Widescreen , letterbox, 16:9, [email protected]:!"^


Standard Member
Can anyone explain why when I look at Plasma screens in the shops they have letterbox black bits at the top / bottom or sides?

I thought that the purpose of buying a widescreen is to do away with such things - although I do not have a widescreen tv at the moment (saving for Panasonic 42") I have been making sure that the DVD's I buy are in widescreen - is this wrong?

When I ask in the shops I have been given 20 different explanations - the best being that they are designed for Japanese widescreen, not European (we were watching a Hollywood movie).......


Active Member
A very simple explanation:

Black bars at sides:
The source material is in 4:3 ratio, a lot of TV signals etc will be 4:3, with the Panny plasma you can either watch them in 4:3 mode with the black bars on the side or use one of the other viewing modes to either stretch the image to full screen or zoom in on the image to fill the screen (the 'Just' mode inteligently stretches the picture to try and avoid distortion - this would probably be the best bet for 4:3)

Black bars at top/bottom:
Quite simply different films are filmed in different screen ratios so some are more 'letterbox' than others. In 16:9 mode on the Plasma with your DVD player set to output 16:9 the image will always fit to the width so depending on the source ratio you may have no black bars, small black bars or large black bars - it just depends on the source. Again you can zoom/stretch if you want, but most people are happier to watch the film as it is meant to be even if that means black bars.


Staff member
....or to put it another way.

FACT: Many films are made in a wider-than-widescreen shape, for the cinema.

FACT: You can't change the shape of your TV screen (unlike the screens in cinemas which have adjustable masking, usually).


If you want to watch a wider-than-widescreen film on your fixed shape TV, should the DVD manufacturer.....

a) crop the left and right sides of the wide picture, to make it not as wide, so that it fits the TV, but you may miss out on something that is happening at the extreme edges of the image

b) stretch the picture vertically so that it fills your screen, but evetything in it is too tall and thin

c) place the film in the middle of the screen at its correct shape, and fill up the spare height with a plain black area

I go for (c) which, fortunately, is what most of them do.

You can emulate (b) on many DVDs if you like! Just use the 'zoom' option rather than the true 16x9 option (whatever it's called).

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