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Since way back in the days when VHS was the dominant home video format, the issue of how to watch movies on TV has been one of watching the pan & scan version, which cuts off the sides of a widescreen movie and pans the video to follow the action (with limited success), or watching the full image, but with black bars at the top and bottom of the screen.
Letterboxed VHS movies were pretty rare, to the point where you had to special order them from specialty retailers, so it wasn't a huge issue for the mainstream public. All they had was pan & scan, and for the most part, they didn't know enough to care.
See the example image below, taken from our Help document "Why am I seeing black bars when I watch movies?"
A 2.35:1 image shown on a widescreen 1.78:1 TV and a 4:3 TV
The issue became more prevalent with the advent of DVD. Slowly, but surely, studios started releasing movies in their original aspect ratio, which brought the pan & scan vs. letterbox debate to greater awareness. While some retailers (cough WalMart cough) insisted that they knew what their customers wanted and only offered pan & scan versions for quite some time, even they came around to the fact that people were figuring out that widescreen was not evil.
In fact, with the movement towards HDTV and the widescreen sets that showed off the new format, widescreen became their friend and widescreen DVD's can be enjoyed to their fullest potential.
Now that many people have widescreen televisions in their homes, the problem can show itself in reverse. Many older movies were shot in the 1.37:1 aspect ratio, which means that watching them in their original aspect ratio on a widescreen television means that you will have bars on the side of the image instead of the top and bottom.
A 1.37:1 movie shown on a widescreen TV and a 4:3 TV
Disney just released its animated classic Pinocchio on Blu-ray and DVD yesterday, and the Blu-ray version comes with a feature it hopes will help those who just can't handle seeing black bars on their TV. Their new "Disney View" feature provides the viewer with the option of having specially-designed backgrounds on the screen where the black bars would normally be.
According to this article in Video Business, the bars are optional, and they change through the course of the movie. 16 different designs have been created especially for this movie by animator Toby Bluth, and he is already working on designs for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs on Blu-ray (to be released in October). (The DVD version of Pinocchio released yesterday does not have these optional backgrounds)
Personally, I've never been bothered by black bars, because it's far more important for me to see the whole image than to have the view butchered by someone's choices of where to point the pan & scan tool or the arbitrary "zoom" control provided on many TV's. I'm willing to give this a shot, though, and I'm certainly happy that they are optional!
If you're intrigued, go ahead and check this feature out yourself! Add the movie to your Netflix queue, or buy the movie on Blu-ray from Amazon.com! The initial reviews of the Blu-ray disc are very positive, and the fact that Disney has chosen to include a DVD of the movie in the package as well is icing on the cake.
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