Widescreen Vs. Full Screen Movies
By Rianne Hill Soriano
Updated September 22, 2017
DVDs are often available in two screening formats: widescreen and full screen. Widescreen is the original format viewed on the big screen while full screen is the modified version of a movie to fit an old TV screen. While many DVDs are now released in both "Full Screen" or "Widescreen" formats in a single package, there are still those that are sold separately. In such cases, the choice of getting which one generally depends on the kind of TV the consumer has.
Full-Screen TV vs. Widescreen TV
For those with widescreen TVs, mainly the HD TVs, playing a movie in full-screen format stretches the visuals you see, which means the actors and everything else on screen look abnormally fatter. For those with full-screen TVs, mainly the old generation TVs, playing a movie in widescreen format squeezes the visuals you see, which means the actors and everything else on screen look abnormally thinner.
A widescreen DVD has a 16:9 aspect ratio while a full-screen DVD has a 4:3 aspect ratio. Technically speaking, the aspect ratio is the ratio of the width of the image in relation to its height and it is expressed as two numbers separated by a colon. Widescreen TVs generally require a 16:9 aspect ratio, while older TVs require a 4:3 aspect ratio.
When watching a movie in full screen, almost half of the visuals (mainly the visuals on the farther left and right sides of the original footage) are lost. Full-screen DVDs will most likely have the message, “This film has been modified from its original version.” The visuals are cropped and slightly zoomed in so that the visuals fit the narrower TV as compared with the wider screens when watching inside a movie theater.
With certain DVD releases, there is a way for widescreen movies to be properly viewed on a full-screen TV without the squeezing issue. This is done by selecting the letterbox option, which puts black bars on the top and bottom of the video. Some get annoyed by the black bars, which also make the visuals a little smaller than what the whole TV screen can accommodate. However, filmmakers and film buffs prefer to see all the actions happening especially in cinematic shots of epic, sci-fi and adventure movies than having the full-screen version that crops much of the original footage. With the widescreen and letterbox formats, no part of the picture is lost and each shot is composed how the director originally made it.
Filmmakers prefer the longer widescreen format called the anamorphic widescreen. This has a 2:35 aspect ratio unlike the usual 16:9, which means that the movie is 2.35 times wider than it is tall. Many commercial cinematic presentations, especially epic, sci-fi and adventure movies like “Star Wars,” “Matrix” and “Lord of the Rings” are filmed in 2:35 aspect ratio, which is also called CinemaScope. When viewing such movies on a full-screen TV using the letterbox option, the screen has larger black bars on the top and bottom of the screen as compared with a movie in 16:9 aspect ratio.
The Future of Widescreen and Full-Screen Movie Formats
Though full screen has been the standard format for decades, widescreen is fast becoming a more popular choice not only because of the availability of more HD TVs as compared with full screen TVs these days, but also because widescreen TVs keep movies’ original composition.
Full-screen DVDs and full-screen TVs are becoming obsolete, similar to how older technologies like Betamax, VHS and cassette tapes already are things of the past. For both broadcast and consumer cameras, recording in widescreen format is already a standard. Movie studios, TV networks and even online content producers are now prioritizing shows made for widescreen releases.
Rianne Hill Soriano is a freelance artist/writer/educator. Her diverse work experiences include projects in the Philippines, Korea and United States. For more than six years she has written about films, travel, food, fashion, culture and other topics on websites including Yahoo!, Yehey! and Herword. She also co-wrote a book about Asian cinema.