The story I heard was that some guy at Philips a long time ago observed that you could fit a big 4:3 picture justified to one latteral edge of a 16:9 screen and then stack three small 4:3 pictures on top of each other next to it.
I read somewhere that the geometry of 16x9 made it easier to process electronically.
I know that one month before the ATSC approved the DTV standard, several studios asked why in the world were they specifing an aspect ratio that was not used anywhere else? Why not use 1.85:1 which is what the studios use? The ATSC answer was, where the studios two years earlier when the ATSC was making these decisions and that it was too late to make such a drastic change.
Most non-anamorphic films made in the last 50 years have been intended to be shown at somewhere between 1.66 and 1.85. There has never been an exact agreement about what "wide screen" meant. (Anamorphic films finally standardized on 2.35 but there are also exceptions, just not as many since 1965 or so.)
If you look at release prints, you will see a variety of slightly different aspect ratios for "wide screen" (non-anamorphic) films. Similarly, theatres have widely varied wrt what they were actually doing, making cinematographers sometimes shoot to the high end of the range.
Standardizing on 16X9 (1.78) actually puts the standard right in the middle of what the practice has in fact been. It also makes it clear for the first time what "wide screen" should actually be.
FWIW, one of the video mags had an article on this a year or so ago. They claimed that someone had compared the various common aspect ratios and determined that 16:9 would use, on the average, the most available space on the picture tube.
There was also another statement made that 16:9 was about the limit of width to height that CRT manufacturers felt they could make within reasonable size/weight/cost limits.
I think in the end it was just a matter of too many people having too many special interests. A standard had to be made and it was.
As far as Hollywood interests, they always seem to be a few years beyond anything that isn't done on film stock.
"The HDTV proposals all suggest a 16:9 (1.78) aspect ratio. This was adopted as compromise between the 1.85 ratio that American cinematographers tend to prefer and the 1.66 that European cinematographers use."
Thanks, IMWS. That's pretty much what I remembered from the article.
Can anyone speak to the question of manufacturing direct-view with aspect ratios greater than 16:9? Seems you could do it if you didn't demand a perfectly rectangular screen and masked the top and bottom (like the original color tvs).
If you look at film aspect ratios (in the past 20 years), they vary from 1.80:1 to 2.40:1, with the two most common being 1.85:1 (most common AR, usually comedies and "lighter" films), and 2.35:1 (cinemascope, or "scope", usually epics and artistic films). Since there was no agreement in the film industry either, a 16:9 ratio (1.78:1) was as good a ratio as any, I suppose. But it would have been nice to have NO letterboxing on the most common AR, 1.85:1. http://www.avsforum.com/ubb/smile.gif
Yeringto, your math--though close (not to mention interesting)--is a bit off... 1.77 (irrational, meaning an endless stream of 7's) x 1.33 (also irrational) = 2.37 (try it on your calculator: 1.777777777778 x 1.33333333333).
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