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THE NEW WIDESCREEN BATTLEGROUND?

March 2007


I was recently contacted by Matt Paprocki of DigitalPress (digitpress.com) for an interview regarding the recent upswing in widescreen DVD sales, according to recent Nielsen Media Research. I am not familiar with the specifics of what Nielsen reported; however, they supposedly have reported that for the first time (at least in a while) widescreen DVDs have a significant lead in sales when compared to their pan-and-scan counterparts. I have not seen the specific, Nielsen numbers, and the industry publications that I receive unfortunately do not separate the results when there are two DVD versions.

If you look at places like Amazon, the widescreen versions of movies are almost always selling more than their pan-and-scan counterparts; however, Amazon is not the end-all-be-all of DVD sales. After all, considering that I regularly receive e-mails from people verifying that Wal-Mart is actively discouraging widescreen DVD sales, I can't say that I'm surprised that "the numbers" are often biased towards pan-and-scan.

But Matt's request for an interview regarding widescreen DVD sales got me thinking. What would cause a turn-around? Without significant and consistent data to determine if this is a genuine trend or a fluke, any answer that I can give would be conjecture at best.

Certainly, I have to give at least a bit of credit to widescreen advocacy sites such as mine and WidescreenAdvocate.org. I still receive e-mail regularly from people who say that they didn't understand widescreen until they saw the examples and explanations on my site and now are widescreen supporters.

I have no doubt that the push from the film makers to have their movies or TV shows in widescreen is also a factor. Many TV shows have been available in widescreen for quite some time. Consider that Babylon 5, Lois and Clark, Enterprise, and The Sopranos have been in widescreen (or were at least filmed in widescreen) for quite some time and you'll realize that widescreen programming on TV is not new.

In fact, for a lot of popular programming widescreen appears to be the norm. Most of the shows on the U.S. Public Broadcasting Service, except for kids' and news shows, are in widescreen. Some of the hottest TV shows on broadcast TV, such as E.R., are in widescreen. A large amount of shows on cable TV are in widescreen. Granted, we're only talking about 16:9 widescreen, but the black bars are less conspicuous when compared to their 2.35:1 counterparts.

I think that the dominance of widescreen TVs in the large-screen market is a major factor. In fact, this is something that I've been talking about for several years.

The past several times that I've gone into an audio/video store and paid attention to the newest TVs, the vast majority of them are 16:9. In fact, out of curiosity I went onto Best Buy's web site and looked at all of the TVs between 30 and 39 inches in diameter. Out of 26 available TVs, only four of them had a 4:3 aspect ration. The remaining 22 are 16:9. All of the 33 TVs available in the 40 through 49 inch range are 16:9. Similarly, all of the 43 TVs in the 50-and-greater inches category are 16:9.

Where have all of the 4:3, big screen TVs gone?

This presents the anti-widescreen crowd with a bit of a quandary. If big-screen TVs are no longer available in 4:3, they have no choice but to go to 16:9 if they want a big screen. Once they do that, they have to deal with issues that I've discussed here on many occasions for years. These people continually used the excuse of wanting to "fill their TV screen" for getting 4:3 TVs. (The excuse that I got the most was, "If I'm paying that much for a big-screen TV, I want to use the whole screen.") With a 16:9 TV, their only choice other than to make everyone on the screen obese by stretching the screen horizontally is to pillarbox the 4:3 image into the center. If they purchased a plasma or projection TV as opposed to LCD, this greatly increases the possibility of burn-in. But more than that, pillarboxing forces them to go against their sacrosanct dogma of filling their TV screen.

Consider also how many people purchased pan-and-scan ... sorry ... full screen DVDs over their widescreen counterparts for exactly that same excuse. Those DVDs no longer fill the 16:9 screens that the poeple had to buy now that big-screen, 4:3 TVs are no longer available. I'm sure that some people still stretch the screen horizontally in order to not purchase the widescreen version of the DVDs, but most likely those same people purchased and will be purchasing the widescreen versions from that point forward in order to fill the screen.

Granted, this is just conjecture at this point. But if indeed widescreen DVDs are selling more than their full screen counterparts and if the numbers are not just a fluke, the proverbial tides might be turned now for reasons like those I have already mentioned.

This, of course, leads to another concern that has been prevalent with a lot of HD movie channels: partial widescreen cropping a movie that is wider than 16:9 down to a 16:9 aspect ratio by lobbing off the sides. HBO is (or at least was) notorious for doing this with their HBO HD channel. Could this be the next, big battle in the widescreen arena?

Where's That $!@!$%@ Podcast?

I know that I said that the podcast would be available in January. Now we're almost in April and it's still not here. But take heart, gentle listeners! It is still on its way!

Finishing my studio/game/computer room was the priority because of the arrival of the newest member of the family. I also volunteered to do the entire yearbook for my elder daughter's elementary school. I've finished my studio/computer/game room and the yearbook is at the publisher. So, you would think that the time had come to get yapping into a microphone, right?

Unfortunately, I purchased a really good microphone and mixer to use for the podcast. I say “unfortunately” because it turns out that the microphone is incredibly sensitive! Every possible noise was picked up my the microphone, which made a quality podcast impossible. This was made worse by the fact that my studio/computer/game room is about 550 square feet with concrete floors, two walls of cinder blocks, an air purifier, and the central HVAC unit on the other side of the wall. My short-sightedness has made this room a very inhospitable environment for podcasting. Even with the purchase of a compressor/gate to filter out the sounds, the situation is still unacceptable.

As a result, I have commandeered my wife's old office, which is much smaller and is away from any major sources of noise. (Besides, she hasn't used it in six years.) The drop/suspended ceiling is installed; so now it's a matter of cleaning up the studio and finishing the introductory, closing, and bumper music.

But I've been building my list of topics to discuss enough to last for several shows. Keep watching the web site! As soon as you see a "Podcast" button on the left side, you'll know that the show has begun!

Until next time...!