Originally Posted by DrBrain
If that's the case, then why is it that with both the Philips and the Polaroid (both set to 16:9 wide in the settings menu as well as the TV) when just viewing as well as recording through them, from an HD 16:9 Satellite broadcast, I get a 4:3 picture on my Vizio 32" widescreen (TV mode set to Normal) that's letterboxed (which is 16:9 within the letterbox) and needs to be picture moded to fill the screen? When recorded and played back the same 4:3 letterbox (16:9 within the letterbox) shows up and again picture moded to fill the screen? Unless I'm lost and totally confused I thought the whole idea was a recorder that both displayed and recorded an HD 16:9 broadcast without letterboxing and needing to be picture moded to fill the screen? I've seen 3 manuals for different recorders that state the units will not record a 16:9 aspect ratio without letterboxing it and people saying "no, it does." I feel lost? Am I?
It took me along time to reach a point where I think I understand the widescreen viewing and recording scenario and issues.
Let me try to explain this in a slightly different way.
A DVD recorder records whatever video is presented at its input, be it from the internal tuner or from an external device. Everything is set up as if the whole world is 4x3 and widescreen did not exist.
Older commercial DVDs presenting widescreen movies were letterboxed, much like the laser discs that came before them. The black bars above and below the widescreen video were actually recorded video also, consuming/wasting a significant portion of the vertical resolution that is already limited for NTSC standard analog TV viewing.
At some point some smart folks devised a method of compressing the widescreen picture horizontally to the point where they fully utilized all of the vertical resolution available. This horizontally squeezed video is often referred to as anamorphic since it is similar to the method used to squeze widescreen movies into more narrow film frames (e.g., 35 mm film carrying squeezed 70 mm wide movie material). The squeeze was accomplished during filming by using a lens that distorted the view to achieve the horizontal squeeze. Then, when playing the movie in the theater, a complementary but opposite-effect lens was used to stretch the video back to its true aspect ratio (e.g., 70 mm from 35 mm film). These lens are described as anamorphic.
The electronic equivalent is accomplished by recording a 16x9 source program on a device that normal handles 4x3 video, such as a DVD recorder. This can also be done with a VCR--I used to do so with my SVHS recorder.
To make this work electronically, the first requirement is to have the source device (providing the video) perform the horizontal squeeze to deliver an anamorphic video signal, squeezing the width of the 16x9 picture into the recording video space typically used for 4x3 pictures.
There are many source devices that can do this by setting their options for viewing on a 16x9 widescreen TV. Both of my stand-alone HD tuners and my HD TiVo's can do this. To work with my DVD recorder (or SVHS VCR), that anamorphic video must be availble on the S-video output of the HD device.
But, there are many other devices, such as commonly used HD cable boxes, that will not deliver the anamorphic video to the S-video (and composite video) outputs. Instead, those boxes always assume that the downstream S-video device must be a 4x3 TV so they always letterbox the widescreen video and offer no method for a user to override this.
I am not familiar with Dish Network satellite HD boxes, so I don't know how they behave in this regard.
Assume we have an anamorphic video version of a 16x9 widescreen program and have recorded it on a DVD recorder--hard drive or DVD-R or the others.
Much like the film version, the playback and/or display device now takes on the task of stretching the anamorphic recording to fill the widescreen display. This part is usually easy to accomplish.
The tougher challenge is to have that same anamorphic recording play back on a 4x3 TV as either letterboxed (black bars over and under) or pan and scan (sides cropped to have undistorted full screen). To differentiate "standard" 4x3 recordings from anamorphic widescreen recordings, there is a bit (simplistically, actually there are a few bits involved) that indicates whether the source material was originally 4x3 or 16x9. In analog video signals this bit occurs within the vertical blanking interval (VBI, the "space" between two fields of video). This is often referred to as the "widescreen flag."
DVD playback machines (including the playback mode of a DVD recorder) can detect and react to the widescreen flag based on options set by the person who set up the DVD playback function. There is an option setting for the type of TV (4x3 or 16x9) and for how to display widescreen-flagged video on a 4x3 TV--either letterboxed or pan and scan. The options should be set to match the viewing device aspect ratio.
With the playback option set for a 16x9 TV, the widescreen anamorphoic recording is played back unaltered, thus allowing the video to fill the entire width of the 16x9 screen. This is exactly how "enahnced for widescreen" commercial DVDs work. Actually, this works fine for any anamorphic recording, whether or not there was a widescreen flag present on the recording.
With the playback option set for a 4x3 TV, if the widescreen flag is present on the recording, the DVD player will either letterbox or pan and scan the video as set in the options. If there is no widescreen flag present, the DVD player assumes the video is 4x3 and fills the 4x3 screen with the anamorphic video, which is horizontally squeezed and causes folks to look tall and skinny.
So, the key ingredient for "full-resolution" widescreen DVD video is the anamorphic video source. For those of us recording our own widescreen programs from HDTV sources, we rely on the source device for the anamorphic video.
With or without the widescreen flag, the playback of the anamorphic video on a widescreen TV is succesful in displaying the video in its original 16x9 aspect ratio (assuming the DVD player is set up for a 16x9 TV).
Playback without aspect ratio distortion on a 4x3 TV is dependent on the presence of the widescreen flag in the anamorphic recording and the correctly-set options in the DVD player.
Whew!! Sorry that took so long, but small steps in this long journey may be easier to digest and understand than a quick summary.
Hope this helps!