Building Your Own Home Theater
Evan Powell

Choosing the Right Aspect Ratio

Part Two: The Cinemascope 2.4 Option

We just looked at a list of movies done in 1.78 and 1.85. But of course many movies are done in the wider screen 2.4 format. Most of them are dramas or the big action/adventure films as opposed to, say, romantic comedies, but 2.4 films are made in all genres. As examples, the following movies were filmed in the 2.4 format....
Lord of the Rings
Pirates of the Caribbean
The Bourne Identity
How to Train Your Dragon
Basic Instinct
L.A. Confidential
Robin Hood
Iron Man
The Dark Knight
Star Trek
Inglorious Basterds
Ratatouille (Pixar)
Cars (Pixar)
The Notebook
Casino Royale
Quantum of Solace
Batman Begins
Black Hawk Down
The Aviator
The Matrix
Terminator 2
Apollo 13
Total Recall
American Beauty
Moulin Rouge.

If you watch these films on a 16:9 screen, you end up with somewhat larger black bars at the top and bottom of the image. On a 120" screen, the image is 59" in height and 105" in width. A 2.4 film shown on this screen will have 7.6" black bars above and below the image. That is enough to cause many people to go with a 2.4 format screen instead of 16:9. (By the way, if you end up opting for a 1.85 format screen instead of conventional 16:9, the black bars on 2.4 material are reduced by about an inch, which is another minor advantage to this variant.)

All 2.4 format movies will fit the 2.4 frame of the screen perfectly with no black bars. But occasionally you will encounter variants that are not quite 2.4. Films like Battle of the Bulge, Bridge on the River Kwai, and Fred Astaire's Daddy Long Legs were done in 2.55, and they will have small black bars on the 2.4 screen. Movies such as Patton and South Pacific were done in 2.20, and they will appear on a 2.4 screen with small black columns on each side.

However, movies in these odd formats are the exception rather than the rule. For the most part, the vast majority of widescreen viewing material you are likely to have on your screen will be in 1.78, 1.85, or 2.4. So part of your choice of screen format will depend on the type of material you watch the most, and how you prefer to manage the black bars and black pillars. As an example, The Fifth Element was done in 2.4, and if you project it onto a 2.4 screen it would look like this:

The Fifth Element in 2.35

Meanwhile, when you put a 1.85 movie on a 2.4 screen, the picture will be reduced in size with black columns on the sides. The movie Chicago is a good example. Here is what a scene from Chicago looks like on that same 2.4 format screen:

Chicago in 1.78

And by the way, there is plenty of 4:3 format material still being watched today as well. Traditional (non-HD) television series on DVD like Friends and Northern Exposure are in 4:3, as are pretty much all classic movies made prior to 1953. All 4:3 images will be positioned in the center of the 2.4 screen, with larger pillar-boxing on either side. Here is how a scene from Gone With The Wind (which was done in the Academy aspect ratio of 1.375:1, or almost 4:3), would look on a 2.4 screen:

Gone with the Wind in 4:3

The Aesthetic Appeal of 2.4

One reason people like the 2.4 format is that it can have a more dramatic appearance compared to standard 16:9 widescreen. If a standard 16:9 picture is being displayed, and you switch to a wider 2.4 image, it looks even bigger and more impressive than the conventional 16:9 image. By the way, this switch is done either with movement of the projector's zoom lens or the deployment of an external anamorphic lens (a very costly alternative). But whichever way it is done, there is a certain WOW factor here, and many people find that it adds excitement to the home theater experience.

In addition, many people think that 2.4 films are the most important and/or most common type of material they watch. So they want to see them full frame, without black bars.

The Problem with 2.4 Screens

As exciting as the concept of a 2.4 screen is to many people, it has one big drawback that is discussed in Part Three of this article.

Continue reading Part Three: The Problem with 2.4 Format Screens

Comments (4) Post a Comment
victor Posted Feb 27, 2015 9:47 AM PST
i have a 16 by 9 movie screen size of my screen is 85 inch and view area is 74 inch half of my blu ray movies are 2:40.1 how big is those black bars on top and bottom?
KARTHIK MN Posted Aug 4, 2019 4:21 AM PST
Hi I having Samsung full HD 1080p TV, which as 16.9 aspect ratio. But my film aspect ratio is 2.39.1 (1920x800). Can any one tell me that I will back bars while watching 2.39.1 movie in 16.9 TV.
Rob Sabin, Editor Posted Aug 5, 2019 7:52 AM PST
Widescreen theatrical movies typically have approximately 2.4:1 widescreen aspect ratios. Depending on the source of your image you may or may not see black letterbox bars above and below the image on a 16:9 screen. If the movie is originating on Blu-ray or a movie streaming service,it's likely been mastered with the letterbox bars, which allows you to see the entire image (left to right) as the director intended, but with smaller image height.

If the movie is originating as broadcast, it may have been adapted to fit the 16:9 screen. In this case, some part of the left-to-right image with is sacrificed, sometimes on a scene by scene basis, to allow full image height.
John Posted Jun 18, 2022 6:16 PM PST
Why do the images on the 2.4 screen appear to be squeezed from each side? It looks distorted to me, example being the shot from GWTW. There is zero distortion with 1.37 images on my 40 inch HDTV. I would think that the identical image would be shown by a projector, regardless if the screen was 16x9 or 2.4.

What am I nissing here?

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