Video Terms
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Home Theater Video Terminology

The video portion of a movie is presented in many different ways. Some are altered drastically to fit the TV screen's proportions. Others present the movie in a similar manner to how you would see it on TV.

Aspect Ratio

This is the ratio of the height of the viewing field to the width. Most TVs here in the USA have a ratio of 1:33. This means for every inch of height there is 1.33 inches of width. Unfortunately, (for the TV viewer)  most movies are made to fit a bigger screen in the theater. Many modern TVs have settings to adjust the viewing area to accommodate several aspect ratios.

Interlaced Scan

On older TVs a picture frame is scanned first with the odd line numbers and then it goes back to fill in the even numbered lines. This reduces the bandwidth required to send a picture and was popular with broadcast video. It does result in a a bit of flicker on the screen.

Progressive Scan

With the method a whole picture frame is painted at once. It requires the higher bandwidth afforded by HDTV, Tivo like devices and DVDs. It results is a much clearer, flicker free picture. This is most notable at the edges of the picture.

Letterbox

A generic term for any movie that is presented in the original aspect ratio. This results in a black field above and below the viewing field. The term gets it's name from the screen looking like you are viewing the world out of the letter slot in a door. Depending on the way the movie was originally filmed the aspect ratio of a letterboxed movie can range from 1:66 (mostly European) to 2:75. The typical letterboxed movie has an aspect ration of 1:85 or 2:35. Some common ratios are presented below:

Television           1.33
European            1.66
USA Films           1.85
70mm                2.21
Widescreen 2.35
Panavision           2.40

Pan and Scan

A process used to fit a widescreen. movie on the TV set's dimensions. It gets it's name from the movement added to go from one side of the screen to another. It is very typical for a two person shot in a movie to become a series of one shots "panning" between the people.

Anamorphic

A process used to create widescreen. movies. In this technique, the image is optically "squeezed" on to the film and then another lens is used to "unsqueeze" it for projection. In this way a widescreen. movie can fit a small size film. This has become more important to home theater systems with the advent of DVD. On some DVDs, the image is anamorphically squeezed and can be restored either as letterboxed for regular 4x3 televisions or directly to a 16x9 TV.  As such, anamorphic movies on DVD are referred to as being in 16:9 format. When purchasing a DVD you should look for a variety of wordings to indicate that the disc was created with anamorphic video. Among them are "Enhanced for Widescreen TVs", "16:9", Enhanced for 16:9 TVs" etc. Even if you do not have a digital, widescreen TV yet an anamorphic transfer to DVD will usually ensure a better quality of picture, even on your current set. If you are not sure play the DVD on a regular TV. Set the DVD player's options to 16:9 and view a few seconds of the disc. If the picture appears squished, its anamorphic, if it looks the same, it is not. (remember to return the settings to 4:3 letterbox after you are done!)

Open Matte

This method is very similar to 35mm processing. With the open matte the top and the bottom are masked off to create an image with an aspect ratio closer to widescreen, usually 1.85:1 or 1.66:1. The actual frame of the film is typical 35mm with a ration of 1.33:1. The matting process if not performed correctly can reveal boom microphones and other equipment used in the filming. Frequently, a piece of cardboard is used by the camera person and director to help vision what the final matted picture will look like.

Film Formats

Panavision

A widescreen. process that uses an anamorphic lens to present the image from a 35mm film. The resulting image has a much wider appearance. The aspect ratio is much improved from the then standard 1.33:1 current still used by most television presentations. Several variations are discussed below.

Cinerama

A widescreen. process that was invented by Paramount special effects man, Fred Waller. It uses three electronically synchronized cameras and projects each responsible for part of the view field. Waller tried to improve upon the process with Vitarama using 11 cameras and projectors but that was considered a bit too expensive. The first movie presented in Cinerama was 'This is Cinerama' which premiered at Broadway Theater in New York City on September 30, 1952. Among the greatest productions ever made in this format was How the West Was Won in 1962. The prints were three 35mm film with six perforations running at either 26 or 24 frames per second. The maximum aspect ratio provided was 2.65:1 with sound provided by a seven track magnetic, left, left center, center, right, right center and two surround channels that could be directed to any combination of left, right and rear walls. the screen was typically 146 degree curved.

Cinemascope

A widescreen. process copyrighted by 20th Century Fox. It uses a an anamorphic lens developed by Henri Chrentien in 1928 but unused until the early 50's when utilized in the Cinemascope process. The aspect ratio for 35mm film in this process is typically 2.35:1 and 2.21:1 for the 70mm version but there were variations. The first movie presented in Cinemascope was The Robe September 1953. It was made by returning to the full frame aperture for the camera of 1.33:1 and projecting the image to  2.55:1. The  was carried on a separate 35mm magnetic film and had to be synchronized with the picture. It consisted of three channels behind the wide screen and a front channel feed to speakers along the walls and back of the theater.

VistaVision

VistaVision

The Paramount answer to 20th Century Fox's CinemaScope it used a non-anamorphic deep-focus technique. The aspect ratio of 1:33 to 2.10:1   was achieved. Because a normal lens was used instead of an anamorphic one, this process could be played on a regular projector, a feature that was much liked by the people that owned the movie houses.  The first movie presented in this process was White Christmas in 1954. Unlike most other projectors, the VistaVision project had the film travel horizontally instead of vertically with eight perforations per frame. The sound was optical mono with some films having 'Perspecta stereo'. With this format two frames could be exposed at one time, the separation between the frames removed and then projected. Perhaps the most famous film in this format is The Ten Commandments.

Superscope

Unlike many other widescreen formats this one did not originate with any single studio. It did find acceptance with RKO (Radio Keith Orpheum). The format started around 1954 and became somewhat popular since licensing fees were not required for rival studios. The first film in this format was Vera Cruz in December of 1954. It used a four perforation vertical film with a 2X anamorphic squeeze which provided an aspect ration of between 2.01:1  (Superscope) to 2.35:1 (Superscope 235). The current format referred to as Super 35 is identical to Superscope.

Todd-AO

A widescreen. movie process utilizing 65mm film. Not used much today but it was very popular in the 50's and 60's. Many famous musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein were filmed in this process. It was not uncommon for films made in this process to have each scene filmed twice, once in 35mm and again in 70mm Todd-AO. Oklahoma was one such film. Both versions are available and you can see subtle differences between them. This greatly increased the cost of such movies and was used only for anticipated block busters. It was needed to provide the best possible viewing for Todd-AO and non Todd-AO capable theaters. The first two films in with format Oklahoma (1955) and Around the World in 80 Days (1956) used a 30 frames per second film speed. Starting with South Pacific (1958) the speed was reduced to the more typical 24 frames per second. It had a maximum aspect ratio of 2.21:1 with a six channel magnetic stereo track (left, left center, center, right center and right). It was projected on a 120 seamless curved screen.

Technirama

This format began in 1957 and is very similar to VistaVision. The main difference is the Techirama process lowered the top aperture effecting a matting of the frame to 2.35:1 although 2.25:1 was more typical. This also provided some additional room on the film for an optical soundtrack for film produced on 35mm 8 perforation film. The first film in this format was Night Passage produced by Universal International in 1957. This is an anamorphic 2X process that used both vertical and horizontal directions for projection. There were 35mm and 70mm variations of the process in use.

Ultra Panavision

As with many wide screen formats this one was created due to the rivalry between studios. MGM wanted to come up with their own format in part to avoid paying fees to other studios for their wide screen process. Working in cooperation with 20th Century Fox much of the technology employed in Cinemascope was adopted for this format.  This provides is also very initially similar to VistaVision but with some differences, of course. At the end, the final 65mm film stock was identical to that used in Todd-AO. The print was four perforation per frame with a speed of 24 frames per second. The maxim aspect ration was 2.35:1 with anamorphic squeeze of 2X. The sound format was mono optical. There was a special roadshow variation of the format that permitted an aspect ration of 2.76:1 and 5 channel sound but this was not that widespread. The first film in this format was Raintree County in 1957 and perhaps the best know was Ben-Hur in 1959. Other notable films in UltraPanavision included The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), Battle of the Bulge (1965), Khartoum (1966), Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963). The negatives used in this format were typically 65mm (hence the name) with prints produced in 35mm for normal showings and special 70mm 'roadshow' prints also released. Both were 1.25X anamorphic. There was also an anamorphic reduction print produced which provided a 2X anamorphic image.  Among the variations of this format are forms of Ultra Panavision or MGM Camera 65 that was not anamorphic. This format is closer to a 70mm flat Todd-AO format and is not anamorphic. Ben-Hur was produced an variant anamorphic squeeze of 2X  and used a letterboxed matting to produce an aspect ratio of 2.5:1.

Cinemiracle

This process was developed in the early 1950's by Smith-Dieterrich Corporation. The began by experimenting with dual 35mm cameras, one filming in a normal manner while the second camera shot a mirror reflected image. The two images were then projected adjacent to each other to provide a 'seamless' 2.66:1 image. Eventually, a third camera was added and the resultant film projected on a 120 degree curved screen. The film used was a six perforation triple 35mm running at 26 frames per second. The sound was provided by a separate magnetic seven track process. Left, left center, center, right center, right and two switchable surround tracks directed to the side walls. The practical maximum aspect ration was 2.59:1.

Super Panavision 70

Similar to regular panavision in that an anamorphic lens is used but the film is 65mm instead of 35mm. This provides a much larger aspect ratio to the viewer. This format started in 1959 when Walt Disney released The Big Fisherman in Super Panavision 70.  This format used prints that were 70mm with a five perforation 24 frames per second vertical run through the projector. The aspect ratio went to 2.21:1 with a six track magnetic stereo track. Left, left center, center, right center, right and a mono surround channel. Notable among the releases in this format are Exodus ((1960), West Side Story (1961), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), My Fair Lady (1964) and Hamlet (1997). The development of this process came from work done on MGM Camera 65 and Ultra Panavision. The purpose was to provide high quality prints for general release.

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