
It gave the illusion that the viewer was inside the picture. 3-D retained the same 1.33
aspect ratio as standard movies except it gave the illusion that the image was emerging
from the screen. "This is Cinerama" was a non-narrative infomercial that basically just
demonstrated the system in a variety of locations. It was in seven channel stereophonic
sound. Five speakers above the screen and two speakers in the rear of the theater.
"Bwana Devil", the first 3-D movie was mono sound but the picture that made the process
viable was "House of Wax" which was in four channel stereo sound. Three speakers behind
the screen and one in the back.

Audiences flocked to both formats and the industry took note and over the next decade
a new process was introduced yearly to drag people away from their television
sets. It worked for a while and attendence went up and stabilized until the mid-sixties
when it dropped again with the switch to color television.

Both Cinerama and 3-D were cumbersome processes and difficult to project. They involved
interlocked multiple prints and a separate soundtrack. Either could go out of synch during
the presentation and often did. Cinerama was shot with three cameras so you saw the join
lines making up the wide image. Many people found 3-D an eyestrain.

Fox was the first to try to create a more compact widescreen process and introduced
"CinemaScope" in 1953 with "The Robe". It wasn't a new format. Back in the twenties
the French had developed an anamorphic lens that squeezed the image during principal
photography and then stretched it out during projection. The original CinemaScope format
didn't have an optical track so the anamorphic image took up the entire frame, like a silent
film. Inside and outside the sprockets they put tiny magnetic stripes for four channel
stereo sound. Three speakers in the front and one in the back, like the 3-D movies except
the tracks were on the print itself instead of on a separate piece of film that was interlocked.
The original aspect ratio of CinemaScope was 2.55 x 1. While theaters did not mind putting on
the anamorphic lens and getting a wider screen, many of them didn't want to rewire their
cinema for stereo sound so Fox changed the format in 1955 to have both an optical track
as well as the magnetic tracks on the CinemaScope prints (aka mag/opt.). This reduced
the aspect ratio to 2.35 x 1. Later, Panavision came up with much better anamorphic
lenses without all the distortion of the Fox lenses and CinemaScope was phased out by
1966.

Michael Todd had shot the first half of "This is Cinerama" with his son and was impressed
with the audience response but didn't like the join lines. He sold off his Cinerama stock
and created his own process called "Todd-A0". Using 65mm wide film and extremely
wide angle lenses he generated a 2. 21 x 1 image on a similar curved screen that Cinerama
used. Rather than having separate film with the sound, he also put magnetic sound stripes
inside and outside the sprockets. Five in the front of the theater and one in the back.
The extra width for the magnetic stripes made the release prints 70mm rather than 65mm.
Later, Panavision made lenses for the format and it was called "Panavision 70".

In 1957 MGM combined the 70mm format with CinemaScope. They put an anamorphic lens
on the 65mm negative to generate the same 2.76 x 1 ratio as Cinerama. They called it
"MGM Camera 65". Later it was called "Ultra-Panavision 70" and the Cinerama company
switched to that format in 1963 with "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" and abandoned
the three camera system. In 1966 they even abandoned the anamorphic 70mm process
and just used standard 70mm without the anamorphic lens (the same 2.21 x 1 ratio
as Todd AO) for the remaining Cinerama movies like "Ice Station Zebra" and "2001: A Space Odyssey".

Paramount came up with their semi-widescreen process known as "VistaVision". Standard
35mm film is four sprockets high. They turned the camera on the side and exposed an
eight sprocket image (the same as a still camera) which generated a large image that was
1.85 x 1. Later, the Technicolor company added an anamorphic lens to the horizontal
negative making it 2.35 x 1 like Panavision except much sharper and finer grain because
of the bigger negative area. It was called Technirama.

Howard Hughes was running RKO at the time and didn't want to pay Fox the licensing fee
for their CinemaScope lenses so he created the "SuperScope" format. Basically they just
shot the full frame silent ratio, then cropped off the tops and bottoms of the image to
make a standard CinemaScope frame for the release print. This process is still used but
it's called "Super 35". Because they're blowing up the image, it tends to have inferior
resolution. Early Superscope was 2 x 1 since they had black borders on the sides of the
image. Current Super 35 is the same ratio as Panavision, 2. 35 x 1.

In the sixties, the Italians came up with a variation of this and called it
Techniscope. Rather than shooting in 1.33 and masking off the tops and
bottoms to create the anamorphic image, they shot in a two sprocket
wide image but with the same results. It was basically a wide 16mm image
which would be blown up to 35mm anamorphic with the same 2.35 x 1
ratio. Incredibly, if you used a lot of light as Sergio Leone did in the
Spaghetti Westerns, it could look good. If you didn't overlight the negative
as was the case with "American Grafitti", it tended to look grainy. The
sole advantage was that since the frame was so small, you saved on film
stock.


Some studios chose a cheap method of creating a widescreen image which was to film the movie like a standard 1.33 picture then mask off the top and bottom of the image during projection. The problem was that you increased grain and lost some sharpness because less of the available frame was being used. The studios created their own ratios with the masked frame formats. MGM used 1.66, Universal used 1.85
and Disney used 1.75. One big problem was re-issues. MGM re-issued both
"Gone with the Wind" and "The Wizard of Oz" in masked off widescreen in the
fifties cropping the 1.33 image the films were designed for. (MGM has a funny
tag for the letters GWTW... "Greater With the Widescreen") The same problem
happened with Disney re-issues of his animated classics intended for 1.33 but
re-issued in 1.75. You lost the tops of heads in many compositions. Even
more rediculous, in 1967, MGM cropped the 1.33 image of "Gone with the
Wind" to 2.21 x 1 for a 70mm version. Wideshots became medium shots
and close ups looked like the kind that Sergio Leone created for his films.


Today the only formats that are used are Super 35 and Panavision which has the 2.35 x 1 ratio and 1.85 for masked frame presentations. There is still an occasional
70mm reissue in 2.21 x 1 ("Lawrence of Arabia") and of course IMAX but that
process is 1.33. It's basically 70mm VistaVision and shown horizontally.


1.85 is comparable to 16:9 widescreen television. 2.35 requires thin black borders to
get the entire image within the 16:9 area. This only applies to new movies. Pre-1970 movies will be in all of the ratios detailed above which require various amounts of black borders. There were never standardized in the fifties because the studios
were all competing with one another hoping that their format would be the one
that survived.

If you want more details and lists of movies in the different formats, I
cover them in my two McFarland books, "Technicolor Movies" and "The
Moviegoing Experience 1968-2001" which are availabe on www.mcfarlandpub.com. So if you need a general reference, it's contained in the chapters.
For example, "Mutiny on the Bounty" is listed as "Ultra-Panavision" which is
2.76 x 1. So in the 16:9 video ratio, there will be thick black borders on
top and bottom of the image. "2001: A Space Oddysey" is later Cinerama which is
2.21 x 1 so there with slight black borders on top and bottom of the 16:9
frame. "North by Northwest" is VistaVision which is 1.85 which is nearly
identical to 16:9 so the image will fill up the frame. "The Wizard of Oz"
is 1.33 so you'll have thick borders on the sides of the 16:9 frame.
A Super 35 film can be in either 2.35 or 1.33 since the negative is
full frame.


By the way, just to illustrate how there's nothing new under the sun,
'anamorphic enhanced' standard DVDs are a throwback to CinemaScope
back in the fifties. In both cases they involved squeezing and unsqueezing
the image to make it wider.

Last edited by Richard W. Haines; 02-16-08 at 06:41 AM.
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post #3 of 49 Old 02-16-08, 08:48 AM
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Re: Movies Formats: why are there so many?

Wow ! This is a Great post ! Thanks Richard to exlain it with so many details, verry interesting.

Now, what can we do to optimize screen ?

JP

Jean-Pierre Imbeau


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post #4 of 49 Old 02-16-08, 12:57 PM
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Re: Movies Formats: why are there so many?

Fantastic history, Richard! We see these format wars repeating themselves across so many technologies -- most recently Blu-Ray vs HD-DVD. Technological competition drives the industry forward, but can leave a sordid trail. At least with the variety of aspect ratios, all we have to do is endure black boxes on the image edges rather than having to abandon whole format systems for another (ie. Betamax, HD-DVD, etc.).

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post #5 of 49 Old 02-16-08, 04:25 PM Thread Starter
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Re: Movies Formats: why are there so many?

Thank you Richard for having taken the time to write your very informative post. I have another question though: What does mean:
"The film is shown in the original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and is 16x9 enhanced".
Does this mean we can watch it on a 16:9 screen witout black bars (and without distortion as well)?

ASME AI
Yamaha RX-V2500, Wharfedale Diamond 9.6 Fronts, Wharfedale Diamond CM Center, Diamond DFS Surround and rear, Behringer FBQ 2496, Dual RL-P18s 625L LLTs, Dual TA-2400 Pro (2 * 2000 W Amp), Samsung HD870 DVD player, Carada BW 16:9 106" screen, Epson TW-2000, 60 Gb PS3
Important HT proverbs:
- "You can never have too much headroom" (talking about bass)
- "you can never have too big a screen" (talking about still pictures)


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post #6 of 49 Old 02-16-08, 04:46 PM
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Re: Movies Formats: why are there so many?

Yes, Thank you Richard. That was very informative and a great read.
And thank you Ahmed for bringing up the subject.

Home theater:
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3 EV Sentry 500 monitors across the front, 4 Mission 762i's Surrounds, SVS PB13U sub, Panasonic BDT220, Harmony 1100, Nintendo WiiU
Panasonic PT-AE8000 on a 120" 2,35:1 fixed screen

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post #7 of 49 Old 02-16-08, 05:41 PM
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Re: Movies Formats: why are there so many?

You're welcome one and all.

Blaser,

'Anamorphic enhanced' means the standard 3 x 4 TV frame has been encoded with an
squeeze (just like CinemaScope) so that when it's unsqueezed will generate the 16:9 ratio.
This is different than HD which is already in the 16:9 ratio without any squeeze.

Now 2.35 is something different. It's the ratio the film was shot in. That usually
means Panavision or Super 35. Since that's wider than the 16:9 ratio, they have to
put black borders on top and bottom of the frame to fit it within the 16:9 video image
area. As I detailed above, only films designed for 1.85 masked off ratio (which is most movies
today) and VistaVision from the fifties fit into the 16:9 ratio without any black borders. All
other ratios require black borders on the sides or on the top and bottom. While some people
may find this annoying, it's certainly better than cropping part of the image so it fills the
TV frame which is what they used to do in the sixties and seventies. They would take
a movie like "The Graduate" which was filmed in Panavision 2.35 x 1 and crop off the sides
and play the center of the image on the old 3 x 4 TV sets. Or, they would pan and scan
it which means they would use other portions of the wide frame to fill the 3 x 4 ratio.
You were literally missing half of the frame when you watched film like this way back when.
Sometimes you would hear someone talking but couldn't see them because they had been
cropped out of the available 3 x 4 frame. In movies like "Ben Hur" it was difficult to telll
where everyone was in the chariot race because you were only seeing a portion of the frame.
It was like watching a movie through binoculars.


Beginning with the Seletavision CED release of "Amadeus", followed by the laserdisc release
of "Manhattan" in the early eighties, they began to show movies in the ratio they were shot
in but use black borders to mask off parts of the TV frame so it fit within those borders.


Upon the introduction of DVDs in the late nineties, they added the anamorphic enhancement
to spread out the image for the new widescreen TV sets and DLP projectors.
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post #8 of 49 Old 02-16-08, 06:39 PM
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Re: Movies Formats: why are there so many?

Here's a simpler way of understanding it for those who might be overwhelmed by all this.

TVs come in two shapes. Square (3 x 4) and Rectangle (16:9)

Movies that are shown in theaters come in a whole variety of shapes including square (1.33), rectangle (1.85, 1.66, 1.75) and in the shape of a business letter
(2.35, 2.21, 2.55, 2.76).


The challenge is to fit all of these movie shapes into the two TV shapes. So, they can try squeezing them so everyone looks skinny then stretching it out so they look normal within a wider frame which is anamorphic enhancment.

But that may not be enough for some of these movie shapes so they still need to put black borders on the tops and bottoms or sides to fit all of them into
standard TV (3 x 4) and High Definition TV (16:9).

Last edited by Richard W. Haines; 02-16-08 at 06:53 PM.
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post #9 of 49 Old 02-16-08, 06:56 PM
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Re: Movies Formats: why are there so many?

The other option (which I hate) is to take the various movie shapes and chop off the sides to
fit into the standard TV shape of 3 x 4. This used to be called 'pan and scan' but today is
called 'full frame'. While the image will fill the entire square frame of the TV set without any
black borders, part of the film shape that was shown in theaters is missing.
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post #10 of 49 Old 02-17-08, 10:55 AM
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Re: Movies Formats: why are there so many?

A friend noted that I left off one process in my above descriptions. It was Cinemascope 55
which was only used on two films, "Carousel" and "The King and I". As the name implies
it was an anamorphic lens on large 55mm film. However, it was abandoned by Fox which switched
to 70mm for their big budget productions after these two pictures. As with VistaVision, the larger
the negative, the finer grain the image is. Fox actually created a special printer to restore
these two movies on DVD in their original 55mm format a while ago and they look great.
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