Window-boxed Movies, Dammit

“Window-boxed” movies are close to the wide screen 16:9 aspect ratio, but the picture is smaller than normal, causing black bars at the top and bottom of the screen, and also left and right.
I could zoom the picture to fill my television top to bottom and left to right, but then even more than minimal DVD resolution is lost.
It seems most common on older DVDs.

I hate this.

Is there any way to spot this type of transfer before I purchase a movie?

Does your player allow you to set the aspect ratio for playback?

Sometimes that’ll work without distorting the picture.

I believe most, or all, DVD/Blu-ray cases list the aspect ratio on the back. For example, the Amazon listing for a Blu-ray release of The Fifth Element says the aspect ratio is 2.40:1.

They do. But they can squash/transfer the picture without changing the aspect ratio, right?

The current movie that has this is an older one and is shown to be 2.35:1. That’s a correct wide-screen aspect ratio, but the size is wrong.

I’ve got 10 or 15 movies in my collection that I avoid because I hate watching them this way, but I can’t replace them with a different version/transfer without knowing how to spot this problem.

Maybe the BD version would be correct, but most of these movies aren’t worth a BD price.

This is the key bit of info. Many older DVDs did this to compensate for the overscan problem on CRT televisions. If they brought the picture out to the edges, some of it would not be visible. These types of transfers disappeared with CRT TVs.

Or it was an effort to present a widescreen aspect ratio on 4:3 ratio TVs - before the advent of real widescreen TVs.

But how can I spot this? Would a BD version likely to have the same problem?

Yes, I have been all over the HighDef and AVS Forums looking for this, but I find no definitive answer.

Maybe there is no definitive answer.

I like JKilez’s explanation. If that’s what they did for your 10-15 DVDs, there’s not much one can do to identify them ahead of time. You can always post a question on Amazon and ask people who have recently purchased it.

I think I’d just hook a computer up to the TV and watch it that way: VLC Media Player and no doubt countless others let you crop on the fly to get rid of the black bars. There’s gotta be a few DVD players that have this same functionality too?

If that wasn’t an option I’d rip the DVD, crop it with some free transcoding software, and reburn. Problem solved permanent-like for that disc, but it is quite time consuming.

A simple “Zoom” command to the television would do that easily:
“I could zoom the picture to fill my television top to bottom and left to right, but then even more than minimal DVD resolution is lost.”

All flat screen TVs are high definition, but DVDs are not. Their resolution can vary somewhat based on the quality of the transfer (especially older discs) but you cannot fill the screen of a modern HD TV with a signal from a DVD player without it being a lower resolution. HD TV screens are inherently a higher resolution than the DVD signal. This is especially noticeable with a flat screen 40" or larger.

Only real way to avoid this is to buy Blu-ray discs (and a player) instead.