Stretching 4:3 to fit 16:9 - a mini-rant

My dad got a nifty widescreen HDTV last year on his birthday, about a year ago.

Not knowing much about HDTV, but being the de-fault go-to-person for technology in the family, I had a crash course on how to set the thing up. I became the defacto “know-it-all” about this TV.

After loads and loads and loads of frustration, we finally got the HD DVR playing nice with the TV so that the correct signals were being sent from the box to the TV and everything was being shown in the correct aspect ratio and the correct definition. It’s worked great for 11 months now.

I had to do a LOT of explaining to dad about the difference between 4:3 and 16:9. He’s both an alcoholic and on pain meds (a different rant) so there are very few hours in the day where things can be explained to him and he still remembers the answer the next day. But I was patient and have explained the difference several dozen times now.

I broke it down fairly simply:

  1. Some shows are shot with a “square” camera and they will be shown on your rectangular TV as a square with black lines on either side. It’s done this way to avoid distortion. They were made to fit nicely on a square TV. If you stretch it out, it looks wrong.
  2. Some shows are shot with a “rectangular” camera and they will be shown on your rectangular TV as a rectangle and will fill up the entire screen. These shows were made especially to fit on your screen.
  3. Some shows were shot with a “rectangular” camera but they are not broadcast in a way that will fit fully across your screen. They’re broadcast so they fit fully across people’s square screens. If you see a show like this with lines on all side, it’s ok to use the “stretch” button on the remote to make it fill up your screen. It will look fine.

(yes I know the camera stuff is hooey but it’s the best I could come up with)

So the other day I saw a note on his fridge that was a reminder that the Cable Guy was coming out. Apparently there was no sound coming on 2 channels.

  1. Ask about no sound on channels 46 and 47
  2. Stretch picture to fit.

He wanted the Cable Guy to set up his TV to stretch everything to 16:9…proper ratio be damned.

I questioned him on this. I begged. I pleaded. I tried to explain again for the umpteeth time.

No dice. I visited yesterday…all of the pictures were stretched.

So now the old man can “get his money’s worth” out of his humongous television screen by totally fucking up a good chunk of the broadcasts.

How this is remotely better, I do not know.

Old people…God bless 'em.

My dad’s the same way. There is nothing, yet NOTHING, you can do to fix your dad. Just sigh and live with it. I’m telling you this from years of experience. “I’ve been watching Barbara Walters for years and she doesn’t look squished!” Seriously. There is no point and you will NOT win this one.

Yeah I my final words on it were “You know who watches TV all stretched out like that? Stupid people do.”

“Well, I guess I’m stupid then,” he said.


I kinda like stretching out all the skinny Hollywood people out wider. :smiley:

I think the solution is to get him glasses that shrink the image back to the correct shape. All he has to do is change glasses to restore the picture. This is easier than trying to explain the new options.:slight_smile:

It’s funny how people will spend $1000 on a new TV, and then set it up so the picture looks like crap and is worse quality than the SD set they had before. :rolleyes:

What’s even worse is after I got my HDTV, I had Time Warner come in and install an HD box. My roommate let them in, as I was out at the time, and when I came back that night I found that the technician had set it up to stretch all 4:3 channels to 16:9. The cable guy did that, of his own volition, saying (as my roommate relayed to me) “I fixed it so the picture fills the screen.” :rolleyes: And these are the morons people who don’t know what they are doing go to for help.

I feel your pain. I don’t know a single person with a wide screen TV who doesn’t have it set up to fill the screen. I guess they like fat-faced people.

This drives me crazy.

It’s worst in bars with big televisions. I know that a lot of sports are now broadcast in widescreen hi-def, but some are not, and stretching those basketball players out to fit a wide screen just looks ridiculous.

Eyebrows, ouch. I just…ouch. ><

My husband worries a little bit about potential burn-in, but as there’s no way in hell I would let him alter the aspect ratios instead he tries to avoid watching too much in 4:3. Actually, when we were setting up the antenna he voluntarily changed the aspect ratio when he realized the SD channels were being stretched sniffs I’m so proud…

If the TV has an intelligent stretch algorithm, it shouldn’t be too too bad. The best ones I’ve seen stretch proportionally to the distance from the centre of the screen. That is, something very near the centre gets stretched very little and something at the edge gets stretched a lot. Sometimes there’s an area in the middle where things aren’t stretched at all.

I’m with you. My whole family does this as well. I used to go fix it for them if I noticed what was going on, but now I only fix it if I’m watching as well. They don’t care.

On a related note, Food Network HD bothers me with their algorithm. They leave the center alone and stretch it more the closer you get to the edge. Since that’s how they broadcast it, there’s nothing you can do to get a proper picture.

Ever watched a football game that way? The lines on the field take on a fascinating S-shape.

I’m not a great watcher of TV, let alone sports.

I wrestled with this problem when I first got a widescreen TV.

It isn’t that people like watching it stretched, it’s that those black bars at the side are a distracting irritation - it’s like sand in the eye - the reason people stretch the image is to try to remedy that irritation - there is no remedy, save for just learning to live with it.

Apart from the fact that all new TV shows should be 16:9 by default, by now, I often wonder if the older 4:3 shows can’t be zoomed in and slid down, so they are 16:9 cropped off the bottom.

I imagine in a few cases that’s not ideal, but the majority of the time it seems like a plan that would work. Or there’s the intermediary ratio, 14:9, that they could zoom a 4:3 show into, giving narrower black bars and less crop.


Why not just watch the show in the format for which it was designed? Arguing that all 4:3 shows should be zoomed or cropped to fit wide screens is, IMO, just as stupid as arguing that widescreen video should be “pan-and-scanned” for the benefit of people with 4:3 televisions.

I think one problem is that the eye sort of adjusts, and doesn’t see the distortion.

We just got a HDTV and had a similar problem; the installers were amazed that we wouldn’t want everything filling up the screen. It took a lot of doing to figure the settings to get things right.

In the process, we took our DVD of CASABLANCA and put it on the TV in the correct ratio. We got to a closeup of Bogart and paused the DVD; then I took my digital camera, marked where I was, and took a picture of the screen. Then we reset things to the 16:9 ratio, and I took a photo of the same shot from the DVD (taken from the same position relative to the TV.) I printed both on the same page, so now I have two photos of the screen, one in the real aspect ratio and one stretched. Anyone looking at the two together can see the diff – Bogart looks fat when stretched out. It’s easier to show this to someone, so they see the difference, rather than try to describe it in words.

They don’t bother me at all. My problem is figuring out when I should be using the full screen.

In an ideal world where people can overlook blank space on their TVs, that would be optimum. But clearly a lot of people (and sometimes I include myself in this group, depending on the situation) do not like it, and would rather the entire screen space was utilised.

I was offering a suggestion that I thought was within the realms of viability.

Well, if you set things up so that it always uses the right aspect ratio, then you shouldn’t worry–the TV will take care of that, and if you train yourself to look it becomes easy to tell when something’s in the wrong ratio. Your eyes can adjust if you’re not looking for it, but it’ll still look much better in the proper dimensions.

The real pisser is when you wind up with something that’s letterboxed–then you wind up with bars on all sides.