Using Pioneer 640 HS HDD DVD Recorder with MeTV Aspect Ratio Problems - AVS Forum | Home Theater Discussions And Reviews
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post #1 of 4 Old 06-05-2017, 05:01 AM - Thread Starter
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Using Pioneer 640 HS HDD DVD Recorder with MeTV Aspect Ratio Problems

I am a big fan of METV and record many shows using my Pioneer 640 HS. My 640 is connected via composite cables to a Cisco box from Time Warner Cable (now Spectrum).

MeTV went widescreen last year, but I didn't know it because our local station, like many others, continued to downconvert the signal to 4:3. I did notice during the past year that the tops of characters' heads were cut off and the left and right sides of some credits were being chopped off, so I presume they were cropping the image as part of the downconversion.

In May our local station stopped downconverting. Now all these shows that originally aired in 4:3 (although a few were originally filmed in 16:9) appear letterboxed on my Pioneer 640 HS.

I still have an old 27" CRT TV, so the squashing due to letterboxing makes it hard to see anything. Although I would ideally like the original aspect ratio, I enjoy TV more when I can see the characters' faces, so I would take cropped over letterboxed if necessary.

The aspect ratio and picture size controls (zoom, normal, etc.) on the Cisco cable box have NO effect on the picture on the composite outputs. Maybe they work over the HDMI output, but the HDMI output would introduce even more image problems like window-boxing if an HDMI to composite converter were used between the cable box and the Pioneer 640 HS. (By contrast, I know someone with a new Dish satellite box connected to an old TV using composite cables, and the Dish picture size controls DO work over composite outputs, but the satellite companies don't carry MeTV except in a few areas where the satellite company airs the local subchannel carrying MeTV in addition to the primary local channels.)

Time Warner Cable got rid of all unencrypted and clear QAM channels here several years ago. So a cable box MUST be used now. I talked to a customer rep with Spectrum about a non-HD box but he said forget it, they don't stock them here anymore. They also discontinued digital adapters here.

I tried a huge outdoor OTA antenna but there are just too many trees, hills, and planes to get a good signal where I live, so I am stuck with the cable box to get MeTV.

Are there any devices that I could place between the cable box and the Pioneer 640 HS that would "un-letterbox" the image?

Also--I purchased The Video Filter from Max but it didn't work. I set all the pins correctly and reset them multiple times to verify. Does that say anything about the inflexibility of the image size coming out of the Cisco cable box over the composite cables?

Thanks,

Robbie

Last edited by voranis; 06-05-2017 at 05:09 AM.
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post #2 of 4 Old 06-07-2017, 08:23 PM
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There is no solution to this dilemma: we are entirely at the mercy of broadcasters and cable/satellite providers when it comes to aspect ratio. Most decided a few years ago to completely drop the "true" 4:3 aspect ratio required by the old square CRT televisions, because not enough people still use those TVs to make the hassle of maintaining both formats worthwhile. The result is fake 16:9 crops, or they embed the original 4:3 ratio as anamorphic (which results in thin squished people on a CRT). Using an HDMI converter is not an option with a 4:3 CRT, because the converter will supply double-anamorphic (squeezed) analog video to your Pioneer (which still won't look right on your CRT).

I'm afraid your only viable workaround is to get a new 16:9 tv, which will allow you to zoom the letterboxed image recorded by your Pioneer to fill the screen at a larger size (I do this with shows I record from cable on my own Pioneer). You can pick up a very nice Samsung 27" flat screen TV for $150 or less, or a 32" for not much more. A 32" flat screen with thin border frame is about the same height as a 27" Trinitron CRT, and about 8" wider, but the usable viewing area is four times what you get watching letterbox on a 27" CRT (in other words, magnified four times larger).

When I record MeTV or Decades channel from my external ATSC tuners to my Pioneers, the resulting DVDs usually have the 4:3 ratio embedded as a 16:9 frame. I need to use the "unsqueeze" button on my flat screen TVs to expand the image to normal size. This provides the original 4:3 aspect image centered on the wide screen, with black borders on either side (the 4:3 image is roughly the size of a properly filled 27" CRT screen on my 32" flat screens, and roughly the size of a properly filled 19" CRT on my 27" flat screen).

Note the output of the Pioneer 640 looks horrible on a flat screen TV via composite or S-Video connections: you absolutely must use the component connection instead. While not quite as sharp as the HDMI output option on the Pioneer 650 and 660, the component output of the 640 is nearly as good.

You may have heard you can use computer software to crop and/or stretch a recording to any aspect ratio you prefer, and this is true. The problem is the monumental effort required to do this for every recording. Trust me, buying a modern TV is much MUCH easier.

Last edited by CitiBear; 06-07-2017 at 08:33 PM.
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post #3 of 4 Old 06-10-2017, 03:29 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CitiBear View Post
There is no solution to this dilemma: we are entirely at the mercy of broadcasters and cable/satellite providers when it comes to aspect ratio. Most decided a few years ago to completely drop the "true" 4:3 aspect ratio required by the old square CRT televisions, because not enough people still use those TVs to make the hassle of maintaining both formats worthwhile. The result is fake 16:9 crops, or they embed the original 4:3 ratio as anamorphic (which results in thin squished people on a CRT). Using an HDMI converter is not an option with a 4:3 CRT, because the converter will supply double-anamorphic (squeezed) analog video to your Pioneer (which still won't look right on your CRT).

I'm afraid your only viable workaround is to get a new 16:9 tv, which will allow you to zoom the letterboxed image recorded by your Pioneer to fill the screen at a larger size (I do this with shows I record from cable on my own Pioneer). You can pick up a very nice Samsung 27" flat screen TV for $150 or less, or a 32" for not much more. A 32" flat screen with thin border frame is about the same height as a 27" Trinitron CRT, and about 8" wider, but the usable viewing area is four times what you get watching letterbox on a 27" CRT (in other words, magnified four times larger).

When I record MeTV or Decades channel from my external ATSC tuners to my Pioneers, the resulting DVDs usually have the 4:3 ratio embedded as a 16:9 frame. I need to use the "unsqueeze" button on my flat screen TVs to expand the image to normal size. This provides the original 4:3 aspect image centered on the wide screen, with black borders on either side (the 4:3 image is roughly the size of a properly filled 27" CRT screen on my 32" flat screens, and roughly the size of a properly filled 19" CRT on my 27" flat screen).

Note the output of the Pioneer 640 looks horrible on a flat screen TV via composite or S-Video connections: you absolutely must use the component connection instead. While not quite as sharp as the HDMI output option on the Pioneer 650 and 660, the component output of the 640 is nearly as good.

You may have heard you can use computer software to crop and/or stretch a recording to any aspect ratio you prefer, and this is true. The problem is the monumental effort required to do this for every recording. Trust me, buying a modern TV is much MUCH easier.
CitiBear,

Thanks again! Knowing the Pioneer recordings can be stretched on an HDTV is very helpful. I was worried most about making sure the recordings have captured the best format possible. I can continue recording the way I have been with the knowledge that it will look right when I get an HDTV. And thanks for the tip about the component connections!

One more question: I thought I read once that the Pioneer playback setting needs to be set to 16:9 to capture any anamorphic signal it is recording. I have all my Pioneers set to ths. But I've never understood how a PLAYBACK setting can affect a RECORDING. Can you confirm/correct/clarify all this for me?

Robbie
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post #4 of 4 Old 06-10-2017, 04:33 PM
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Originally Posted by voranis View Post
One more question: I thought I read once that the Pioneer playback setting needs to be set to 16:9 to capture any anamorphic signal it is recording. I have all my Pioneers set to ths. But I've never understood how a PLAYBACK setting can affect a RECORDING. Can you confirm/correct/clarify all this for me?
The instruction manuals do suggest the settings be made this way, similar to how a few other brands operate as well. While it doesn't seem to make sense, it might simply be a carryover from the same mfrs player designs (or an example of garbled translation).

Unfortunately Pioneer is none too clear on how exactly they record "true" widescreen signals, and in practice these recorders are inconsistent with it at best. The old, external Zenith ATSC tuner boxes that feed my Pioneers output standard anamorphic widescreen (16:9 frame squeezed into a 4:3 carrier). Ideally, when set to 16:9, our Pioneers would flag such recordings appropriately so they automatically trigger the unsqueeze function of a connected 16:9 TV (or letterbox for a 4:3 TV).

But they don't: the squeezed 16:9 frame gets recorded as if it was standard 4:3 material. Meaning its distorted when played on an old CRT television, and you need to manually use your HDTV's expand button to generate the proper 16:9 aspect. This wouldn't bug me so much if I didn't know the Pioneers ARE actually capable of embedding the auto-AR flag: they're just inconsistent with it and there's no user setting to force it. I find if I download a true 16:9 anamorphic video file from a website, and play that file from my BluRay player into my Pioneer, THAT copied recording will in fact behave perfectly. It will auto-expand on an HDTV and auto-letterbox on a 4:3 TV. But infuriatingly, the Pioneers will NOT implement this feature when recording from an external tuner or cable/satellite box.

It isn't as big a problem now as it was a few years ago, when many people were still using CRT televisions. But its still annoying to have to fiddle with the TV buttons for EVERY Pioneer recording. Awhile back, I became so irritated with this that I began ripping all my Pioneer dvds to my PC and adding the automation codes with the utility "pgcEdit", then making a new dupe dvd with those added features. Time consuming, but it makes me feel better. This modification utility also lets me fix the REALLY annoying issue with Pioneer dvds not automatically loading their menu screen when played in other people's players or PCs. Helps me avoid repeatedly getting the same frustrated calls from friends and family, and giving the same rote reply: "No, the dvd isn't defective, you need to hit the menu or play button on your remote".

Last edited by CitiBear; 06-10-2017 at 04:36 PM.
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