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House - Difference between Widescreen and Anamorphic Widescreen (with studio statement)

Posted by Gord Lacey
Earlier this week we received a few emails from fans of House, the medical drama starring Hugh Laurie which will be released by Universal this coming Tuesday (8/30). The emails were regarding the transfer of the title; it's widescreen, not anamorphic widescreen. It seems every DVD site, including us, reported this was anamorphic widescreen when it was announced, and we were all wrong. I went back and found an ad in Variety from June (6/27) which lists the title as "widescreen," not "anamorphic widescreen." Looks as though we all missed this piece of information.

So you're probably asking yourself, "how will this affect me?" I can't say for certain, but I can show you examples using a menu from House and let you decide for yourself.

Raw Content

Let's start by looking at the material on the DVD itself, before it's actually read by a DVD player and displayed on your TV. A regular widescreen DVD would look something like this:

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Raw widescreen file

The black bars are encoded as part of the image on the DVD. The DVD player reads this as a 4:3 image and will display it as such. Anamorphic widescreen DVDs look different:

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Raw anamorphic widescreen file

This is the same image, except it's stretched and doesn't contain the black bars. There's a special "flag" (a setting on the DVD) that tells the player this is anamorphic, and is a stretched image; it's a 16:9 picture in a 4:3 box. Your DVD player then decides how it's going to display the image according to the way you set up your player (usually done when you enter your tv type the first time you turn the player on). Now that you've seen the different in the raw files, let's look at how it'll appear on your TV.

House on a 4:3 TV

I'll start with explaining how the DVD will look on a regular 4:3 TV, since that's what most consumers have, though widescreen TVs are becoming more popular. Widescreen releases, anamorphic or not, will contain black bars on the top and bottom of 4:3 TVs since the aspect ratio of the show and the TV are different. Here are examples of an anamorphic widescreen title (top) and a widescreen title (bottom) on a 4:3 TV:

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Anamorphic Widescreen on a 4:3 TV

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Widescreen on a 4:3 TV

You can see they look identical. When the DVD player reads the anamorphic image (the stretched one), it knows to throw away certain lines to create the proper picture on your TV. There isn't any image information on the top or bottom, so the player generates black bars. When the DVD player reads the widescreen image it just outputs the image to the TV and the black bars that are part of the raw file appear on your TV.

House on a 16:9 TV

Widescreen TVs have become more popular in the past 2 years, especially with the push towards HDTV occurring in the United States. These TVs are a different size than the traditional 4:3 TVs, so they display content differently. When a title is encoded as "anamorphic widescreen" it'll look like the example below:

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Anamorphic Widescreen on 16:9 TV

There aren't any black bars because the show and the TV are the same aspect ratio. The DVD player is just spitting out what's on the DVD, and the TV is stretching it. Now let's look at a widescreen release:

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Widescreen on 16:9 TV

There's a big difference with this picture and the one above; there are black bars surrounding the image. The bars on the top and bottom come from the material on the DVD; they exist as part of the raw image. The bars on the side are generated because there's no content there (sometimes the bars are grey - it depends on the TV). Widescreen TV owners can decide to watch the show like this, or zoom the image using their DVD player or TV. Here's what that looks like:

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Zoomed Widescreen on 16:9 TV

This corrects the black bar issue, but it also lowers the resolution of the image since you're enlarging the picture to fit the area.

Universal's Statement on Widescreen Issue

We asked Universal why they decided to release the show in widescreen as opposed to anamorphic widescreen and they issued the following statement:

    Due to a tight production schedule, Universal Studios Home Entertainment has elected to present the Season One DVD release of the Emmy nominated series "House," available August 30th, in Widescreen 1.78:1. This timing will provide viewers the opportunity to watch the first season's episodes they might have missed in advance of the show's Season Two network premiere in September.
I hope the examples above will help you understand the difference between widescreen and anamorphic widescreen, and how you may be affected.

Note: The examples above use a menu from the upcoming release of House Season 1. The menus for the discs appear as 16:9 images, and will display without black bars on widescreen TVs. The menu was used to illustrate the different between widescreen and anamorphic widescreen titles since it was material related to the title which was released by Universal Studios Home Entertainment.

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