Black bars--that black dead space that you get above and below the picture when the video frame does not match your screen or TV frame. Nobody likes them. Video material always looks much better when it fills the frame of your video display. Black bars are a particularly serious problem when you view widescreen material on a conventional 4:3 television. But to the surprise of many new home theater enthusiasts, black bars can also appear on widescreen systems as well.
The problem is that your widescreen 16:9 projector or TV has a fixed aspect ratio, known as 1.78:1, or simply 1.78. That means if your picture is one meter in height, it will be 1.78 meters in width. But not all video material comes in this format. Yes, all HDTV programming is done in 1.78, so it fills the frame of your system perfectly with no black bars. But very few movies are filmed in 1.78. So most movies don't square up with your picture frame.
Movies come in a variety of aspect ratios, but the two most popular are 1.85 and 2.35. For example, Pirates of the Carribean is done in 2.35 format. So you will get black bars when displaying this movie on a 16:9 video system. How big will they be? Well, a 100" diagonal 16:9 screen is 49" in height. When Pirates is displayed on this screen in its proper width and aspect ratio, the image will be 37" in height. So you will have black that are 6" thick above and below the image. Basically, about 25% of the total screen area is black.
The good news is that many great films are done in 1.85, like the Batman movies, As Good As It Gets, Get Shorty, The Big Lebowski, to name a few. This format is very close to perfect 16:9. So when these films are displayed on a 100" screen, the black bars at the top and bottom are only 1" thick--barely noticeable. Furthermore, if you set your projector to slightly overshoot the screen frame, you will lose about 2" of the image on either side, but the black bars disappear entirely, and you get a solid full-frame image.
So the big question is this--which DVD movies are done in 1.78 or 1.85 format, and have particularly excellent video quality? It is these DVDs that will allow you to experience the maximum visual impact your home theater system is capable of. To answer this question, ProjectorCentral is about to launch the Videophile's Ultimate DVD Collection. We have been diligently assembling a collection of the hottest DVDs and sorting them by their native aspect ratios. We are also connecting every DVD listing directly to Amazon.com, so you can order those you want at the click of your mouse. This will be an ongoing project, but we should have the initial release of the Videophile's Ultimate DVD Collection, featuring well over 200 DVD movie titles, posted later this week. As always, your suggestions and comments are welcome...email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.