Why doesn't "automatic aspect" on my TV work?

Any time I watch a show that is broadcast in 4:3 on an HD channel, or On Demand, I have to scroll through several screens to change the aspect ratio manually from “full” to 4:3. It’s got a couple of other settings too. One of the other settings is “auto.” When it is in auto, it does fine at detecting a movie in widescreen, and adjusting, but it can’t tell when a show is in 4:3. Some 4:3 shows are OK, even when it is set on “full,” so I assume they are being broadcast differently somehow. Then, there are plenty of vintage shows that have been redone to broadcast as widescreen (I don’t know whether they’ve been remastered, or just recut, but the first few seasons of Law & Order are widescreen).

So why doesn’t this “auto” setting work to shift to 4:3 automatically? why can it detect a widescreen movie, but not an SD TV show? Is it because they are purposefully not looking for SD broadcasts, since enough old SD shows have been remastered or recut? or is the TV just not smart enough? or is mine malfunctioning?

There’s an aspect flag in the video/broadcast that the TV detects, but isn’t always there or recognized by the channel.

As for 16:9 versions of 4:3 shows, the image is either cropped top and bottom or unmasked because they were shot on film. Married With Children is an example of the former, with the top of the casts heads cut off. Seinfeld is an example of the latter, with extra unintended details visible on the sides of the screen.

I hesitate to say they’re “remastered” because implies they’ve been upgraded in some way. IMO, neither cropping or unmasking is an upgrade to the original.

Edit: Sometimes if the same show is on different channels, you’ll see the flag not recognized and you’ll see super tall and skinny or short and squat.

I’m guessing whoever is doing the broadcasting has just stretched the image to 16:9 and sent it out that way, so your TV has no way of knowing it’s supposed to be 4:3.

You are still smarter than your Smart TV. :grin:

There’s your answer right there. The HD Channel isn’t 4:3. It’s 16:9 with the image letterboxed.

It won’t detect it with On Demand images either. Really annoying.

The On Demand is probably in HD as well.

My favorite is to end up with letterbox bands on all 4 sides, and a 4:3 image stretched to 16:9 shape in the middle.

Damn if I can figure out between the original, any post-processing before transmission, the cable people, the DVR, and my TV which layer is adding mayhem to insult to injury.


Letterbox is black bars top and bottom. Pillarbox is bars on the sides. Windowbox is bars on all sides.

The easiest way to check if a show is in the wrong aspect ratio, other than they’re too tall or too squat is to look for something round(ish) in the scene, for example a clock in the scene.

What brand and model number is your TV?

It’s an Insignia SmartTV with Amazon built it-- which is to say, if I programmed it to be so, it could be an Alexa device, but so far the only time I’ve given it oral commands are to get to things that otherwise would take several screens (ie, “go to HDMI”). It doesn’t understand any permutation of “change aspect ratio,” though. It has a 52" screen, but model #, I’ve no idea, and don’t feel like moving it right now. There’s probably a way to display it onscreen, but it beats me.

There may be some info you’re leaving out. What input sources are you using that send you the widescreen movie and the SD TV show? Are they both coming from your cable box via HDMI? Or is one (or both) of them coming from the antenna?

Not knowing what your model number is, I can’t be specific. But my guess is that setting it to “full” isn’t what you want. That sounds like a setting that takes a 4:3 picture and stretches it to 16:9 so that it’s “full” on your screen. It’s the setting my mom uses because she thinks the black boxes are far more distracting than the fact that Andy Griffith now looks like the kid from the movie “Mask”.

When you set it to “Auto”, how is it misbehaving?

I fought with this a number years ago. Turns out my cable box converts everything to 16:9 before sending it over the HDMI, so the TV always thinks it is getting a 16:9 image. The older cable boxes were pretty bad with how they did the mapping, more recent boxes (Xfinity X1/Cox Contour) seem a little bit better.

I’m going to guess this is what’s happening. I have been sampling various channels, and it is pretty clear that for some of the channels, the automatic feature works, and for some channels it does not-- On Demand being a “channel” for purposes of this discussion.

Some of the stations must be sending 4:3 shows in such a way that they are received as 16:9, which is what my TV calls “full.”

My choices are “auto”; “full” (full is 16:9); “4:3”; “wide 1”; “wide 2”; and “wide 3.” From what I can tell, wide 1 is ordinary widescreen movies, wide 2 is Cinemascope/PanoRama, and widescreen 3 is for “popping out” a picture that is boxed on all sides. It perfectly unboxes a 16:9 being broadcast on an SD channel that has lines top and sides. It makes a widescreen on an SD channel look like a widescreen on an HD channel (with some loss of quality). Scope films in this format on SD, you lose a couple inches on each end, and and lots of quality. I would just figure out some other way to watch a scope film.

So, when it is set on auto, it works on stations that are broadcasting as-is their SD shows, but the ones purposefully broadcasting them in 16:9 need to be manually set to 4:3.

I guess some stations have gotten viewer feedback that they’d rather have distortion than black lines a la Munch’s mom. :roll_eyes: <= [not the best eyeroll I’ve seen, but it’s what I got], so they make it easy on people. They probably figure people who even recognize aspect problems are the ones most likely to know what to do about them.

I just wish that Alexa, who understands “Find me a Halloween movie”; “switch to HDMI”; “go to playlist L&O”; and “is The Big Bang Theory on Now?” when I speak them into her remote while pressing her button (she loves her some button pressing), understood “change aspect to 4:3.”

It takes forever to scroll through all the screens to change the aspect ratio.

Missed edit window:

So, when it is set on auto, it works on stations that are broadcasting as-is their SD shows, but the ones purposefully broadcasting them in 16:9 need to be manually set to 4:3, or the picture is distorted (looking like the kid in Mask, as Munch put it). I can tell, because if it is set to “auto” some stations have distorted pictures, and some stations have picture in perfect 4:3, with black side borders. If it’s set to “full,” all stations are distorted, except a couple of all-vintage stations, that apparently fix shows at 4:3. If it’s set to 4:3, all shows meant to be in 4:3 look right, with the exception on the ones on the vintage stations, that look too narrow.

The number of viewers who cry, “I paid for a 16:9 TV and I want ALL my videos to fill every bit of the screen!” are far more vocal than those who understand and appreciate viewing shows and movies in their correct aspect ratio.

The cries and voting with their wallets goes back to the 80’s when fullscreen VHS releases far outsold the pan and scan full screen versions. SIGH

An option may be to get a programmable remote like Harmony and program in the number of button presses to a single button. Sad, but the teeming masses have spoken the TV stations have relented to their demands.

Well, those viewers be idiots.