A standard television is four units wide by three units tall, while a widescreen television is 16 units wide by nine units tall. This measurement is referred to as the aspect ratio, and is abbreviated 4:3 and 16:9. Unfortunately, the aspect ratio of feature films doesn't always match. Over the years, there have been many attempts to fit movies onto TV screens, from the full screen pan-and-scan, to adding black bars to the top. All widescreen TVs have a mode for viewing 4:3 video, which puts black or gray bars on either side of the screen. If the film was shot in a format wider than 16:9, you will also see bars on the top and bottom.
Look at the location of the bars. If the black bars are on the sides of the screen, it means the TV is set to the 4:3 aspect ratio. If the black bars are on the top and bottom, the image is widescreen, but in a different ratio than your widescreen TV. If there are black bars on all four sides and the picture looks squeezed, it's an image with a wider aspect ratio on a widescreen TV set to the 4:3 aspect ratio.
Remove bars on the sides by setting the TV to widescreen mode. Some TVs have an option to switch aspect ratios on the remote. Others require going into a menu or sub-menu. Check the manual for your TV if you aren't sure. If the original image is 4:3, the picture will appear distorted in widescreen.
Enable zoom mode on the TV to eliminate bars on the top and bottom. Not all TVs have this feature. Some TVs have different levels of zoom.
Tips & Warnings
- If you are watching live TV, or a DVD of a television show, odds are the original image is 4:3 and it's best to put up with the black bars.
- Zoom mode will also cut off some of the image on either side of the screen.
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