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4:3 vs. 16:9 -- What is the best solution?

Evan Powell, November 21, 2001

Anamorphic lenses

We need to cover one more issue related to 4:3 projectors with 16:9 screens before moving on. If you have this combination, you have the option to enhance the viewing of your anamorphic DVD sources by adding an ISCO anamorphic lens to the configuration. This is an aftermarket device that you mount in front of the projector lens itself. The function of the ISCO lens is to optically stretch a 4:3 image horizontally into 16:9 format. It is used only when 16:9 anamorphic DVD material (that is, a 16:9 image horizontally compressed into 4:3) is the signal source.

With an ISCO anamorphic lens, assuming you have a ceiling-mounted projector, a step ladder now becomes a vital component in your arsenal of home theater gear. To incorporate the use of this lens, you set up the projector as discussed above; 4:3 material is displayed full format with the zoom lens at the minimum throw angle, and HDTV material is displayed with the zoom set to maximum wide angle. When watching either 4:3 source material or HDTV, the ISCO lens is moved aside and not used.

Now when you want to watch anamorphically squeezed 16:9 from your DVD player, you zoom the projector lens to its 4:3 position, climb your step ladder and slide the ISCO lens into place. Then you feed your anamorphically squeezed signal into the projector. Without the ISCO lens, the image would be displayed in 4:3 format, and it would be compressed horizontally--people would appear very tall and skinny. However, with the ISCO lens in place, the image is expanded horizontally so that a natural 16:9 aspect ratio is restored. The height of the image is left unchanged.

The two advantages of using an ISCO lens are (1) it lets you use the full resolution of the native 4:3 display for anamorphic 16:9 material--(768 lines instead of 575 in XGA), and (2) it makes your anamorphic widescreen material display wider than your 4:3 material, just like HDTV. Many dedicated videophiles like it for these reasons.

However, there are a few downsides that come to mind: (1) the ISCO lens must be positioned with absolute precision in front of your projector's lens to avoid any distortion or vignetting on the corners, (2) it works only with anamorphically squeezed 16:9 material, (3) the routine of climbing the ladder and moving the lens every time you switch between anamorphic 16:9 material on the one hand and standard 4:3 or HDTV on the other could be considered a serious nuisance, and (4) the lens itself retails for about $2,000, which some folks might think is a lot for a 33% boost in display resolution for DVDs. So whether it's worth the money and the trouble is a personal decision for each home theater enthusiast.

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Option One Continued
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Screen Option Two
Contents: Introduction Screen Option One Option One Continued Anamorphic Lenses
  Screen Option Two No Right Solution Screen Option Three Conclusion