Anamorphic Home Cinema

Anamorphic Home Cinema

We discuss aspect ratios, and how using anamorphic projection in a home cinema system allows for an experience that can only be matched by going to the cinema.

Ben Tomlinson

Technical Director, Epixx

One of the first questions I ask during a home cinema consultation is what the cinema is predominately used for; the choice of TV or Film is a great starting block in determining which aspect ratio we should be aiming to deliver for the screen and projection technologies.

What is aspect ratio?

The aspect ratio of an image is the ratio of its width to its height. It is commonly expressed as two numbers separated by a colon, as in 16:9.

The image to the left shows the 3 most popular formats. With 16:9 being the go to aspect ratio for all new TV sets and what most projection systems natively output. This is mainly due to the vast majority of content out there being filmed in 16:9 but thus creates a problem. Black bars!

Most films are shot in 2.35:1 format also known as “Cinemascope” this is what gives the cinema that really cinematic feeling as the film starts, the edge masks move outward and the movie starts in this ultra-wide format completely filling the screen.

But watching a film on a TV screen, we have to squeeze that image into a box much smaller than it. This is why when you watch a film at home you have black bars at the bottom and the top of the screen, that’s the aspect ratio being persevered by the TV squeezing an image to fit.

Black bars aren't just distracting

In most cases, losing up to a 3rd of the pixels on your screen to black bars isn’t just annoying. It’s a compromise on quality. If you imagine a film is shot in 4K, and then we have to squeeze that image in to fit the aspect ratio of your 4K TV, you’re actually watching that 4K film in 3K as you’re losing a large amount of resolution to the black bars at the top and bottom.

Conversely, if we fix the aspect ratio of the screen at 2.35:1 ratio (Cinemascope) when we watch TV on it were going get black bars at the sides of the image instead of the top and bottom, as the aspect ratio fits inside of the screen with no problem, but does not fill the screen from edge to edge.

How do we overcome this?

In most media rooms when the vast majority of the time the content will in TV aspect ratio we don’t do anything. Most multifunction media rooms need the flexibility to watch both formats and having black bars at the top and bottom of the screen isn’t an issue.

But for dedicated cinema rooms, getting the most out of the equipment is in our option, essential. In these scenarios we use screens that transform in aspect ratio thanks to lateral “edge masks” which we can move in and out dependent on the content being viewed on the screen. This coupled with careful selection of projector hardware allows up to get a full 4K image displayed edge to edge on an ultrawide screen at home. Just like you’re at the cinema.