Why doesn't HBO televise movies in widescreen?

Simple question. It’s clear they feel widescreen is a nicer way to present their material, as both Six Feet Under and The Sopranos are filmed and broadcast in widescreen.

Widescreen’s the nicer, arty way to do it, and it preserves the original picture. DVDs are still released in both full screen and widescreen formats, but many are being released with only the latter (e.g., the extended version of LotR).

I just noticed this recently. Really, shouldn’t they have started broadcasting movies in widescreen a while ago?

Most cable systems do not yet have any support for widescreen televisions. So if you want to watch a widescreen movie on cable on a 9:16 TV, you’re seeing a 4:3 image with letterboxing in the signal. You can zoom it, but the resulting resolution is crappy. You get the full image, but the image looks like a skanky old re-used-100-times VHS tape. On the other hand, all DVD players have support for sending a proper 16:9 signal to 16:9 televisions (or a letterboxed image to 3:4 televisions), making anamorphic widescreen DVDs a truly sublime experience.

So the answer is, when widescreen-capable equipment gets more standardized and deployed in more of the country, then HBO will probably start broadcasting stuff in 16:9.

I guess I should rephrase: I was asking why HBO doesn’t broadcast their movies in letterbox, with the black bars. The answer I’d heard often in the past is “because it’s ugly.” But I think the tide has turned on that statement, and now it seems most viewers (or most producers) think letterbox is the better way to go.

Letterbox being how HBO’s previously mentioned shows, along with NBC’s ER and The West Wing, etc., are presented.

HBO is available in high definition 16x9 on DirectTV channel 509.

But even HD HBO does not always preserve the original picture. The 16x9 widescreen TV aspect ratio is very close to the 1.85:1 movie aspect ratio, so those are broadcast correctly. But the wider 2.35:1 movies are cropped to fill the screen, instead of being letterboxed.

It’s for the same reason regular HBO doesn’t letterbox its movies. Most people just don’t like black bars. They don’t care about the correct aspect ratio.