To create a spectacular panorama, today's blockbuster movies are shot in an ultra-wide "2.35:1" format that's almost two and a half times wider than it is tall. When these movies are shown on a standard 16 x 9 (1.78:1) HDTV, "letterbox" bars are displayed to preserve the entire width of the image (unless it has been scanned or cropped - techniques that film purists hate because they alter the original image).
But displaying black bars is not an ideal solution. In addition to "wasting" a quarter of your TV screen and making the overall picture smaller, letterboxing reduces the number of active picture elements (or pixels), which in turn decreases image resolution and overall brightness.
Many movie enthusiasts find such compromises unacceptable. They tend to favor two-piece video projection systems set up to present ultra-wide movies in their full panoramic glory - just as you would experience them in a commercial theater, and just as the director intended them to be seen.
Of course, if you really love watching movies and crave a theater experience at home, a projection system is the way to go. It will get you as close as you can get to a gargantuan movie theater screen, with sizes starting at about 100 inches (diagonal) and going up from there.
There are two key ingredients to the sort of purist system described above:
• An anamorphic lens that sits in front of the video projector's lens and stretches the image horizontally to fill the screen. But this special lens won't work with any image. It's designed to work its magic on images that have been stretched vertically by either the projector's "anamorphic" or "letterbox" mode or an external processor.
As you might imagine, vertical stretching makes people and things look tall and skinny in a cartoon sort of way. In addition to stretching the image horizontally to so you can take in its full panorama, the anamorphic lens restores the image to the original proportions dictated by the director.
• A wide projection screen with an aspect ratio that can accommodate all of the pixels in a 2.35:1 image. (To learn more about movie formats, see "Aspect Ratios 101" for a brief tutorial.)
The benefit of an ultra-wide projection setup is that you are now able to enjoy movies in their full widescreen glory at full resolution and brightness and without any black bars.
Of course, it's important to note that an anamorphic projection system is optimized for Hollywood movies. Television shows and most video games, which have a 1.78:1 aspect ratio that matches the standard 16 x 9 HDTV screen, will be centered on the screen but with black pillars to the sides; think of it as letterboxing turned on its side, except in this case you're dealing with a screen that is generally much larger than a typical 50- or 55-inch HDTV.
To learn more about home theater and TV/video options, consult a CEDIA professional. Click here for a list of CEDIA-member home technology professionals in your area.