625: Andrew Wiseman's Television Room (2K)
625 - Right to Reply
Right to Reply:

Main Content Last Revised  Tu 2-Dec-98

The future is wide, apparently, with more and more programmes and films being shown that appear in a letterbox shape for those of us with ordinary-shaped televisions. But what was wrong with the old shape anyway? Will we really benefit from wider pictures? In this film I made for Right to Reply, I attempt to find out...

Thanks to Rob Sedgebeer for the images (with apologies for the quality!).

From Right to Reply shown on C4 on Su 17-May-98 at 19:00, repeated Fr 22-May-98 at 05:20
and shown on S4C on Mo 18-May-98 at 12:00

Copyright © 1998 Channel 4 Television Corporation.


Roger Bolton


Roger Bolton (5K) Broadcasters claim that it's as exciting as the launch of colour television or Nicam stereo sound. But judging by the experiment so far, many viewers remain unconvinced. This technological advance is widescreen. If you're unfamiliar with the term and you don't have a special set, you might recognise this phenomenon as large black stripes above and below the picture. How can this possibly be exciting? Viewer Andrew Wiseman, who first alerted viewers to reception difficulties facing Channel 5, has been finding out.
landscape shots of park, in widescreen.

and sitting on grass as widescreen bars are removed

How many times have you switched on your television set and found this...

A picture which fills only three quarters of the screen with wide black bars at the top and the bottom. It used to be that this effect would only be seen on films late night on BBC2 and Channel 4, but now these black bars are appearing everywhere. Many viewers will be wondering what broadcasters are playing at.

Andrew, outside TV rental shop.
Do they really think we want to watch programmes as if we're looking at them through a letterbox?
Andrew in Channel 4 control room.
  If you're one of the many people who have complained to a TV company about this, then you'll have been told that the programmes are being broadcast in widescreen format. But what does this mean?

Peter Marchant is the Chief Engineer at Channel 4.


Peter Marchant

Peter Marchant
Chief Engineer C4

The wider format matches the field of view that we have as human beings. We see more in width than we do in height. Our eyes are positioned side by side.

Andrew The so-called benefit of widescreen is lost on some viewers who have complained:
"...Most of the screen consisted of two black bands. The actual film was barely three inches in height"
"Can you tell whoever is responsible to remove that black sticky tape or whatever it is from across the top and bottom of films and other programmes and let me see what I paid for: a full, uninterrupted screen."
Peter Marchant explains...

Pan and scan versus letterboxing is demonstrated visually.

There is no more picture, in fact, to fill the top and bottom. We're not hiding anything. In fact, if we expanded it to fill the vertical dimension, we would then lose information from the sides.

Broadcasters used to adopt the practice of what we call "panning and scanning". And what that means is the original movie picture contained too much information to fit in to the ordinary television screen, and so broadcasters had to select from that bigger picture the parts that were essential for the viewer to see. But, by definition, it means we had to throw away quite a lot of the image and in that sense the viewer was being cheated.

Watching a widescreen programme on a conventional TV there will be bands top and bottom; a widescreen programme will completely fill the screen of a widescreen television set.

Andrew inside TV rental shop
So should we all be rushing out to buy one of these new, more expensive widescreen television sets, currently on sale?

Andrew McIlwraith

Andrew McIlwraith
Senior Editor WHICH?

There's absolutely no need to rush out and buy a new widescreen TV. Widescreen technology is being phased in quite slowly. Widescreen TVs are coming onto the market now, but they are very expensive, much more than equivalent regular television sets. And like many electronic technologies, we'd expect them to fall in price. For example, CD players and VCRs when they first came in were very expensive. Now they're, you know, much, much cheaper.

Andrew sums up to camera So it looks like widescreen is the future, whether you like it or not. But I for one won't be trading in my old TV set just yet.


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Other Right to Reply pages at this site...

Full Contents Channel 5 Preview Channel 5 Reception PDC Widescreen DOGs Branding Future TV

Links to Widescreen Web Sites
>> Mike Brown's Rough Guide explains widescreen in detail, including examples of TV pictures in various aspect ratios.

>> The Letterbox and Widescreen Advocacy Page has been set up to represent the views of the pro-widescreen lobby.

625 TV Logos Programme Delivery Control Explained Public Information Films Channel 5 Invasion of the Web Snatchers Digital TV - Beyond the Hype
TV Room TV Logos PDC
PIFs Channel 5 Web
Digital TV


625: Andrew Wiseman's Television Room (2K)