when a 2.40:1 movie was cropped to 4:3 for old TV screens, you could see more in the top and bottom of a shot then when it was in 2.40:1. Why?

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when a 2.40:1 movie was cropped to 4:3 for old TV screens, you could see more in the top and bottom of a shot then when it was in 2.40:1. Why?

In: Technology

You can’t actually see more of the top and bottom. They crop the sides off so it just seems like you see more top and bottom proportionally, but actually it’s the same amount just with less happening off to the side to draw your eyes away.

You’re describing films that were shot in “matted” style.

The original standard aspect ratio of most films was about 4:3 (technically 1.37:1) until TV came along. TVs adopted Hollywood’s 4:3 ratio, but to combat the competition Hollywood began producing films in widescreen.

The trick is, the actual film itself, as in the hardware of the camera and film stock, was often *still* a 4:3 ratio. The director and cinematographer would have the widescreen ratio in mind — perhaps with a superimposed rectangle on the camera viewer — and just framed their shots with the top and bottom being ultimately useless. They would then distribute the film with mattes covering the unused top and bottom parts.

When cutting the film for 4:3 television, editors had a choice (or perhaps they didn’t and just went with whatever option they were given). They could use the finished, matted widescreen version and just pan from side to side depending on the focus of the scene (called “pan and scan”). Or they could get their hands on the original, un-matted print that was in a nice convenient 4:3 format (called “full screen” or “full frame”).

The consequence of the “full screen” presentation is that a big chunk of that top and bottom part of the frame is not intended to be seen, so there are lots of occasions where boom mikes and other revealing mistakes are visible in full screen movies but hidden in the widescreen release.

So for several decades, movies seen on TV usually had either a jarring pan-and-scan effect or had crew equipment occasionally popping in. VHS widescreen releases began to gain in popularity in the 90s and for a number of years DVDs were sold in either widescreen or fullscreen/pan-and-scan versions (or sometimes both on one disc) as 16:9 televisions began to take over. I worked at a video store throughout this transition period in the 2000s and can attest to the outcry from 4:3 TV owners who didn’t want to see the “black bars” on widescreen movies (“I paid full price for my TV!”).