Steven Soderbergh Weighs in on Cropped HD Movies - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 40 Old 08-08-2009, 08:24 AM - Thread Starter
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IN MY OPINION

Format Wars

By Steven Soderbergh

In case you were wondering how bad a 2.40 film looks on standard-size HD channels, our national vice president explains it all. And, he's taken a photo of himself to prove his point.

While there's always an abundance of ugly things going on in the Actual World, there's also something ugly going on in the Hi-Def World, and it isn't just post-traumatic stress from the (pointless) Bluray/HD-DVD smackdown. It is another in a series of situations in which the default mode is an unnecessary compromise, and it won't get fixed unless everyone gets on the same page. And it is precisely because this is not an Actual World problem that I believe there is hopeand a solution.

For half a century filmmakers have watched, helplessly, as their films were recomposed for the 4:3 format of television. A fortunate few were able to prevent their works from being altered, and the birth of channels like TCM, IFC, and Sundance provided a small, safe haven for old and new films alike, but the general rule was everything got its limbs severed to fit into the box.

Like many format fiends, I saw the advent of hi-def broadcast TV as the Holy Grail. Finally, the larger screens, greater detail, and more film-friendly 16:9 ratio would mean all films could live on forever with their extremities intact. Meet Steven Soderbergh, the DGA's reigning Pollyanna.

Since the 16:9 image is now the shape of television, only one format remains to distinguish television from the movies: the 2.40:1 aspect ratio. Because of that, I now believe shape matters more than size, and I say that knowing full well the number of jokes I just unleashed.

Television operators, the people who buy and produce things for people to watch on TV, are taking the position that films photographed in the 2.40:1 ratio should be blown up or chopped up to fit a 16:9 (1.78:1) ratio. They are taking the position that the viewers of television do not like watching 2.40 films letterboxed to fit their 16:9 screens, and that a film insisting on this is worth significantly lessor even nothingto them. They are taking the position that no one will dare challenge them and risk losing revenue. The logic used to make you, the filmmaker, conform to this belief makes a pretzel look like a ruler: you are told you shouldn't care whether your 2.40 film is turned into a 1.78 film because there really isn't that much of a difference, while in the same breath you are told viewers notice the difference enough to complain about it.

The end result is we have a better chance of seeing a 2.40 film from 1959 in its proper format than a movie from 2009.

That's weird, and sad.

Now, I don't want to spend a lot of time on this, because I have never believed that even a small portion of what happens in the entertainment industry matters that much, but it's ****ing lame to watch Jawsa film that uses the 2.40 ratio as well as any ever producedin the wrong format on HBO. Does Universal so badly need a few extra pennies that it's willing to ruin a classic? And does HBO really think its viewers are so stupid as to forget movies currently come in two sizes?

Apparently so. (No, I'm not forgetting the original, golden ratio of 1.33:1, it's just that no one uses it anymore except the pretentious *******s who made The Good German.)

The easy solution is if everyone in the U.S. who sells television rights for movies insists on format retention, then the economic playing field remains flat. The hard way is to make filmmakers continue to negotiate this right individually, which is time-consuming and makes everyone on both sides feel like the worst version of themselves. (By the way, as a filmmaker, the best time to press for this is during the point in negotiations when they want you the most. Waiting until post or beyond is hopeless.)

As directors, we can decide to fix this, quickly, or let it continue down its gangrenous path until there is no longer any distinction on TV between movies and television. To change the industry mindset will demand a fusion of action and belief that seems impossible lately, but making the attempt is more laudable than widespread apathy, especially when it comes to reminding viewers that not every movie is identical.

As a test, flip around and find a movie in 2.40 on one of the HD movie channels that actually airs movies in their correct format. You'll see that it feels very different than a full-frame 16:9 image. In fact, you might agree with my assessment that, ironically, the letterboxed 2.40 ratio actually makes the world of the movie look bigger.

Shape matters. Spread the word.



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post #2 of 40 Old 08-08-2009, 09:30 AM
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This explains why AMC HD shows Ocean's 12 letterboxed.

I'm proud of the Blu-ray format for not compromising in regards to aspect ratio and hope that it will eventually influence the direction of HDTV formatting.

As stated in the article, the fastest way to see HDTV progress would be the filmmakers taking a stand for the integrity of their work.

The broadcasting of the Star Wars Saga is an interesting example of wavering efforts. It would seem as though George Lucas had forced HBO HD to air the complete series in the correct scope aspect ratio; however, upon Spike TV's acquiring of the broadcast rights, they have been allowed to "force" the Star Wars films to 16:9. Where's the consistency? ("Stay on target! Stay on target!")
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post #3 of 40 Old 08-08-2009, 10:01 AM
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Even worse than P&S (and don't get me wrong - P&S is bad) is stretching the image. And IFCHD is a serious offender here. It does not deserve to be in the A+ list.

If an HD version of a movie is not available, please do not change its shape.
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post #4 of 40 Old 08-08-2009, 10:39 AM
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I always thought that movies on HBO looked like crap in HD, glad to hear it isn't just myself with this opinion. What would be great is a response from HBO on this about how they are going to improve their quality!

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post #5 of 40 Old 08-08-2009, 11:01 AM
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From a purely technical standpoint, what would make sense is to send such movies as 2.35 with AFD/Pan control. Those that want full screen can select pan/scan (with lower horizontal resolution) and those that want letterbox can choose that. Of course from a practical standpoint it won't work as it requires a change to the transmission standard.

I suspect with the increasing capability of internet distribution and the ability to change software as needed, watching features via real time distribution will fade. Even Blu-Ray might become obsolete not that far from now.


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post #6 of 40 Old 08-08-2009, 11:52 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TVOD View Post

I suspect with the increasing capability of internet distribution and the ability to change software as needed, watching features via real time distribution will fade. Even Blu-Ray might become obsolete not that far from now.

Most major ISPs would implement harsh bandwidth caps ala Australia at the drop of a hat if they thought they'd get away with it. IPTV/Distribution that isn't controlled by the service provider won't take hold for a long time. Especially if ISPs aren't forced to modernize and treat their bandwidth as a non-value added commodity.

We will have hard media of one type or another for the near future.
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post #7 of 40 Old 08-08-2009, 12:17 PM
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Does anyone here actually have IFC-HD or Sundance-HD? Epix-HD is probably going to mean the end of MGM-HD so scratch that one off too (besides, they still can't get their sound problems together, and now run breaks during movies)...

So what do we have left? HDNet-Movies. Sad indeed.

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post #8 of 40 Old 08-08-2009, 01:09 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DaveFi View Post

Does anyone here actually have IFC-HD or Sundance-HD? Epix-HD is probably going to mean the end of MGM-HD so scratch that one off too (besides, they still can't get their sound problems together, and now run breaks during movies)...

So what do we have left? HDNet-Movies. Sad indeed.

No Sundance HD but FiOS does have SUndance HD OnDemand. I can't believe that it is such a big deal for studios to just give HBO/CINEMAX the films in their correct aspect ratio. After all, what are they gonna do...not show them?

ALso, HBO has no leg to stand on when it comes to whether or not people like black bars. Because...(listen carefully, HBO) viewers who don't like it can eliminate the bars by zooming in with either their TV settings or their cable box!!! However, there is no option for a viewer to watch the correct OAR when the image is cropped/zoomed to 16X9 (which, by the way, also lessens sharpness and color, defeating the purpose of HD).

Obviously, HBO has little respect for films or filmmakers, much less their subscribers. (Imagine my chagrin at tuning in to a Cinemax showing of the meticulously restored HOW THE WEST WAS WON, only to see that nearly half the picture was cropped!!) It's now 2009 and people have become familiar with black bars via DVD. People did not run to the stores to return their DVDs of THE INCREDIBLES because it had black bars. So really, given all the above, there is literally no excuse to mutilate films in this manner any longer. (I'm seriously considering dropping HBO for this reason.)

To it's credit, SHOWTIME always makes a concious effort to get films in OAR. And, when they miss one, they go to the effort of getting it corrected by the studio when viewers let them know. (Yes, SHOWTIME actually listens to their subscribers!) Just wish THEY had the film deals that HBO has. And HDNet, of course, does everything right! (By the way, I would add Universal-HD to the F- category as well.)

My sincere thanks to Mr. Soderbergh for going to the effort to ensure his films are presented properly. I only wish other directors would do the same.
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post #9 of 40 Old 08-08-2009, 01:13 PM
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What does he know, he's only a director....

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post #10 of 40 Old 08-08-2009, 01:26 PM
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Given that DVDs come letterboxed for 2:35:1 why do the execs think that JSP still wants to fill his screen? Bet JSP doesn't use his zoom controls on his DVD to make a "scope" movie fill the screen. Anyone with a background in art and photography knows that the zoomed versions don't look right. The composition looks bad. That should be enough to have the cinematographers guild complaining (but they won't).

John Belton in his "History of Widesreen Cinema" book argued that widescreen TV should have been 2:40:1 aspect. At the time (1992) that would have been possible with RPTVs but engineers were having problems with the 16:9 CRT design. Plasma and LCD panels did away with the problem and we now have 2:40:1 panels available.

I'd love to hear Soderbergh weigh in on the extreme close-up which is a child of small box TV. The close-up often referred to as the picture "only a dentist could love" and way out of date in our widescreen age.

A little known factoid was that studios asked cinematographers in the early 1950's to shot widescreen safe on academy ratio (1:33:1) films apparently so they could re-release as widescreen versions. Looking at films from the 1930's I often notice nagging dead space at bottom and top in the composition leaving me wondering if they were asking for that also back then too more for the European market where the 1:66:1 ratio prevailed.
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post #11 of 40 Old 08-08-2009, 01:41 PM
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Interesting. I have FIOS and have never seen Sundance in the HD OnDemand section here in the Boston area.

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post #12 of 40 Old 08-08-2009, 01:44 PM
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Sundance has some good Asian Extreme OnDemand. But last month's selection "Silk" looked like a Flash video upscaled to HD. So far this month's selections I've watched have been fine.
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post #13 of 40 Old 08-08-2009, 02:10 PM
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Bravo, let us allow filmakers who chose an odd (alternate) format, the right to be boxed, no full screens. This may be crap, but we get was intended!
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post #14 of 40 Old 08-08-2009, 02:16 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gsd102003 View Post

Bravo, let us allow filmakers who chose an odd (alternate) format, the right to be boxed, no full screens. This may be crap, but we get was intended!

The odd (alternate) format is 16:9 (or 4:3). And I do agree, they are crap!

Your (incorrect) preferred viewing format can be obtained through zooming at your end. People who actually want to watch a film presented in the correct manner do not get a choice if it is broadcast in the mangled, incorrect aspect ratio.
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post #15 of 40 Old 08-08-2009, 03:13 PM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DaveFi View Post

Does anyone here actually have IFC-HD or Sundance-HD

I only have them on Comcast On Demand. Sundance doesn't even have a linear HD channel yet.

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post #16 of 40 Old 08-08-2009, 03:58 PM
 
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Originally Posted by DaveFi View Post

Interesting. I have FIOS and have never seen Sundance in the HD OnDemand section here in the Boston area.

Try going into PREMIUM SUBSCRIPTIONS, then tab over (>) and scroll down to SUNDANCE, Tab over to SUNDANCE HD.
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post #17 of 40 Old 08-08-2009, 04:29 PM
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Originally Posted by gsd102003 View Post

Bravo, let us allow filmakers who chose an odd (alternate) format

If you look closer at the stack of DVDs on your shelf, you'll note that a very large percentage of them are scope. It's not the least bit odd.
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post #18 of 40 Old 08-08-2009, 06:28 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DaveFi View Post

Does anyone here actually have IFC-HD or Sundance-HD? Epix-HD is probably going to mean the end of MGM-HD so scratch that one off too (besides, they still can't get their sound problems together, and now run breaks during movies)...

So what do we have left? HDNet-Movies. Sad indeed.

IFC-HD is on TW Cable in NYC as a basic digital channel.
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post #19 of 40 Old 08-08-2009, 06:40 PM
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I'm glad Soderbergh is standing up for his product. And he's 100% right, show the film as it was intended. One the biggest early decisions a filmmaker makes is aspect ratio. How best to tell the story and often this alone is a huge fight with the studio (though the trend these days is that more and more movies are going 2.40). To win that battle, create a product that is framed and shot in a particular aspect ratio, presented in that ratio theatrically, and on DVD and then cropped for television to me is just odd. It's like someone forcing you to admire a photograph of The Mona Lisa when you have the real thing in your collection.

I can see how this bugs Soderbergh who is one of the few directors who both directs AND photographs his movies. He's both a storyteller and one of Hollywood's master technicians. He's his own cinematographer, so he has a vested interest in seeing his product realized correctly and that audience ignorance (or executive's ignorance -- people who SHOULD know better) isn't a good enough reason to butcher a product. It was one thing when the world was 4:3, but almost unacceptable today.
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post #20 of 40 Old 08-08-2009, 07:51 PM
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Quote:
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Most major ISPs would implement harsh bandwidth caps ala Australia at the drop of a hat if they thought they'd get away with it. IPTV/Distribution that isn't controlled by the service provider won't take hold for a long time. Especially if ISPs aren't forced to modernize and treat their bandwidth as a non-value added commodity.

We will have hard media of one type or another for the near future.

Near is a relative word. I think in a decade that hard media will be all but gone for distribution. Right now 10Mbs 24P MPEG4 would probably suffice for most viewers, and it wouldn't surprise me to see that rate fall in half as encoders improve. Conversely internet speeds just keep getting faster. 100Mbs consumer service is already a reality in parts of the world. Even wireless with LTE and WiMax will be capable of speeds required for HD.

I heard that HD would never catch on, and that CPUs would never get past 100Mhz.


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post #21 of 40 Old 08-08-2009, 08:03 PM
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The problem isn't the technology. It's here today, and it works perfectly, as people in other countries can attest. That's not what I was arguing (although I admit to being one of those 'grumble HD sizes are getting too big to be reliable) people when they broke 100GB, and now I have multiple terabyte drives...) . My point was that nobody involved with the process in the US, CDNs, ISPs, media companies, or etc, are going to offer it any time soon, without complete lock-in or a relative lack of content. See also Netflix, UVerse, and a few of the IPTV outfits that currently exist. They either have spotty content, non-live content, or lock you in to a particular STB. There's no regulation like there is in the Cable realm that requires service providers to have specific levels of service, or mandate open STB standards. The ISPs pretend the bandwidth is too expensive, or that it's somehow special when it comes from them, the CDNs want too much money or have no content, and the media companies whine and cry that there isn't completely draconian DRM and central control over every bit of content. Until people are kicked in the rear, it won't work like cable or satellite does, and I don't mean that as a compliment to it.

This isn't about OAR movies... sorry.
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post #22 of 40 Old 08-08-2009, 08:46 PM
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I think future devices will be more open and upgradable which will allow standards to be altered more easily. Obviously there will be a major concern for security, but Blu-Rays are not exactly secure. Whatever the means of distribution, there should be a 2.35 video standard. Anamorphic HD video would accommodate this. Hey, it's just more standard to add to the many we already have


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post #23 of 40 Old 08-08-2009, 09:09 PM
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Quote:
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IFC-HD is on TW Cable in NYC as a basic digital channel.

So it's not HD?

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post #24 of 40 Old 08-08-2009, 10:24 PM
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So it's not HD?

I would assume he meant it wasn't in an extended tier, that it was available on the basic digital pkg, basic digital wouldn't necessarily mean SD, would it?
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post #25 of 40 Old 08-09-2009, 09:15 AM
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I thought this thread was about aspect ratios.
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post #26 of 40 Old 08-09-2009, 11:19 AM
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Well we're quickly getting into the uber-resolution realm. I think you're going to see the movie business begin to really take a serious look (if the costs can lineup) at doing more movies at 4K or higher especially with the advent of cameras like RED. Combine that with the film community's pushback of digital acquisition, I wouldn't be surprised if Hollywood switched back to making movies on 65 just to push the image quality bar that much higher. Chris Nolan is already doing this with the IMAX sequences in Dark Knight and shooting 65mm on his new flick. What this means is formats like Blu-Ray and current consumer display technology will be inadequate, and though it's only a matter of time with OLED's and LaserScan TVs that 4k+ resolution starts to get into the home, there is currently no hard format to distribute content at that resolution. 1920x1080 pales in comparison to 4K.

Steve Jobs may be onto something with Apple's dismissal of Blu-Ray as an intermediate format. It seems logical that the future of home movies may be something more like a variation of the iTunes model that worked across multiple platforms. I could definitely envision an iPod or AppleTV type device with say a 2TB of storage that all your HD+ movies would play from, the only disadvantage is currently the bandwidth isn't there and the display technology isn't there at the consumer levels, but with time these could easily be overcome. But as telecine technology gets better and cheaper and/or DI's and digital acquisition proliferates, 4K is the future for movies regardless whether your talking film or digital acquisition.
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post #27 of 40 Old 08-09-2009, 12:42 PM
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4K acquisition improves 2K display resolution. The same is true using 1920 pixels for 1280 pixel systems. Much (if not most) digital cinema is currently 2K. Film out is commonly done at 2K. Red One uses a Bayer filter which is not really the equivalent of a true 4K RGB sensor. I think the professional industry would move to 4K display before we see that in consumer realm. 4K DLP won't really be available till next year for professional projectors.

4K is already becoming the standard for DI.

None of that solves the current situation of how to display 2.35 at home. One is the straight forward method of letterbox. For physical and stream distribution one could select letterbox or pan/scan versions. I suppose a system could be used to do a 33% blowup of a letterbox presentation, but pan metadata would need to be added. Another approach could be to use anamorphic HD.

Another possibility would be a square pixel system using 2560x1080. The pan/scan 1.78 could be sent traditionally as a primary stream, while another stream contains the missing picture information. Those with hardware capable of putting together the full image could watch in letterbox on a 1.78 display, converted to anamorphic 1.78 and stretched with projection optics or use a full resolution 2560x1080 display. The question is whether there would be enough consumer interest to support such a system, but it seems that it wouldn't be that difficult to implement at the production end. Directors probably would still be unhappy that there is support for cropping the image.

For now it appears we have two choices: Pan/scan or letterbox. Hopefully more directors will be more vocal about displaying their work in OAR. IMO as displays increase in size, the black bars at the top and bottom become less of an issue.


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post #28 of 40 Old 08-09-2009, 12:54 PM
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Quote:
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I thought this thread was about aspect ratios.

If the sources don't exist, there's no way to get them regardless. Most of us don't have access to the channels Mr. Soderbergh was speaking of anyways.

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post #29 of 40 Old 08-09-2009, 02:59 PM
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It's been close to a year now since I've watched a movie from a TV source. Between non-OAR, channel cramming into insufficient bandwidth and screen bugs they're simply a waste and not worth the time. I prefer to give my "premium" $$ to a service that can actually provide me with a premium viewing experience. Blu-ray for now....


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post #30 of 40 Old 08-09-2009, 05:15 PM
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Philips has a 21:9 ratio display device. I'm not sure when it will be available in the USA, but I bet it will be on display at CEDIA 2009.

http://www.cinema.philips.com
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