UPDATE: Starwars.com has an excellent feature on the widescreen vs. full screen debate. Click here to read it.

The impetus for this section of my web site was an incident that occurred almost five years ago. A friend of mine, who shall go unnamed, was given a complete home theatre set-up. He was given a 32" Sony TV, a Yahama A/V receiver, a Pioneer laserdisc player, and a set of surround sound speakers. He was, and still is, a bit of a clutz when it came to consumer products made after 1950, so he called me to help him set up his new home theatre. Being a big movie buff, I was quite excited for him, and gladly put everything together.

We decided to go to a video store to rent a laserdisc to try out his new toy. We brought the disc back home and started the movie. As the first few minutes went by, my friend uttered the question I learned to hate over the next few years,"What's with the black bars at top and bottom of the screen?". I explained to him that for laserdiscs and DVDs, movies are presented in their original widescreen format. To do this, on regular TVs, the image must be "letterboxed" to fit the screen. The result are the black bars that he saw at the top and bottom of the screen. He didn't understand this explanation at all, and he muttered that, "...I'm missing a part of the picture, I want it to look like when I watch my VHS tapes...". I politely explained to him again that he was in fact, missing the important parts of the image when he was watching tapes. I went on to say that with laserdiscs, he now finally was getting all of the picture he was supposed to see. My friend was stubborn and all he could concentrate on was the "black bars". I told him that unfortunately, all laserdics and DVDs were presented in this way. He begrudingly watched the rest of the movie, and I left his home. A few weeks later, I found out my friend had given away his entire home theatre to his parents. I asked him why, and he said that he couldn't stand "missing most of the picture" with those "black bars". He added that he returned to watching VHS tapes and they were more to his liking. When I heard that, I felt like ripping his arm off and beating him to death with it.

Unfortunately, my friend's opinion is not a rarity. In fact, you may agree with him. With the surging popularity of DVD players, more and more people are asking, "What's up with those black bars?". Strangely enough, it seems a large amount of complaints come from Blockbuster Video renters. I believe the problem stems from the fact that the average consumer was acclimatized to home video with VHS tapes, which are not presented in widescreen format.

If you are one of those people who can't stand the black bars and don't like the widescreen at home, I ask you, nay I beg you to read the next few pages. Please keep an open mind and think about the arguments I make. A strong case can be made that widescreen is in fact, better.


Comments? Send them to erwin@erwintang.com
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