2.35 Widescreen Home Theater:
Should you or shouldn't you?

Evan Powell, March 27, 2007

NOTICE: THIS ARTICLE HAS BEEN REWRITTEN AND UPDATED.
SEE CURRENT ARTICLE HERE

Just when everyone has gotten used to the concept of converting from plain ole 4:3 television to widescreen 16:9 video systems, a new format option is popping up-some people are going with even wider screen formats for their home theaters. The most popular of the alternative formats is 2.35:1 since many motion pictures are filmed in this aspect ratio. If you are about to install a new home theater, a fundamental question to ask would be, "Is the 2.35 format right for me, or should I stay with 16:9?" Let's examine the issues and see what's right for you.

What is 2.35 Widescreen?

First, let's be clear about what we are talking about. The idea is to install a screen with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, or 2.35 units wide for every one unit of height. The big advantage is that you can see movies that are made in this format full frame, without any black bars above or below the picture. As an example, The Fifth Element was done in 2.35, and if you project it onto a 2.35 screen it would look like this:

The Fifth Element in 2.35

Meanwhile, all regular HDTV programming is in 16:9 format, otherwise known as 1.78 because 16 divided by 9 is 1.78. In addition, there are a few films done in 1.78, and many more are done in 1.85, which is so close to 1.78 that you usually don't notice the difference. When this type of material is displayed on a 2.35 screen, you get black vertical bars, or columns, on each side the image, commonly referred to as pillar-boxing. For example, the movie Chicago was done in 1.85. Here is what a scene from Chicago looks like on a 2.35 format screen:

Chicago in 1.78

There is also plenty of 4:3 format material still being watched today as well. It can be positioned in the center of the 2.35 screen, with larger pillar-boxing on either side. The following is a scene from Gone With The Wind, which was done in 4:3, on a 2.35 screen:

Gone with the Wind in 4:3

The Aesthetic Appeal of 2.35

The reason some people like the 2.35 format is that it can have a more dramatic appearance compared to standard 16:9 widescreen. If standard 16:9 is being displayed, and suddenly the curtains retract revealing a wider screen, and then a 2.35 format movie appears on that screen, it looks even bigger and more impressive than the conventional 16:9 image. There is a certain WOW factor involved with this, and many people find that it adds excitement to the home theater experience.

In addition, many people think that 2.35 films are the most important and/or most common type of video material they watch. So they want to see them full frame, without black bars above and below the image, which is what you get if you display them on a 16:9 screen.

The Aesthetic Downside to 2.35

In general, the most significant penalty to be paid by going with a 2.35 set up is that your 16:9 and 4:3 images will be much smaller than they would be if you used a 16:9 screen. Why? In the vast majority of home theater situations, the room dimensions place a practical limit on the maximum width of the screen before placing any limitation on its height. Let's assume for example that the wall you are projecting onto is 14 feet wide and 9 feet high. Let's also assume you want to leave two feet to either side of the screen for speaker placement and aesthetic clearance from the walls. Practically speaking, this wall size limits you to a maximum screen width of about 10 feet.

Now, since this room has a 9 foot ceiling, the height of your screen can be pretty much anything you want. If you go with a 2.35 screen, it will be 10 feet wide and 4.25 feet high. If you opt for a 16:9 screen, it will be 10 feet wide and 5.62 feet high. And if you wanted to go 4:3, it would be 10 feet wide and 7.5 feet tall. Since this room size does not limit the height of the screen, the 2.35 format actually turns out to be the smallest screen you can install from a total square footage perspective.

Now, on this ten-foot wide 2.35 format screen, every image you project will be the same height, which is 4.25 feet. What will vary is the width of the image. A film in 2.35 will take up the entire 10 foot screen width, but a 16:9 image will be only 7.56 feet wide. The total square footage of that 16:9 image will be 4.25 x 7.56 = 32.1 sq. ft. Conversely, if you installed a 16:9 screen that was 10 feet wide, the total square footage of your 16:9 image would be 10 x 5.62, or 56.2 square feet. That is a much bigger 16:9 image-almost double the square footage. To illustrate, compare the following images of the 1.85 format scene from Chicago on a 2.35 screen, and on a 16:9 screen of the same width:

Chicago on a 2.35 screen

Chicago on a 16:9 screen

The same is true of 4:3 material. On a 10-foot wide 2.35 screen, a 4:3 picture will be 24 square feet. On a 10-foot wide 16:9 screen, a 4:3 image will be 42 square feet-again, almost double the size in terms of total screen area.

Meanwhile, whether you use a 10-foot wide 2.35 or 16:9 screen, a 2.35 film will be the same size either way-10 feet wide and 4.25 feet tall for a total of 42.5 square feet no matter what. The only difference is that the 2.35 screen gives you a full frame effect, and the 16:9 screen gives you black bars top and bottom.

Therefore, once you determine how wide a screen you can install, that defines the size of your 2.35 image. Your only question is how big do you want your 16:9 and 4:3 material to appear? If you want those images to be smaller than your 2.35 films, go with a 2.35 screen. If you want them to be larger than your 2.35 films, go with the 16:9 format.

Or if you want your 4:3 image to be really huge, you can go with a 4:3 screen. We have a 150" diagonal Stewart Studiotek 130 in 4:3 format. That is 10 feet wide by 7.5 feet tall, for a commanding 75 square foot picture. I just watched the new HD DVD edition of Casablanca on it the other night using the Canon Realis SX60. For some of us, that is a dramatic home theater experience. Given my personal enjoyment of old classic 4:3 films, I would not trade the grandeur of a 150" diagonal 4:3 image for the small picture I'd get on a 2.35 screen, just to make 2.35 films appear larger in comparison. But there is nothing right or wrong about this, it is just personal preference.

The bottom line is this: you are the director in your home theater. You can decide how you want various format images to be screened. Some people love that feeling of the screen opening super wide for 2.35, and would prefer to limit the size of 16:9 and 4:3 material in order to make the 2.35 films look larger. Some prefer to take advantage of a taller screen that allows a larger presentation of 16:9 and 4:3 images. The only relevant question is--how do you want to set up your own theater?

If you go with 2.35, how do you do it?

In theory, if you want to install a 2.35 aspect ratio screen, the ideal match would be a native 2.35 format video projector. However, there is no such thing on the market, at least at the moment. Almost all video projectors made for home theater use are 16:9, with the exception of a very few that are 4:3. So you will need to use a 16:9 projector. The question is, how do you fill a 2.35 screen with a 16:9 projector?

There are two ways to do this. The first, easiest, and least costly way would be to select a projector with a powered zoom lens and powered vertical lens shift. When viewing a 2.35 film, you zoom the lens to a wide angle setting such that the image perfectly fits the screen. Then when you switch to either 16:9 or 4:3 material, you use the powered lens to zoom forward until the image shrinks to the point that it fits the frame. If the projector is ceiling mounted and projecting at a downward angle, you may also need to use the vertical lens shift to realign the center of the image with the center of the screen. But with these two adjustments, you can easily achieve the objective of centering smaller 16:9 and 4:3 images in the middle of your 2.35 screen.

The other way to manage this process is with the use of an external anamorphic lens that is placed in front of your projector's lens. An anamorphic lens is designed to distort an image by either stretching it horizontally or compressing it vertically. (Lenses which stretch horizontally are called Horizontal Expansion lenses, or HE. Vertical Compression lenses are designated VC.) In this case, you want to maintain a constant image height that fits your 2.35 screen no matter what type of video material you are viewing. So you need a Horizontal Expansion lens. There are several on the market, but one of the most popular is the Panamorph UH380, shown here along with its optional M380 motorized track in front of a Panasonic AE900 projector:

Panamorph UH380 with Panasonic AE900

The key to the use of an anamorphic lens is that it be deployed when 2.35 material is being displayed, and it must be removed when you want to see 16:9 or 4:3. So your options are to either put it on a motorized track as illustrated above, or put it on a manual track so you can slide it back and forth by hand. If you are ceiling mounting the projector, the motorized track is, practically speaking, almost mandatory. If you place the projector on a rear shelf that is within easy reach, the manual track becomes a more workable (and much less expensive) solution. (Panamorph's UH380 lens is $2,495, and their optional M380 track is another $2,495, which brings it up to about $5,000 for the total package. However, you can build a simple manual device using a sliding door track from Home Depot for under $20.)

In a fully automated system, you can have motorized drapes or screen masks that will automatically open or close to accommodate the image size on the screen. These systems are complex and expensive, but custom home theater installers are trained to wire it all together if your budget allows you to get this extravagant.

Vertical video rescaling a vital step

As note above, the anamorphic lens optically stretches the image horizontally. In order for this to work the projector needs to be able to distort the image in an equal and opposite manner, so it comes out looking normal on the screen. Many projectors have a rescaling option to accomplish this. On the projector's display, the 2.35 picture will be stretched vertically to use the entire height of the 16:9 format. In this mode, if the anamorphic lens is not in place, you would see the 2.35 picture stretched vertically to fill a 16:9 screen so that objects and people look excessively tall and skinny. As you slide the anamorphic lens into place, the image maintains its height, but stretches out horizontally to fill the entire width of the 2.35 screen and everything looks normal once again.

If your projector does not have the rescaling option to distort a 2.35 image vertically, you must either acquire a projector that does, or get an external video processor that will perform this task. And it must rescale all signal types you plan to use. Some projectors may rescale 480i, but not 720p or 1080i. Some may rescale component video but not HDMI. Test your projector's aspect ratio options on every signal type before making the leap to a 2.35 screen and an anamorphic lens.

Other factors to keep in mind

Not all anamorphic lenses are compatible with all projectors. The larger the onboard lens on the projector, the larger the anamorphic lens must be to accommodate it. Check the lens vendors for compatibility with your particular projector model before buying.

Also, anamorphic lenses are designed to produce optimally sharp images at certain "sweet spot" throw distances. For example, the Panamorph UH380 above delivers its sharpest picture at a throw distance of 16 feet. If you try to set it up for a shorter or longer throw distance, the picture will lose some of its sharpness. Make sure to determine the optimal throw distance for the anamorphic lens you select, and verify that your room dimensions will accommodate it.

What is the advantage of the anamorphic lens?

Advocates of the 2.35 concept often point to three advantages to be gained from the use of an anamorphic lens. First, in theory it allows you to use the full light output of the projector. When a 16:9 projector is displaying a 2.35 film in its normal aspect ratio, it does so by placing black bars above and below the image. Those black bars amount to about 25% of the total picture area, which means that 25% of the potential light output of the projector is being blocked. By stretching the 2.35 image vertically to take the full height of the display, the black bars are eliminated and the total light output of the unit is being used. The anamorphic lens then brings that total light output into use by stretching it across the 2.35 screen.

This argument does not take into account the optical properties of the projector's zoom lens. Let's suppose that instead of using the anamorphic lens, you simply use the projector's zoom features to increase the size of the 2.35 image to fill the screen. To do that you would be moving the lens to a wider angle setting than it would be if the anamorphic lens was in use. This always allows the lens to transmit more light. So depending on the projector, some or all of that 25% light lost to the black bars is compensated for by opening the zoom lens to a wider angle setting. (This observation does not apply if you are at the extreme ends of the zoom range, but if you are indeed at the extreme ends of the projector's zoom range you are most likely out of the sweet spot of the anamorphic lens as well).

A second and more genuine advantage of the anamorphic lens is that it allows the use of 100% of the pixels on the projector's display. If you have a 1280x720 format projector, and you use the vertical stretch plus the anamorphic lens to produce your 2.35 picture, you use all 1280x720 = 921,600 pixels to create the image. If you instead use the zoom lens adjustment to blow up the picture, you end up using about 75% of that, or a bit under 700,000 pixels. So the anamorphic lens can reduce visible pixelation in the image by using more pixels.

But the third and most potent argument for the use of the anamorphic lens is that it produces a home theater experience that is quite different than the standard widescreen presentation. By setting up your system this way, you designate 2.35 films to be the most important of the material to be viewed. When you choose to display 2.35 larger and wider than either 16:9 or 4:3, you cause it to have a greater visual and emotional impact. Moreover, when the lens deployment mechanism, the curtains, and the screen masking are all motorized and automatic, the combined effect produces a WOW factor that some regard as the ultimate in home theater.

Other Limitations of Anamorphic Lens

Several limitations to the use of anamorphic lenses have been noted above, but a couple more points should be made. First, they are quite expensive relative to the projectors. The Panamorph UH380 is the least pricey of the HE lenses; others like the Schneider and ISCO are much more expensive. For the price of an anamorphic lens you can step up from a good 720p projector to a high performance 1080p model.

Second, one of the benefits of the new Blu-ray and HD DVD formats is that they will deliver movies in native 1920x1080 format directly to a 1080p projector, so that they can be viewed without scaling. The use of an anamorphic lens requires that 2.35 material encoded in native 1080p format be rescaled vertically, and then stretched optically. So you lose the advantage of seeing the film in its pure native format, perfectly reproduced from the HD DVD or Blu-ray disc. Advocates will say that the cost in reduced image acuity is insignificant, and it may well be. But it is something to be aware of.

Conclusion

In the final analysis, a 2.35 set up in home theater is not better than 16:9. It is just different. Each of the two formats has unique benefits over the other, and each has its limitations. It is up to you to determine how large you want the different types of video material to appear in your own home theater. And in the end, that is really the issue: If you want to limit the size of 16:9 and 4:3 material to make 2.35 appear larger, then the 2.35 scenario is made for you. If you want all video formats to appear as large as possible regardless of their size relative to one another, then the 16:9 screen format is better suited to that objective.

Reader Comments(32 comments)

Posted Jan 17, 2014 6:56:00 AM

By seshu B

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is panamorph uh 380 is suitable for projection design cinema projector to view 4:3 or 16:9 image on 2.35:1 ratio screen?

Posted Aug 23, 2011 11:29:00 PM

By Capturemike

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I liked this article but it said there aren't any projectors on the market that have built in 2.35 lenses. With a little research I found Runco make several projectors both LCD, DLP and even lampless LED's that use CineWide™ with AutoScope™ for no-compromise 2.35:1 CinemaScope technology. If you add up $5000 for an ugly external lens shifter with a track system plus the cost of a decent projector you're approaching $10-15k. Heck they even have a highend 3D projector too. I guess it depends how serious you are for a dedicated Cinema. I'm currently setting up one and doing a lot of research with screen sizes and room dimensions. Best of all they are available in Australia. Worth considering...

Posted Jul 26, 2011 2:55:55 AM

By Nate

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Why don't manufactures design projectors that have an automated masking system on the front of a projector (say 16:9 since it is most common these days)? A simple rotating wheel on the front of the projector that could be selected manually by the user via remote, or detected and selected automatically according to the movie? While perhaps not aesthetically appealing, it seems like this would be a simple and viable solution to the problem.

Posted Mar 12, 2011 7:57:52 AM

By Barry Tonner

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"The reason the image doesn't get taller (or shorter) is that the height of the frame of the film, which determines the height of the projected image, is the same for both scope and flat formats. The width of the "native" scope image was compressed when it was filmed to fit into the standard 4:3 35mm film frame. Using an anamorphic lens on the theater projector that matches the lens that was on the camera when the movie was filmed (on 35mm stock) stretches the image width back to “normal” (2.35:1)."

The above comment is entirely true, and the proper description of the method used for filming and projection of 'Scope' films.

If your in a theater, and the top or bottom masking moves for the presentation of a 'Scope' film, then the theatre is reducing the size of the projected image to fit the width of their screen, which requires moving the top and bottom masking.

This also bring up one of my pet peeves, ....there seems to be a lot of confusion re: 'Black Bars'...I have even seen comments regarding 'the produces place back bars on the top and bottom' etc.....this is nonsense...what is really happening, is that the film is presented in it native format, and again is shrunk down to fit the width of your tv, and that leaves no picture on the top and bottom......some theaters do this to, because their screen is not wide enough, or they dont have the room to expand it to its proper size.

Another point that needs to be pointed out, is that to use an anamorphic lens, you mush have a anamorphic 'print'. I have not found an 'anamorphic print' (squeezed image) on a dvd....they may be out there but I have not found one. I have an anamorphic lens, and would love to use it.

Posted Jan 9, 2011 9:20:51 AM

By Ahmed

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Great article. Exactly why I did mine in 16:9. Glad to see the author kind of agrees with me.

My front wall is about 12 feet. I was able to do a 130" 16:9. The only advantage of the 2.35:1 would have been to watch the 2.35 content without bars above and below. Size wise the 16:9 achieves the best overall size. May be 4:3 is bigger but I don't care about the few 4:3 titles out there. One more point to add is that the 16:9 may start to be the trend for new movies again. Most IMAX are in 16:9. Also Avatar was released in 16:9.

Posted Nov 18, 2010 1:45:13 PM

By Peter Edel

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Very interesting, but what about subtitles, playing a bluray disc on a 2.35:1 screen. Can you setup where the subtitle is 'placed' on the screen using a bluray player?

I was watching LOTR on a 16:9 screen and the subtitle is split in 2 rows, row 2 is in the black bar... I watch a lot movies without subtitles, but i'm Dutch and some movies are hard to understand without some extra help :)

regards

Posted Aug 15, 2010 10:07:05 PM

By praveen

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what is the differance between 16:9 format and 2.35:1 screen i am using optoma hd 20 isthis machine supported 2.35:1 in 100 inches diagonal format thanks prav

Posted Sep 4, 2009 11:11:48 PM

By V Kumar

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I am shooting on Redone in 16:9 format, in India most of the 35mm film projectors running on 2.35 format screen, using anamorphic lens. how to convert 16:9 format in to 35mm positive film to project 2.35 format screen.

Posted Oct 3, 2008 6:57:03 AM

By Tony McLeod

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Why doesn't someone put the smarts in the player? The projector shouldn't have to do all the work and neither should a lens. And for those who haven't spotted it yet, I'm a bit of a newbie...

Posted Sep 30, 2008 1:17:51 PM

By JimS

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The big selling point for 2.35:1 for me is that my room only has seven foot ceilings. Going wide means I can have a lot more screen area before hitting the floor. Were I to have a 16:9 screen, the screen couldn't be any taller than my 2:35 screen. I'm not losing screen when watching 16:9 and 4:3 movies...I'm gaining screen size while watching 2.35's!

The drawback comes in the complexity. It's a royal pain to make sure everything is lined up straight and true. Even the smallest change in the relationship of the projector and lens can make for some amazing geometry issues.

When I first built the theater, I built an HTPC for scaling and DVD playback. The advent of Blu-ray and HD DVD made a scaler a requirement. More complexity, more money. But it's another gadget to tinker with...I'm happy.

Posted Aug 24, 2008 10:57:02 PM

By Chris

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After seeing the difference between a 16x9 and super wide screen,I built a 2.35:1 106" fixed screen and after completion noticed that if I had only made the top and bottom framing material taller "to match the overlapping screen bars from the 2.35:1 movies",I would in fact have a permanent mask in-placed. This will be rectified in the near future with a rebuild. I'm using the plv-z2ooo by Sanyo which has the vertical and horizontal lens shift, ceiling mounted at 13.7 feet away from the screen. I still have a 16x9 94" fixed screen but, prefer the presentation that the super-wide format brings to the experience. I'm sure the manufacturing companies will produce such a projector in the future, but for now, this will do!

Posted Jul 30, 2008 2:46:53 PM

By Digibaba

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Last night, I watched "Battle of the Bulge" (1965). This movie was was filmed in Ultra Panavision (Cinerama), with an AR of 2.76:1. In other words, it blows today's 2.35:1 'skinny weaklings' clear out of the water. Compared to this phenomenal AR, the subsequent 2.20:1 AR Super Panavision frame size is tame.

I also enjoy watching some of the early CinemaScope films from 1953 onward in their original 2.55:1 and even 2.66:1 AR.

I suppose these days, the "widescreen" AR is either 2.4:1 or 2.35:1, but I guess a scope picture can be anywhere from 2.0:1 to 2.76:1, or even 4.0:1, as portions of Abel Gance's classic triptich Napoleon.

In my experience, settling on a fixed masking 2.35:1 AR screen for all widescreen presentations is just too restrictive. Also, personally I feel that the new trend of constant height screens makes very little sense. Therefore, and especially for the classic movies made between 1953 and the mid-to-late 1970s, I feel that the best solution is to have as large of a screen as possible with a freely movable (i.e. not with pre-set ARs) vertical and horizontal masking. This way, one can show a 2.76:1 presentation like "Battle of the Bulge" and others, but when one drops down to 1:85:1, 1.66:1 and especially 1.33:1 material, one can vary the zoom so that the vertical picture height is increased as the width of the projected image decreases.

With respect to the scope lens attachments also mentioned in the article, the way I understand this, all of them would be for the fixed 2.35:1 aspect ratio. If so, I don't see much use for them, as there are at least a dozen widescreen ARs out there on DVDs -- other than the now prevalent 2.35:1. For me, the difference in visual effects and atmosphere between a 2.76:1 image and a 2.35:1 image is truly staggering.

I also abhor the idea of putting additional optics front of a lens. In theaters, the flat lens is replaced by a scope lens, but in HT, I understand that the PJ's fixed lens stays and the scope attachment lens goes front of it, correct? It would be nice to have a pricier removable lens projector that can be directly fitted with a dedicated scope lens instead of a before-the-lens attachment.

Other than the fancier and rather expensive post production and screening room class of motorized vertical/horizontal masking systems, would you happen to know of some less expensive manual/mechanical masking systems that one could employ with a 12-foot wide screen? Is there an article on CR that deals with masking systems? I noticed that most if not all motorized masking systems use fixed ARs, so that one cannot easily adjust the masks to fit a nonstandard projected image, like the Bulge's 2.76:1. This makes changing the AR fast, but not very useful in these unique AR cases rather prevalent in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. In case of "Battle of the Bulge," kudos to Warner Bros for bringing the 2005 DVD out in the original Cinerama presentation 2.76:1 ratio!

Finally, with the newfangled laser PJs and LED lamp PJs we will be able to move away from expensive, hot, and short--lived xenon and halogen/UHP lamps. I believe a new era of projectors will be upon us. Unfortunately, so far what I read about these two new technologies, the PJs using them are rather small, weak, and low in resolution. But to get a projector with LED lights for a lamp, for instance, and thus an 100,000 hour lamp life, would be truly phenomenal. Hope that this is happening already, or will so very soon.

Posted Mar 18, 2008 10:18:25 AM

By tfiddler

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I think it all depends on the size of your screen and the throw. I really don't think you will see a big difference on such a small screen. I could be wrong. I'd say, go find an Anamorphic Lens on e-Bay, try it with your HD80 first, if it seems to really improve things, then yes you might consider going for the whole ball of wax.

Posted Mar 18, 2008 9:38:30 AM

By EOS

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No doubt about it, these things are pricey. I hope someone can chime in here to answer my question about whether or not a 6K projector is worth the money over the HD80 with the lens for my situation.

Posted Mar 18, 2008 6:09:18 AM

By tfiddler

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I was just re-reading this thread a little and I thought I'd mention that my local Regal Multi Plex theatres uses no masking. They just change lenses. The screen remains the same width, but the highth of the image changes. Just like us using a 16.9 projector, only it's film of course. So, the scope films are shown with the top and bottom not hitting the whole screen. Why they don't bother with masking is probably just that they are cheap and lazy and 90% of the audiance doesn't really care. Our theatre, the theatre featured in the movie, the Blob with Steve McQueen, does use masking. It's Manual. I have to walk down to the stage and change it by hand. The Highth stays the same, but the image gets wider.

Another thing I might mention is Movie Theatres mostly use 1.85 and 2.39. 1.85 is almost 16.9. Those films are actually masked in the projector and blown up bigger to fill the screen. Most of the films come hard matted. The image on the film frame is already masked. You are using only maybe two thirds of the entire 35mm frame. It's a cheap way for theatres to give the illusion of a bigger screen, but it's actually less resolution than scope or the older 1.33 that use the entire 35mm frame.

I contend that, if you have the money, the space and the time, go ahead and reach for that ultra perfection. If you don't, or you are an old fart like me who just wants to watch no fuss movies, use a 16.9 screen and just live with the lower res of letter boxed DVD's. I also remind you, used 16mm and 35mm scope lenses are on e-Bay very cheap sometimes. I got a box of 5 lenses for $15 once already. And of course Blue Ray will change these dynamics.

Posted Mar 18, 2008 5:22:41 AM

By tfiddler

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Of course I see your point, but I just wonder if, for most people, and myself included, the quality I have now is so terrific, why bother. Still, I will experiment, but I'll be darned if I'm going to pay that much for a scope lens and a sleed thing.

You know it's a goofy thing, but it's relative to the format you use. I'm too cheap to buy this lens and sleed gizmo, but as a 16mm collector, I'd be willing to pay $1,000 or more for just one movie. 16mm collectors are truly crazy.

Posted Mar 18, 2008 2:23:18 AM

By EOS

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Blu-Ray movies are almost all at 2.35:1 so an anamorphic lens accessory is a "must have" for any 1080P projector that will be used for movie presentation. Why?

The biggest advantage to using an anamorphic lens for 2.35:1 is that it allows the full top to bottom surface of the LCD or DLP plate/chip to be utilized allowing the widest light path possible and most importantly all the pixels on the chip to be utilized for image reproduction.

Viewing 2:35:1 using a native 16:9 chip projector simply masks off the top and bottom of the chip to create the black bars, (imagine the headlights on an old German Army truck) so you loose about 28% of the projectors available pixels and brightness due to the letter box mask.

If you have LBX mode for displaying 2.35:1 in your 16:9 projector the image is displayed using the full height of the 16:9 chip then the lens simply stretches out the image to the full 2.35:1. So even though you may have some light loss through the lens it is easily made up for by the added horsepower of the full-chip-height-light-path the projected image takes in this mode. Using the lens certainly makes sense for this issue alone ifyou want the most pristene picture possible from your 16:9 projector for 2.35:1 Blue-Ray movies.

I am using an Optoma HD80 which has an incredible picture but limited zoom range. I am pushed back as far as I can go in my 16' deep room with projector placement to fill a 92" wide x 49" tall 16:9 screen. By adding an anamorphic lens I can go to a 140" width at the same height in the same room. That's a 40% size increase in the same room.

The Panamorph lens and power sled/mounting hardware comes in at $3100. All told I'll have $5700 into the projector allowing a 140" x 49" viewing at full resolution.

My question is, will a $6000 projector deliver a better all around movie experience over my Optoma Frankenstein with the lens apparatus?

Any feedback on this issue will be greatly appreciated.

Posted Jan 8, 2008 7:19:33 AM

By tfiddler

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I don't know if any one is still reading this topic, I see the last post was in October, but... I just bought an Optoma HD70 DLP 720p 16.9 after many long hours of research. I've been collecting 16mm for many years and I've worked in a Movie Theatre for about 8 years. I only recently heard of this Idea of using anamorphic lenses with video projectors. I've been using them with 16mm, Super 8 and now 35mm for a long time. Our Theatre uses a fixed Height and the image gets Wider, not taller. I've been in some local chains where the image does NOT get wider, so you can go either way in theatres.

Our theatre is a one screen art house set up for 1.33, 1.37, 1.66, 1.85, and 2.35. We have lenses and aperture plates for each format. In my home, 16mm scope is about 2.66. 16mm has always been the original format of scope from 1952. Ben Hur for instance is 2.66. To do this, slight cropping occurs in 16mm on the top and bottom because a 35mm scope image doesn't quit match up with the 16mm frame of 1.33 or 4.3. Now…

I understand the Idea of using a Scope Lens in front of a Video Projector, but at some of these screen sizes you are describing, I can’t really see the point. With the new 720p and up 16.9 projectors on a 16.9 screen, the amount of image loss is not very demanding. I also never understood this salesman stuff of measuring a screen diagonally. If I have a 100 inch Diagonal Screen, it’s still not telling me how tall the image is because I don’t know if you have a 4.3, 16.9 or a 2.35 screen! It’s stupid…. But that’s just my personal pet peeve… anyway, I went from a 19” TV with letter boxed Laser Disks, to a 9ft wide 16mm Cinemascope Screen and thought it still wasn’t big enough… why? Because the super wide image wasn’t tall enough to give me that feeling I got in a good Movie Theatre.

My friends and I who collect 16mm found that until you got up to a huge 12 ft wide screen, 2.66 looked to long and thin. However, with these 16.9 Video Projectors, I find a letter boxed scope image of about 2.35-2.39 is much more pleasing and theatre like. My 16.9 screen is about 7ft wide by almost 5ft tall. I just used a tape measure and it’s about 110 diagonally… I have the HD70 mounted on the ceiling and if I want to, I can still open the screen up to it’s full 9ft wide width, but I find in practice, it’s not necessary in my living room. I also did the zoom up thing with the older 4.3 projectors, and it was a pain in the butt unless you have a remote zoom with lens shift. You get real tired of doing that after a while, especially if you are watching a few things in different formats in one evening. That guy who mentioned having a projector that remembers your lens settings has a great idea there… So for me, after years of getting up to move curtains, projectors, lenses, etc. Having a 16.9 Projector with choices of 4.3, Native, 16.9 and Letterbox Zoom on my remote saved the day. I have black bars in different formats, but if you have your contrast adjusted right, they are just that. Black. No black masking needed. Some day maybe, but right now, no big deal and the size of 2.35 is still impressive with a screen about 4ft tall by 7ft wide in a normal size living room. The free screen I got from Circuit City is only 7ft wide, so I imagine 90% of you are using a screen about the same size. Incidentally, I never even opened it. It’s still in the shipping crate. I use a Draper Luma pull down I got from a School Supply Company. It’s full size is 9 x 7.

Over the years I’ve tested a lot of Video Projectors that friends bought or our theatre rented for presentations and the bottom line was always, does it look as good as 16mm? These Video projectors didn’t until very recently, and I’m talking about Projectors costing as much as $6,000. Right now, we’ve hit the jackpot when you can buy a Projector for under $1,000 that looks as good or beats 16mm. I’d love to have 1080, but for now, I’m totally blown away by 720p. Anyway, getting back to Anamorphic lenses.

Check out e-Bay. You can buy an Anamorphic lens for around or even under $200 to experiment with. Used 35mm lenses are available. They are very large and should accommodate any Video Projector lens out there. I have 5 Kiowa (?) and two Singer D 16mm scope lenses that are big enough to use with my Optoma HD70, so I’ll do some experimenting, but paying $5,000 for a scope lens is ridiculous with all the used scope lenses on e-Bay! If you’re that rich, get the 1080 machine and have a guy come install it for you. If you’re not, like me, go get a used lens and mess with it and tell us if you really see that much of an improvement.

I think the main thing would be to reduce the SDE right? These new projectors don’t even have that as an issue. I’m sitting only 9ft from my screen sometimes and it’s totally a non issue with the HD70. Broadcast HD totally blows 16mm out of the water too. I can’t wait until the High Def DVD wars are over and we start getting some good content to watch. Sometimes I think you guys are splitting hairs, ya know? Brightness too. I think that issue is now gone too with this years projectors. Be aware also that you loose light with a scope lens. Depending on the lens, it can be noticeable. Also, most photographic scope lenses have a distance ring. You set the distance for your throw. It’s not fixed. It has a range. This Singer lens I have has a range of 2 meters to infinity, so that’s not an issue either with a good lens. I think these $5,000 lenses are kind of well… you think about it.

Posted Oct 4, 2007 12:09:42 PM

By venkat

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Hi I am planning to have a 110" wide 2.35 screen with 1.3 gain. But there is no 2.35 projector. ProjectorCentral.com provides a calculator that provides the amount lumens (in ft lamberts) required for a 110" wide 16:9 screen at a throw distance and gain. For 110" wide 2.35 screen, how do I get the ft-lamberts value for the same throw distance and gain. Please let me know.

-Venkat

Posted Sep 22, 2007 11:40:39 AM

By Eumig Fan

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A question I have is weather or not vertical stretching and projection thru an anamorphic lens is really that much better than just simply zooming the size of the 16:9 picture. This is a different situation from Anamorphic film projection where the full 4:3 35mm frame is horizontally optically expanded to 2.35: 1 CinemaScope. If you stretch the 16:9 DVD picture vertically, and then expand it horizontally, you will not have any a better picture than just zooming out with the regular projector lens because you still have the same amount of information on the screen! In fact you could argue that the introduction of additional lens components has to degrade the image quality over simple zooming. The only advantage that I can see with using an anamorphic lens on a video projector (with vertical stretching) is the elimination of the top and bottom black bars. But you can do this with moveable black velvet masking panels a heck of a lot cheaper than a $5000.00 lens! What is really needed are true dedicated anamorphic DVD prints that occupy the full height of the 16:9 array, so you then just horizontally expand to 2.35:1 using the anamorphic lens - without any need for vertical stretching. Then, and only then, will you have improved the picture quality over simple zooming. Has any body done some comparison testing of anamorphic lens versus zooming to the same size 2.35:1 picture width?

Posted Aug 17, 2007 2:49:46 AM

By slycordinator

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"The reason the image doesn't get taller (or shorter) is that the height of the frame of the film, which determines the height of the projected image, is the same for both scope and flat formats. The width of the "native" scope image was compressed when it was filmed to fit into the standard 4:3 35mm film frame. Using an anamorphic lens on the theater projector that matches the lens that was on the camera when the movie was filmed (on 35mm stock) stretches the image width back to “normal” (2.35:1)."

The above isn't entirely true.

Since it used to be that scope films were pretty rare and screens were fairly expensive, many theater owners decided to go with screens that were shaped with 1.85:1 for their dimensions (that's the apsect ratio of flat). Then when you have a scope movie, a masking on the top moves down to make the image shorter. So with these systems you have your width fixed and you lower the height to make it so the width is 2.39 times larger than tall (note: I used 2.39 because scope movies haven't been 2.35:1 since the early 70s).

With these systems you switch to an anamorphic lens and also switch to a different aperture plate that is cut to specifically for the needed size of the scope image that'll be used on the specific screen.

Also, I've heard of some places using a moveable bottom masking instead of top because while it still makes scope smaller the advantage is that it doesn't lower the apparent center of the image as much as when you switch from flat to scope with top masking moving.

Note: I'm not making this up; I've worked projection at a theater for a few years now.

Posted Jul 2, 2007 8:11:48 PM

By baldeagle

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I have a question: are the films that were produced in even wider aspect ratios than CinemaScope, such as "Patton" and "Ben Hur" and "How the West Was Won" available on DVD in their original aspect ratios, and if so how are they to be accommodated? I am new to all this but have been a widescreen movie buff from the beginning. Now that I am retired and can afford to create my own theater, I want to be able to accommodate all aspect ratios on my screen and do not want letterboxing. I would use masking to accommodate the various aspect ratios. Also, is there a benefit to having curvature in the screen?

Posted May 11, 2007 6:52:11 AM

By AV_Integrated

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"A 2.35:1 screen will by definition be wider, thereby increasing the angle at which the projected image strikes the screen. Screen materials have reduced gains at higher incident angles. This change in gain may reduce the apparent brightness of the projected image nearer the edges to the point of distraction.

Are guidelines available which suggest a maximum allowable change in gain to avoid distraction?"

There can be quite a bit of rolloff in gain before it is noticable, but a properly designed screen is almost not going to have this issue as a 1.0 gain screen should have a near full field of reflectivity (180 degrees).

Even dispersion of all light falling onto the screen through a near 180 degree field is going to produce more even results across all viewing areas. Keep in mind that people sitting to the left or the right of a current 4:3 or 16:9 screen have the same issue possible where they are increasing the angle to the edges to 2.35:1 or greater angles... and there aren't any complaints.

Posted May 10, 2007 6:19:30 PM

By 876sing

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A 2.35:1 screen will by definition be wider, thereby increasing the angle at which the projected image strikes the screen. Screen materials have reduced gains at higher incident angles. This change in gain may reduce the apparent brightness of the projected image nearer the edges to the point of distraction.

Are guidelines available which suggest a maximum allowable change in gain to avoid distraction?

Posted Apr 24, 2007 2:39:13 PM

By Natja-ss-1334

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I created my own 2.35:1 screen, but there was an issue that I had in the projector was native 16:9, so in order to get the image to fit the screen completely when the movie was 2.35:1, and 16:9 or 4:3 material would overlap the screen and there were no settings on the projector to fix this issue. The only option was to table mount the projector and move it forward about 3' to get the 16:9 image to fit the screen perfectly. After years of this it got very annoying and I dumped it a made myself 2 16:9 screens. One for my bedroom and one for my family family room. And boy am I glad I did. It is suprising how many films are still made in 16:9. Now my projector has a menu option so you can make 2.35:1 fit the entire screen, but at a loss of some of the image of course, but generally speaking it's hard to tell what your missing. As far as 16:9 Native projectors go using a 16:9 screen is probably best because either you would only be watching 3.35:1 films on it or you would be going nuts trying to mess with aspect ratio settings, and many projectors don't have a 2.35:1 mode. My projector does but it didm nothing to make the 16:9 material fit the entire screen, and thereby placing black bars to the right and left of the image rather than the overlapping issue.

Posted Apr 10, 2007 12:14:25 PM

By bigmike

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I recently bought the Panamorph U380 for my sim2ht300e to view 2:35 movies. My screen distance is only 14ft so I can not zoom closer otherwise I would have chosen a compression anamoprhic lens which would give the maximun lumnens possible on the screen. Also with a compression lens the aberrations are easier to correct because the field in the vertical direction is smaller.

I currently have a 100 inch diagonal screen and when a 2:35 inch cinescope picture is projected I have the equivalent of a 72 inch diagonal screen but when I expand it anamorphically I get a 125 inch diagonal screen. Hell you can buy plasma screens that have 72 inch diagonals with 10,000 1 contrast ratios

Most of the HI def movies are 2:35 and I find that the effect of anamophically expanding the image is dramatic and more psychologically engaging than going from 720P to 1080P.

I thought the JVC RS1 was the best projector at Cedia regardless of price but have held off buying this projector until they include a stretch mode. Their contrast advantage is only temporary because they are the first to use the wiregrid polarizers and as soon as Sony includes these in their projectors the advantage will go way.

Changing from standard def to hidef will increase the quality of the hometheater viewing experience greater than any other change you can make. A 1000 dollar 720p dlp projector driven by a hidef source will look a lot better than a 70,000 dollar projector driven by a standard 480p source.

Since 80 percent of the hidef sources are 2:35 changing from 1.78 to 2:35 will have a greater effect than changing from 720P to 1080P. primarily because your eye has only 1 arcmin of resolution and that is only at the center two degrees of the field covered by the fovea and does not include color abberrations.

Posted Mar 31, 2007 1:05:21 PM

By paulb_30

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""Scope" movies are supposed to be the biggest. That's why at a theater when the aspect ratio changes they open curtains widening the viewing area. I have not seen one that gets taller."

The reason the image doesn't get taller (or shorter) is that the height of the frame of the film, which determines the height of the projected image, is the same for both scope and flat formats. The width of the "native" scope image was compressed when it was filmed to fit into the standard 4:3 35mm film frame. Using an anamorphic lens on the theater projector that matches the lens that was on the camera when the movie was filmed (on 35mm stock) stretches the image width back to “normal” (2.35:1).

Posted Mar 29, 2007 1:06:55 PM

By AV_Integrated

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""Second, one of the benefits of the new Blu-ray and HD DVD formats is that they will deliver movies in native 1920x1080 format directly to a 1080p projector, so that they can be viewed without scaling. The use of an anamorphic lens requires that 2.35 material encoded in native 1080p format be rescaled vertically, and then stretched optically. So you lose the advantage of seeing the film in its pure native format, perfectly reproduced from the HD DVD or Blu-ray disc. Advocates will say that the cost in reduced image acuity is insignificant, and it may well be. But it is something to be aware of."

...They already discussed the benefit of using the lens and getting the full resolutions of a 1280x720 (921,600 pixels). However, when discussing 1080p with BD and HD-DVD they don't say how you would still gain the advantage of using the full 1920x1080 (2,073,600 pixels!!!). They make it sound like it would be better not to stretch it and only use 1,555,200 pixels (did I do the math right...75% of 2,073,600?). Granted that's still more then the pixel count of 1280x720 but not as much as you could have along with full brightness"

Anytime you process an image you are reducing the overall quality of the image. With Blu-ray/HD DVD you have video that is optomized for display on a 1920x1080 projector directly from the source. In a CIH setup using an anamorphic lens you end up digitally, then optically skewing the original material. So, yes, you get the additional pixels, but to get them, you must damage the original material. Then the added brightness may be offset by having to introduce the new optics to your setup. The end result, could very realistically be, a fall in image quality, while maintaining the same overall brightness with a net cost to consumer of several thousand dollars. You lose a lot of cash for no improvement, and potentially a loss in overall quality.

My personal preference would be that manufacturers offer motorized zoom, focus, and lens shift adjustments... with presets! Sure, get that 2.35:1 CIH screen, but then press one button on the remote and the projector zooms in, auto masks internal pixels and fills the 2.35 screen perfectly. Press another button and it zooms out for perfect 1.78 viewing. One last press and you get your 1.33 screen fill.

Throw in a couple of 12v triggers on this projector and you're talkin' about full maskng control!

I don't expect it anytime soon, but could definitely see it come along in a few years if manufacturers are smart enough to pay attention (you listening JVC? Sony? Hello???)

Posted Mar 29, 2007 11:33:19 AM

By mustang5o

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"Several limitations to the use of anamorphic lenses have been noted above, but a couple more points should be made. First, they are quite expensive relative to the projectors. The Panamorph UH380 is the least pricey of the HE lenses; others like the Schneider and ISCO are much more expensive. For the price of an anamorphic lens you can step up from a good 720p projector to a high performance 1080p model.

Second, one of the benefits of the new Blu-ray and HD DVD formats is that they will deliver movies in native 1920x1080 format directly to a 1080p projector, so that they can be viewed without scaling. The use of an anamorphic lens requires that 2.35 material encoded in native 1080p format be rescaled vertically, and then stretched optically. So you lose the advantage of seeing the film in its pure native format, perfectly reproduced from the HD DVD or Blu-ray disc. Advocates will say that the cost in reduced image acuity is insignificant, and it may well be. But it is something to be aware of."

OK, yes, the cost of a top end lens and a 720p projector could easily get you a 1080p projector (in some cases the lenses alone cost more then some 1080p's). However, the second paragraph doesn't seem right. They already discussed the benefit of using the lens and getting the full resolutions of a 1280x720 (921,600 pixels). However, when discussing 1080p with BD and HD-DVD they don't say how you would still gain the advantage of using the full 1920x1080 (2,073,600 pixels!!!). They make it sound like it would be better not to stretch it and only use 1,555,200 pixels (did I do the math right...75% of 2,073,600?). Granted that's still more then the pixel count of 1280x720 but not as much as you could have along with full brightness.

"Scope" movies are supposed to be the biggest. That's why at a theater when the aspect ratio changes they open curtains widening the viewing area. I have not seen one that gets taller. The director generally wanted the movie to be seen with the wider aspect ratio. That's why they use it.

Now, this doesn't mean a "Scope" setup is right for everyone and the article does give you the infomration you need to think about before just jumping in. I myself am just getting ready to buy my first projector and I am going in with the idea of doing a "Scope" setup from the start. Because I still rent and may end moving into a different place with a little less space I am keeping my screen size limited. I am still going to end up with a 92" 16x9 area and my "Scope" screen will be 107"Wx45"H. Sounds pretty big to me.

BTW, gkfisher, you could actually get into CIH right now for less then $2k. If you wanted to build your own lens and screen probably right around $1500.

Posted Mar 28, 2007 1:37:29 PM

By gkfisher

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Good article, been considering 2:35 in next setup by leaning away from it mostly due to the cost and complexity of the setup.

Regarding a 4x3 hi-res projector... or 4x3 screen for that matter, that doesn't make sense to me at all. Everything going forward is 16x9. Even on low-res cable stations (BSG on SciFi for example) the image is presented in 16x9 matte. Granted I don't think there is a single 4x3 movie I would watch on a regular basis, so if you're into the OLD classics fine.

The WOW factor would be nice in 2:35, but it's just too prohibitive now.

Thanks!

Posted Mar 28, 2007 4:59:40 AM

By aneill

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I had over 23 years of experience with CRT projectors that delivered 4x3 images. Using a DWIN Transcanner, I was able to use all the lines available in an NTSC field to squeeze down anamorphic 2.35:1 and 1.78:1 images. On a 4x3 screen, I could use the projector set at 765 lines. For 4x3 images, the lines filled the screen. 16x9 images were electronically (vertically) squeezed retaining the full number of lines. The same for 2.35:1 images. The DWIN HD700 had over 80 memory locations where size settings could be recalled automatically.

Then I moved to digital projectors. What a let down. Because of throw distance, resolution and brightness considerations, I am no longer able to fill my scren with 4x3 images, 16x9 images or 2.35 images. 16x9 images leave black areas at the top and bottom but do extend 96" to the vertical edges of the screen frame. 2.35 images do not use up the full field so resolution and size are compromised. The vertical black space goes from gray to black as you move away from the image. 4x3 images which were glorious using CRT, now are surrounded by black.

Solution: I need a new screen or a 4x3 projector with the kind of resolution available in 16x9 projectors. If I had such a projector with native 4x3, wih a powered zoom lens that had power shift, that would be perfect. Why haven't manufacturers created a 4x3 Hi Rez projector? I want one so I could get the kind of impact I from digital projectors that I achieved 10 years ago with an analog DWIN system. Dream ON.......

My HD81 produces a gorgeous picture but I have no interest in doubling my expenditure by purchasing and installing a lens that will compress the 16x9 images. Not when I will still be unable to project Casablanca on to my 4x3 120" diagonal 4x3 DayLite 1.3 gain screen and fill it verically and horizontally. Maybe it is time for a second projector. Perhaps thare is a manufacturer interested in selling a high rez 4x3 as I mentioned earlier..

Posted Mar 27, 2007 9:16:16 PM

By cinemasavvy

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This article has done a great job of spelling out the realities of aspect ratios for the home theatre enthusiast.

In commercial cinemas and film screening rooms, coping with a multitude of aspect rations (upwards of a dozen +), both American and European, old and new[er], regularly requires a cabinet full of different lenses and aperture plates as well as movable masking. Bear in mind, just having the ability to show "scope" and "flat" films [most common these days] requires either side masking or top/bottom movable masking...or both. On your next trip to a cinema, take a close look at the masking around the screen and see how they tackle the challenge.

In planning your home theatre, think about possible compromises. Also, read up on SMPTE recommendations regarding viewing angles (or THX). A "too tall" or "too wide" screen may seem dramatic, but may also lessen your viewing experience over the longer-term due to fatigue caused by the need for excessive eye movement or head movement.

Anybody willing to spend $5,000 on an anamorphic lens should be willing to spend a little time, first, in order to study the literature and make sure they are creating a viewing situation with optimal ergonomics. I suspect that in most instances, installing a 16:9 screen will provide the best utility...adding manually operated side masking for 4:3 programs and top-or-bottom masking for scope will yield professional results very economically. MasKING is king for craeting the most impressive image.

A final word: Isco, Schneider and other professional lens manufacturers who are currently offering anamorphic lenses to the "home theater" community are doing so at prices significantly exceeding those for most lenses used in commercial cinemas. Perhaps, if you can, the best thing to do is wait until the value proposition for these lenses becomes realistic and a bit more fairly priced.

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