Michael Applebaum, MD, JD, FCLM
I am frequently asked about new technologies, their
adoption and the history of their development.
HDTV is a technology that is becoming more prevalent and
affordable. Until just a few years
ago, HDTV sets were priced in the 5-figures and there were no broadcast HDTV
channels. Now the sets are in the
3- and 4- figures (which is roughly the same number of cable/satellite channels,
many of which are in HD) and broadcast HDTV is available in many areas.
of today's televisions and all of yesterday’s were based around a screen shape
and size that works in a 4:3 aspect ratio i.e., for every 4 horizontal picture
elements there are 3 vertical picture elements.
In other words, a non-HD television screen or image is in a ratio of
1.33:1 or 1/3 wider than it is tall.
aspect ratio was decided upon over 100 years ago by the early filmmakers.
The motion picture creators who recorded moving images on celluloid
adopted the 4:3 aspect ratio early on as the standard frame size for cameras and
wasn't a consumer product until the 1940s.
1941, the NTSC television standard was developed. The extant film standard became the television screen size.
film industry was the first to realize the limitations of the standard 4:3
the 1950s and 1960s, it became apparent to the film industry that the 4:3 ratio
was not long for this world. Ever
concerned about costs, it realized that fatter Americans no longer fit on the
screen. (America was and still is
the cinema capital of the world.) This
was mostly due to the size of the extras, as “stars” were more controllable.
If a star got too big, that one got unemployed (with the notable
exception of comedians). The big screen was becoming the not-so-big screen.
To record an entire group scene, the camera either had to move farther from the
action, which makes for a more boring and less involved movie-going experience,
or pan across the scene to get it all in. Panning
took longer and was costlier due to additional time and film expenses.
filmmakers experimented with different aspect ratio formats.
The various shapes and sizes for motion picture screens, were packaged
under sexy and exciting names like
"Vistavision," "Panavision," "Cinemascope,"
"Cinerama," “Technirama,” “Techniscope.” and “Superscope.”
The assorted “Visions” and “Scopes” and “Ramas” had different
aspect ratios. For example, “Scope”
movies can have aspect ratios from 2.35:1 to 2.55:1.
result is that many films were and are shot in wider aspect ratios than standard 4:3 TV
can handle. To view these films on a
standard TV, it has to be reformatted. That
is why you see the “This film has been reformatted” message on a video or DVD. Reformatting
the video causes you to lose part of the film as it was originally shot.
television and home video industries had to do something to get people who
wanted to view an entire film back in front of their sets and out of the
theatre. Remember, not only do you get to see the advertising on a
rental, but if you stay home you will likely watch more TV and generate more
advertising revenue for the networks.
was born in response to the television industry’s need to compete with cinema. If you can get more of the theatre experience at home, you
are less likely to leave your set and money is less likely to leave the
you will recall, there is no fixed standard anymore for a movie’s aspect
development was a joint effort of the TV networks, TV manufacturers, FCC, USDA
(Agriculture Department) and HHS, or the Department of Health and Human
Services, the same people who bring you Medicare.
The last two are intimately involved in the work of national consumption
and sickness and uniquely positioned to track, gather and generate statistical
data about American bodies.
of the growing American width and sophisticated longitudinal projection studies
indicated that an aspect ratio of 16:9 would most economically serve the needs
of the television industry. It was
determined that this size offered the best compromise of cost and technological
longevity. The underlying
calculation was that the American BMI would not increase above 35 by the year
2065 for more than 67% of the general population.
Film extras come from the general population.
A BMI of 35 is grossly obese.
one specific standard has not been agreed upon, most broadcasters have adopted
16:9 as a screen size. Many of the
high definition holdouts are unconvinced that this 16:9 scale will last.
They are proposing a wider standard of 28:11 or 2.55:1.
This would create a screen with 28 pigsels across and 11 pigsels down.
(A “pigsel” is the new pigture element proposed for the wider HDTV
advice I provide to those who ask, is to wait until the HDTV broadcast standard
is decided before investing in the technology, unless they have a lot of money
to burn. As Americans continue to
get fatter and fatter, it is possible that a format wider than 16:9 will