Truly Widescreen TV

Ever since shows like “Lois and Clark” started filming in widescreen format, there’s been a problem.  They’ve needed to pander to people with standard 4:3 ratio television sets.  So while the show exists in widescreen with extra material to the left and right, everything was still composed for the center. Those wings on the screen were dead zones.

Today, 15 years later, the same is true.  Watching a network drama in widescreen format on my HDTV, I see that everything is still happening in the middle of the screen. You might not notice it right away, but once you do it’ll drive you mad. Then you’ll notice the little network bug is right in the corner of the 4:3 layout, while the image still extends out to the right.  This is also true in sporting events — all the graphics stretch completely across the screen, but the information is only in the center of the screen.  It’s even true on reality shows.  Next time Tom Bergeron is shuffling dancers off back stage on “Dancing With the Stars,” note how far to the right he is on the screen.  Those people sitting behind him off on the far left are never seen on a regular 4:3 TV set.

With digital television signals becoming the norm in a couple of months, will this madness soon end?  Will we soon see people talking on screen from the far left or right edge?  Will directors be allowed to compose their television shots in the same way they’d compose their theatrical shots?  I hope so.

8 thoughts on “Truly Widescreen TV

  1. The digital switchover doesn’t dictate screen ratio or resolution to my knowledge, just how the signal is sent, and a lot of people will make do with a converter box. Until a vast majority of the population has a widescreen set, it’ll still be formatted for 4:3 with some extra info.

  2. Ever since I’ve been working in animation we’ve had 16:9 compositions, but always have to place the characters within the central 4:3 actionsafe. I can’t see this going away any time soon.

    And yes, it is wholly unsatisfying when you have to lay out a shot that could look so much better if you were able to use the whole area!


  3. Ben’s right; DTV != HDTV. For the thousands, if not millions, of people using a 4:3 analog TV connected up to satellite, cable, or a digital converter box, they will still get TV signal once the switchover happens and see no need to move to a widescreen TV. Not to mention people with 4:3 TVs that already have a digital tuner in them; they’ll be safe as well.

    I know I’ll be purchasing an HDTV next year, but I will be making do with a 4:3 set until then, well after the switchover happens.

  4. Some shows may not be doing that. I’ve noticed on some NBC shows on my 4:3 that some things that I apparently should be seeing are off the screen to one side. I was assuming my local affiliate was showing just the middle of a widescreen show.

  5. I was just thinking that a lot of people will convert finally to HDTVs now with the new digital thing going into place, meaning the majority will finally want their 16:9s. Maybe I’m being too optimistic.

    But, hey, if more shows are finally using ALL of their available screen, then I’m happy to see progress.

    Is PIXAR still redoing their movies for 4:3 screens? I remember that was their big claim to fame with the “A Bug’s Life” DVD. They re-rendered the whole movie and even added bits and pieces to make sure the movie worked well on a standard TV set. Do they still do that?

  6. I thought a lot of the shows on NBC were airing letter-boxed if they were shot 16:9. Wouldn’t this solve the problem? I know there’s actually quite a few shots that would be really odd if they cut the sides off.

  7. Looking at the digital broadcast in my area, a couple of the network affiliates have two channels. One broadcasts in 4:3 The other broadcasts in 16:9. I think that is the best solution.

  8. Last night, my local affiliate did show The Office in widescreen. Last week, it was 4:3.

Comments are closed.