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

Evan Powell, November 21, 2001

Option #2: Native 4:3 Projector with a 4:3 screen

At first the idea of intentionally setting up a 4:3 projector with a 4:3 screen sounds a bit old-fashion. After all, 16:9 is the future, right? Why would anyone go this route? Actually there may be good reasons for you to consider this option, depending on the type of material you like to watch and how you want to view it.

If you have a 4:3 screen and a 4:3 projector, you simply set it up for full 4:3 display. When you feed the projector a 16:9 signal, it is displayed using 75% of the native 4:3 display, with black bars at the top and bottom.

There are several advantages to doing this. First, it is simple--no muss no fuss. Second, you can use two-way electric masking to open and close the screen to match the aspect ratio of any kind of material being viewed. Two-way masking enables you to fit a solid frame around anything--not just 4:3 and 16:9, which is important because many DVDs come in aspect ratios wider than 16:9. So no matter what you are viewing, you can open and close the masking to fit the material.

You can put top/bottom electric masking on a 16:9 screen also of course. But many people don't bother since the top and bottom bars on widescreen material are not as large as they are on 4:3 screens, so they are thought not to be worth worrying about. That is an unfortunate compromise, since any visible intermediate stripe between the active image and the screen frame degrades the image presentation.

By the way, you also have an anamorphic lens option for this set-up as well. If you want to use the full 100% resolution of the 4:3 display for anamorphic 16:9, you can use a Panamorph lens. This is another aftermarket lens that is mounted in front of your projector (get out your step ladder again). The difference between the Panamorph and the ISCO is that the Panamorph compresses the image vertically instead of stretching it horizontally. So if you start with the same 4:3 anamorphically squeezed image (tall, skinny people) being displayed full frame on your 4:3 screen, the Panamorph compresses it vertically to 16:9, with the width of the image being left unchanged, which is what you want on a 4:3 screen. The same downside trade-offs mentioned above for the ISCO lens apply to the Panamorph as well, although it is not quite as expensive.

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