A Conversation for Letterboxing

My thoughts on Letterboxing...

Post 1

O.Marie 95652

Alright, so I understand the concept of proportions and keeping the dimensions intact in order to see all of the scene you would see in a theatre, but seriously, how can anyone stand to watch a movie on their TV screen with the top and bottom blacked out? If your screen is only 18 inches high and you lose 2 inches on the top and 2 on the bottom, that makes for a pretty small screen. The point of renting a viddie to watch, rather than going to the movies, is to enjoy it in the comfort of your own home. You can eat your own popcorn (which didn't cost you $10), on your own comfy chair, wearing your birthday suit if you are so inclined. Do you really need to be able to see the wide version of the movie? If you need all that, you may as well go to the theatre and get the surround sound and dim lights. Oh and don't forget the $6 soda to go with the popcorn!

PS, what was the deal with that kid crawling on the ceiling in Trainspotting? Yeesh, that still gives me nightmares!

My thoughts on Letterboxing...

Post 2


It is all a cunning plan to sell more widescreen TVs

PS, He didn't fully appreciate the 'gravity' of the situation

My thoughts on Letterboxing...

Post 3

Jimi X

Watch "Lawrence of Arabia" normally and in letterbox and you'll see the point!
Vive la differance!!
smiley - smiley

My thoughts on Letterboxing...

Post 4

Fruitbat (Eric the)

The widespread acceptance of the Pan-and-Scan version of film-on-video (and telly-broadcast is included in that description) is highest amongst people who don't care about cinema.
These are the same kind of people who arrive after the show's started, finding that their concession-goodies are more important than the film; are the first to stand and block the view of those around them that DO care about film when the titles are rolling; don't appear to notice when a film's really bad or really good; talk to each other during the film and act surprised when others tell them to shut up.
The standing argument for pan-and-scanning is that the letterboxed image is too small for a small tv. You're right. That's why it was intended to be seen on a big screen: cinema and home video are different experiences. (To be likened to the difference between a Novel and a film-adaptation, although the major difference is that the DELIVERY system, rather than the CONTENT, is altered.)

I really shouldn't be too surprised about this: most people have to be told what they're seeing before they can see it, anyway. This is the result of 40 years worth of tv conditioning, which insists on telling people what they're watching while they're watching, to make sure they "get it".

While 90% of 35mm films are shot protecting the television "safe" area (which means the image will show up perfectly on video with no bits missing off the edges), any anamorphic or 70mm film will be seriously compromised by panning-and-scanning the image on video.

Analogy: imaging only being able to see your favourite telly-show through 1/2 of the video-window (upper or lower half, right or left side, doesn't matter. You still only get to see 1/2 of the image.) and tell me that letterboxing is a nuisance.

The other advantage to letterboxing is that the subtitles on foreign films can be shown below the picture, allowing both text and image to be seen clearly.

I regard pan-and-scanning as video for the visually-impared.


My thoughts on Letterboxing...

Post 5

Fruitbat (Eric the)

I forgot this:

The widespread use of video has allowed new generations to see film classics that won't be seen on big screens any more because few screens are big enough to show them on:

Super Panavision 70 is a massive image that was used to film West Side Story, Lawrence of Arabia, and My Fair Lady.

Cinerama and Todd-AO are equally large and feature a deep curve to the screen: Oklahoma!, 2001:, Around The World In Eighty Days,

With the arrival of the shoe-box cinema and the mega-plex, these shows cannot be screened any more. Video is the only place where I can see the magnificence of William Wyler's Camera-65 (70mm film with Panavision anamorphics) compositions.

Letterboxing preserves the original aspect ratio of the work of these masters of the cinema, even as it reduces the size of the figures in the shots.

About the only thing more annoying than a pan-and-scan image is watching the titles in letterbox and the body of the film pan-and-scanned, only to find the end titles letterboxed. What's the point of that? To me, that says the titles are more important than the film.

Oh well, I know a few places that care about this stuff...


My thoughts on Letterboxing...

Post 6

O.Marie 95652

Whoa! That was way more about film/tv than I ever wanted to know, but thanks for the info. As you said, video and cinema are two different experiences. I like my video to be relaxed and comfortable with a picture that is just the same, not sandwiched between to blank fields. When I go to the movies I do expect to see the "whole" thing and I would be rather upset to find the sides of the screen had been cut off. (Which I suppose would be the exact opposite effect of letterboxing.) In the theatre you should get the wide screen and the works in sound. Quite honestly, the majority of movies made today aren't good enough to care whether you can see or hear the whole thing and those that are, rarely make it to the big theatres with the great sound and picture quality.

I have to disagree with this...
"These are the same kind of people who arrive after the show's started, finding that their concession-goodies are more important than the film; are the first to stand and block the view of those around them that DO care about film when the titles are rolling; don't appear to notice when a film's really bad or really good; talk to each other during the film and act surprised when others tell them to shut up."
... as I am the first to say I can't stand letterboxing when I watch a movie at home yet, I don't do any of the listed things. When I go to the movies, I go to see a movie. I get there with plenty of time, get a great seat I like and all the snacks that appeal to me and sit myself down and shut up while the movie runs. I am usually the last to leave the theatre and always say goodbye to the pimpley faced kid who has to clean up the popcorn mess and spilled sodas.

I happen to have grown up without television and don't watch it now at all, except for occasional video rentals. I like to watch what I like to watch how I like to watch it because that's the way I am, not because 40 years of television conditioning has deluded me into believing that there should be a top and a bottom to the picture.

I could just as easily say:
I regard letterboxing as video for people who should have seen the movie in the theatre when it was available, but were too cheap to shell out the $7.50 for the ticket. But I wont, because for 1) it wouldn't be true, it would be a gross over-generalization and for 2) I am nice!


O. Marie

My thoughts on Letterboxing...

Post 7



Eric, (or shall I call you Mr. Fruitbat for the moment),
Vive la letterbox!!!

Yes! I consider myself a purist. I actually spent my own hard-earned money to specifically buy a widescreen TV, just so I could watch all those 16:9 & 35mm movies that are being broadcast more & more frequently. It was considerably more expensive than ten bucks for a movie and around double a similarly sized 4:3 set.

I also collect just about anything I can get on videotape, just to support the widescreen software publishers. Sick of waiting for DVD to arrive, I bought a laserdisc player (in a non-NTSC country) just to get the better resolution afforded by the format (again for the widescreen content). However I generally buy them second-hand as the new cost is prohibitive.

I figure that if the director has gone to the effort to frame, position actors, put in the sets & lighting, it's a bit of an insult cutting almost half of the picture out.

Go see Star Wars in pan&scan and then watch the full widescreen version; even better watch Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Yeah, I know I'm a freak, but I'm the other guy sitting a few rows back from EtFB watching the credits.

Anyhoo, unless the disgustingly rich media barons over here stop it, we are due for full-screen HDTV in a year.

Can't wait!

My thoughts on Letterboxing...

Post 8

Fruitbat (Eric the)

Thank you, Zaphod!

I knew I had company, I just have trouble finding it. You may be interested to know this about HDTV: I attended a day-long seminar a week or so ago, and a big part of that was the Sony Canada rep talking about the explosive growth and development of HDTV as both a recording medium and broadcast. While he was talking specifically about Canada, the rest of the world will be closely behind.

He stated outright that NTSC will be dead and gone by 2006. He also said that the cost of consumer units is going to drop dramatically in the coming years; I saw a a massive monitor running HD siganls and the thing must've weight about 300 lbs....and cost $10,000 Cnd. This will improve dramatically, so you'll likely get your wish about the same time as you can afford the DVD player (I'm aching for one of those, too; imagine playing a cd and then dvd on the same machine....)

He also said that independent filmmakers are inviting the HDTV crews onto their sets to shoot tests of the new technology. This'll be a boon for those that have to shoot video and print up to film for distribution, as well as those going straight to video. The only sad part of all this is that the system still has the "video" look of an photo-electric technology; film still has the photochemical look that everyone loves and often have trouble financing. Also, anamorphics are still a film benefit that video hasn't been able to duplicate.

I'm going to assume you know something of the technology with this one: the new HDTV cameras (yes, I saw one, and it is similar to a Betacam) all run at 24 fps (given the leap of logic that says video uses "frames"). That's going to be the universal standard. That will simplify the American conversion from film-speed to NTSC video sych (29.97fps).

All of this makes me wonder what chat-shows are going to look like in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio of HDTV? Will they have to make the sets more interesting? Will they use more than talking heads?
Certainly "news" broadcasts will improve; no more jamming graphics into the side of the reader's head, there'll actually be room for them, now.

Either way, we gain. I'll keep any eye out for you in the local.

Fruitbat (PS: Eric or Fruitbat works for me; you get to choose)

My thoughts on Letterboxing...

Post 9

Fruitbat (Eric the)

Hi, O. Marie
My apologies for that sweeping statement: about some cinemagoer's behaviour; I think I got a little carried away there.

"When I go to the movies I do expect to see the "whole" thing and I would be rather upset to find the sides of the screen had been cut off. (Which I suppose would be the exact opposite effect of letterboxing.) In the theatre you should get the wide screen and the works in sound."
Yes, that' s a fair approximation. Interestingly, I have gone to shows where the image was too large for the screen. Made me wonder why they bothered and why the audience didn't complain.

"Quite honestly, the majority of movies made today aren't good enough to care whether you can see or hear the whole thing and those that are, rarely make it to the big theatres with the great sound and picture quality. "
THAT is far too often the case. I'm glad to see that untrained eyes notice the difference. I'm really hoping that there's a generation out there that remembers the work of the great writers, directors, actors and producers from the days when television was a novelty and cinema meant something.
I'm 36 and grew up with television, and have seen some terrific work done for the medium. When I look back and what was done in during the War and into the 1960's, when epics really were epics (not the stuff that're called epics now, which simply means they have a running time to frighten the impatient) I almost want to cry over the quality that's been lost or forgotten....and which cannot be returned to because the budget (and the audience temperament) won't allow it.
(I recently watched the John Frankenheimer-directed "The Train", made in 1964. I was staggered by how big the picture looked, even on the small screen, because of the deep-focus lighting and the shot composition; the film was terrifically made and well-acted and wish I could see something like it today.)


Fruitbat (filmed in Super Panavision 70)

My thoughts on Letterboxing...

Post 10


I just picked up a copy of [Stereophile Guide to Home Theater] - the US version for Nov'99 and saw a review on a new Mitsubishi widescreen 1080i HDTV rear projection TV.

The fact that it reviewed pretty well isn't the issue,
The fact it has a 16:9 diagonal of 46" isn't the issue,
The fact that it auto senses and reconfigures itself for NTSC or 1080i signal isn't the issue,
Nor is the fantastic combinations of inputs the issue.

The issue I have is it's only $US2995 !!!!

That's five grand in Aussie dollars and I guess around two grand in Sterling.

It's sickening !!!!

I was about to buy a Pioneer widescreen rear projection unit for $A4499, but now I've been really put off!


My thoughts on Letterboxing...

Post 11

Lynn twin

I think everyone has forgotten the other aspects of letterboxing which is crawling around Dartmoor in all weathers for hours on end looking for those conveniently hidden boxes with the stamps in. I went a couple of times we did manage to collect a respectable number.

My thoughts on Letterboxing...

Post 12

Fruitbat (Eric the)

Maybe others have forgotten about it, I never knew about it...and as I'm not really sure what you're referring to, I still don't know. I first guessed you were meaning a post box, then I thought of the plastic containers that stamps are sometimes kept in, but when you say you managed to collect a reasonable number, I am utterly lost.

I also think you know this forum's discussion is about the label "letterboxing" is referring to the (only acceptable to me and others) shape of a 35mm flat (and definitely anamorphic) or 70mm flat (or anamorphic) image being presented on a smaller screen than it was designed for viewing on. (As much as the joke might appear cute to some, it's a little too obvious for my liking. )


My thoughts on Letterboxing...

Post 13

Lynn twin

You obviously haven't actually read the guide entry that this forum refers to. Please just click on the word letterboxing to the left of this entry.

My thoughts on Letterboxing...

Post 14

Fruitbat (Eric the)

Actually, Lynn, I DID read the piece - only that was ages ago, and the reference to trainspotting out on the moors means little to me. I'm an avid cineaste, and the first definition is what I responded to.

Thanks for reminding me, though, as I had forgotten the second part. That particular behaviour is as mystifiying to me as fox-hunting, so I'm back to where I started: ranting about letterboxing films on video in order to see the entire frame.


My thoughts on Letterboxing...

Post 15


Living next to Dartmoor, Devon, UK (just for the world travellers) the "letterboxing" that got me to look down this list is the one you refer to. Letterboxing as we both know involves exciting walks over open moorland to find small plastic containers with a visitors book and a rubber stamp to use on your own record of the walk to prove you've been here. In the same way that golfers justify a walk in the open air by knocking a small white ball from hole to hole, letterboxers justify walking by using orienteering skills to find well hidden 'treasure' in seemingly unexplored countryside. I admit its great fun and does no harm if you follow the rules.

I think that since letterboxing began with the first letterbox at Cranmere Pool in 1854 the current discussion on the format for TV, video and film has nicked the terminology and they should find another word to describe this phenomena. Any way any image that we all see is circular because we see it through a round lens in a round eyeball. Having two eyes next to each other does not mean we see an image that is wider than it is tall (landscape format). This new widescreen format only means the eyes have further to dart around to collect all the information in any image put in front of them! I suppose this must be all the exercise some couch potatoes ever get, that and lifting the finger to reach the remote control. I jest - I enjoy slouching as much as walking.

Being a cynic I tend to agree its ploy to get us to buy more TVs.

My thoughts on Letterboxing...

Post 16

Fruitbat (Eric the)

The letterboxing certainly sounds enjoyable enough, however because I know nothing about it I'll talk about what I do know about: Letterboxing on video/television.

Woody Allen, to my knowledge, was the pioneer of this presentation form because he would not see his anamorphic picture wrecked by putting it onto a screen too small to show it properly. My guess is that the expression came from the shape of the widescreen frame on a too-small display: long and thin, like a letterbox.

Truly, we do see the world as one huge sphere; where this analogy breaks down, though, is that our peripheral vision extends our view about 2/3 of the way around a circle. We can see up and down farther than a circular glass, too. Probably the closest cinematic experience that will replicate what our eyes see is IMAX.
While individually we are looking directly at whatever is holding our attention for the moment, our peripheral vision allows us to see the world around us beyond our targeted sight; this is what the widescreen does: shows us the environment the story is told in. If the director knows how to use the camera, the lens and the actors properly, and we're actually paying attention to what's going on, That which is relevant to the story is visible.

Certainly the new HDTV widescreens may be taking advantage of matching the cinema experience with their wider frame, however none of us need an incentive to buy another t.v. (I take the liberty of assuming that you're as fed up with the majority of programming as I am). I'd just as soon watch a letterboxed programme off a VHS or DVD recording on my professional monitor as I would go with a new telly - since right now I can't afford a DVD player or a HDTV receiver....

My thoughts on Letterboxing...

Post 17


I am pretty fed up with TV at the moment as we go into the 'summer' programming when TV companies think we should all be out in the fresh air or having barbeques, but the little gem at the moment is the C4 "The Day the World Took Off" in which I learnt more in an hour than several lessons of history/science etc at school but then that would have been a long time ago.

Interested in your informed comments on the way we view the world but if the human eye can see more up and down than side to side, doesn't that suggest a portrait screen format?

You also mention peripheral vision only covering 2/3 of the circular view. Where is the missing third, top or bottom? I suppose the peripheral vision would have allowed primitive man to be alerted to a moving threat at the edge of their view. One thing the camera cannot reproduce yet is the fact that we only ever see a very small portion of the scene in focus and as a flat screen can only ever be at a fixed distance from the eye, the eye does not have to refocus as it moves around the screen so the brain knows its flat. The camera cannot yet reproduce the third dimension. A simulated 3d view as in a hologram still only allows the viewer to 'look around' objects in the scene if they are allowed to move relative to the screen so the conscious mind thinks there must be depth to the scene. The eye/brain will still know that the image is a fixed distance away and prefocused.

Just some thoughts!

My thoughts on Letterboxing...

Post 18

Adam Whyte

I understand why people with very small TVs would not want to watch letterboxed movies, because for me, movies should be BIG. However, I do not myself much like watching pan-and-scan, especially for movies where the director uses the full image. Luckily, most DVDs are widescreen these days, especially in Britain (America tends to offer a choice). Incidentally, generally (but not exclusively), movies these days come in two ratios: 1.85:1 (which is about the 16:9, same as widescreen TVs), and 2.35:1 (which is even wider, e.g. the Lord of the Rings movies).

However, there are a lot of movies made in the 1.33:1 (or 4:3, same as TV) ratio. All movies made before TV was popular were in this ratio. Widescreen was only invented to rival TV, because Hollywood were scared of losing audiences. So if you watch a DVD of an old, say, 1940s movie, it is not shown in the wrong ratio, it was simply not made in widescreen. There have been occasions of Hollywood trying to rerelease their old 1.33:1 ratio movies in widescreen, such as "Gone With the Wind," and this basically means cutting off the top and bottom of the screen to make it fit the screen. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

What I don't understand is people buying 16:9 TVs then watching 4:3 movies (especially on tape) in the 16:9 ratio. They should really use vertical letterboxing. That way, the characters don't look stretched, like chubby little dwarves.

My thoughts on Letterboxing...

Post 19


The one thing worse than watching a 4:3 programme/movie on 16:9 setting is when a 16:9 transmission is viewed on a 4:3 TV that cuts the ends off!!!

My in-laws watch TV like that and I can't stand it!!! They argue that to watch it in a widescreen aspect raio they can't see the full picture as there are black lines - I keep trying to explain that its the opposite! They are currently watching only the middle part of the picture!!!!! Grrrrr, it drives me mad!!!

smiley - alienfrown

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