Cinema is foremost a visual medium, and it is therefore important for the audience to be able to see a film as the filmmakers intended it to be shown. Ideally, viewers would be able to see sparkling prints of whatever films they choose, projected at a comfortable theater and at a convenient time. But since this is not yet feasible, the current home formats should be made as accommodating as possible and should always show films in their proper aspect ratios.
Obviously, screens at movie theaters are usually equipped to show films in the appropriate dimensions, but the standard television set presents certain problems. As the graphics below specify, however, these problems can be prevented.
A frame of a film shot in a widescreen 2.35:1 ratio. The entire image should retain its content and shape wherever shown.
The movie screen in a theater is wide enough to display the entire projected image.
Older television screens are rectangles with an approximate ratio of 1.33:1, and this means pre-1950s films lose very little when shown on this medium. But often widescreen films are reformatted for TV viewing which amounts to a dramatic loss in visual content. Additionally, the image becomes grainy and loses some sharpness when enlarged to fill the TV's entire frame. "Pan-and-scan" refers to the unnatural optical panning that is required to display some of the lost visual information. New TVs have a 16:9 ratio (or roughly 1.78:1), meaning that they also cannot accomodate 2.35:1 widescreen films without some letterboxing.
Films presented in the letterbox format preserve the intended aspect ratio and provide a crisp, complete image.
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