What is Anamorphic Widescreen Video?

More and more video is being shot in a 16×9 aspect ratio. The standard 4×3 that we are all used to is slowly going away. Widescreen video fills the newer widescreen televisions, more closely mimics high definition video, and is similar to the way in which our eyes perceive our surroundings. It also contains a larger canvas on which we can create our visions.

DVD-video was designed specifically to allow for widescreen viewing. If using a standard 4X3 display, widescreen video can then be shown in letterbox (with black at the top and bottom). The same video can be expanded to fill a 16×9 widescreen television. The video used for such DVDs is called anamorphic. Those DVDs that use the anamorphic technique typically specify “anamorphic widescreen”, “enhanced for 16:9”, or “enhanced for widescreen televisions.”

Anamorphic video gets the most resolution it can out of a standard NTSC video signal. It takes the widescreen image and squeezes it horizontally to fit a 4X3 video stream. This way, it preserves the vertical picture resolution for when it is expanded to fit a 16×9 display. When the same DVD is played on a standard display, the player automatically compresses the vertical into the letterbox display..

Making anamorphic video is quite easy. Most newer cameras will have a widescreen option which will record your video in an anamorphic stream. Then you just need to make sure your compressor is set to 16×9 when you go to create the mpeg2 files. Your DVD software will automatically know what the video is and set the DVD appropriately. You can mixe anamorphic and standard video on the same DVD, just not in the same video title set. When displaying the non-anamorphic signal on a 16×9 display, the video will pillar box (show black on either side).

As more and more consumers purchase widescreen televisions, more of the content will need to be produced to fit the newer aspect ratio. Anamorphic video is the medium of choice, until the transition to high definition is complete.

Kirk Peters is a Pittsburgh based multimedia programmer. He has had more than ten years experience developing multimedia applications for hundreds of local companies. He can be reached at 412-716-6585 or at kirk@kirkpeters.com.