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DVD Widescreen Confusion

Hello all, first post, be kind etc.

The very second I heard that there was to be a B5 DVD, I raced over to Amazon.com and ordered it. It has arrived and I've finally had a chance to watch it. (I just had a baby 9 days ago, so I've been hard pressed to find time for watching DVDs. For the record, I wanted to name it Valen if it was a boy, but my fiancé (who in all fairness, was the one carrying the child, wouldn't have it.)

Anyway, I was most pleased to learn that ITB would be widescreen. And I hoped and prayed that it be truly widescreen and not the fake kind that the sci-fi channel used.

By this, I mean that if I watch my B5 tapes off TNT and then watch it on the sci-fi channel, all that happens is the top and bottom are cut off.

Before you all get outraged and try to explain to me how the black bars at the top and bottom are normal, let me assure you that I'm well aware of how that works. BUT, in the case of B5 on the SFC, the image was NOT WIDER. I compared several episodes and it was just black bars COVERING the top and bottom bits of the screen. The bars are supposed to just fill in the blank area when the image is expanded to allow the entire width to be displayed.

I know this from my experience watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The non-letterboxed, pan and scan version is very easy to spot. After God charges the knights with their quest and the animated titles come up, it says Monty Python and the Holy G
The "rail" is cut off because the image has been cropped for TV. The widescreen version shows the entire width as filmed and fills in the top and bottom with black bars.

NOW, I watched In The Beginning on my DVD and compared it to my VHS TNT Copy. They are the same width. The DVD does NOT show any additional area to the left and right and the black bars COVER UP a great deal of screen space that is visible on the VHS version.

I don't know how or why the word Widescreen changed definitions to mean "delete 1/4 of the movie" but that appears to be what's happening.

If anybody can explain this to me without using technical jargon like NTSC and Anamporphic, I would greatly appreciate it. If you don't feel like wasting time on this Forum discussing it, e-mail me (grumBlePuff@yahoo.com) and please fill me in.

If I were to watch the DVD on a 16x9 TV, would it fare better? Would there actually be more stuff on the left and right for me too look at? If not, what the frag is this pseudo widescreen for?
1) You're wrong.
There is additional material visible on the sides in nearly all of the live action shots. And most of the material trimmed is not from the top and bottom, but from the bottom only.

2) There are different kinds of widescreen. Epics (and epic spoofs) like Holy Grail and Star Wars are shot in "scope" 2.35:1 - more than twice as wide as they are high. Most comedies and "intimate" dramas are shown at 1.85:1, a little more than one and a-half times was wide as they are high. But those films are actually shot 1.33:1, just like TV shows.

That makes it easier to do a TV transfer without butchering the film, but it also destroys the shot composition in the TV version because it wrecks the framing that the director and cinematographer worked so hard to get. Showing a film "full frame" on TV adds material, but it is material that an audience was never meant to see and which hurts the presentation of the film.

3) There is a 3rd process called Super35 which produces an oversized frame allowing the director to shoot for both 1.33:1 (TV) and a widescreen ratio (anywhere from 1.66:1 to 2.35:1) at the same time. James Cameron used Super35 for Terminator 2 and Titanic among other films so that they could be projected at 2.35:1 in the theaters, and shown at 1.33:1 on TV without someone else butchering his work.

Babylon 5, beginning with the first episodes, shot on Super35. Compare the opening scene with the kids running through the palace, especially the shot of the two of them looking out the window (when Peter Jurasik's credit is up.)

You'll see that the frame is indeed wider in the widescreen version, while some at the bottom and none at the top has been trimmed. There are other shots where Senna the nanny is seated on the floor with the children - again, the frame is visibly wider on the DVD, and only slightly trimmed at the bottom.

(If you do a similar comparison between the widescreen and full-frame versions of Titanic you'll see a lot more stuff "missing" from the version that was in the theater. Of course, this "missing stuff" is mostly peoples' feet and floors, since nothing vital is ever put in the "safe" area of a Super35 frame.)

The CGI is indeed (slightly) matted from 1.33:1 to 1.77:1 - as it was designed to be. The CGI was created at 1.33:1 to save time and money. But since JMS always intended that the show would be seen in widescreen, on future HDTVs and elsewhere, he ordered that the CGI be "padded" at the top and bottom and composed so that that it could be trimmed to 1.77:1 without damaging it. Which is exactly what was done. (To my eye the composition on the CGI looks better in widescreen than it did in TV ratio - better focused and more "cinematic.")

And the difference between 1.33:1 and 1.77:1 is certainly nothing like "a quarter of the picture", so please let's not exaggerate, shall we?

Bottom line: We're not missing anything important, we're seeing it the way it was always intended to be seen and overall it looks better this way, just like a photograph often looks better properly cropped than in its raw state, or a painting when properly matted and framed.

JMS had B5 shot the way he did because he knew that - if the show were successful - far more people over the years would see it in widescreen on HDTV than ever saw it in the "old" NTSC ratio of 1.33:1 (sometimes written as "4:3") So this is the version he was going for from the beginning.

And yes, ItB would look better on a widescreen set, but not for the reason you're thinking. The disc is processed in such a way that when the image is blown up on a widescreen, no resolution is lost, as it is with a "standard" letterboxed image. ItB looks much better on DVD than it did on laserdisc on my widescreen set for just this reason. On a 4:3 TV it looks better than VHS or broadcast, but otherwise just about the same as a "hard-matted" letterbox DVD movie.

See this site for a comparison of the U.K. widescreen TV movies to their 1.33:1 counterparts, and for information on the Super35 process: B5 Video Widescreen



Joseph DeMartino
Sigh Corps
Pat Tallman Division


[This message has been edited by Joseph DeMartino (edited December 17, 2001).]
Thank you Joe. This helps me a lot. The link you sent is very informative.

Yes, I do exaggerate quite a lot, especially when I'm angry or confused.
Thank you for bearing with me.

:Shamefaced Admission:
I only compared shots on the ITB up through the opening sequence where Delenn and G'Kar are speaking of the past being born in fire and such. The scene of G'Kar angered me so much that I couldn't continue. In the VHS version, you can plainly see all of his candles burning at the top of the screen, whereas the DVD cuts off the candles before the flame.

I'm sorry I rushed into things but the SciFi Channel's widescreen process seemed to cut quite a lot off the bottom. There are some shots where people's mouths are half missing while they're speaking and I got all in a huff
over it.

AND the website you sent me to: http://home.iae.nl/users/starcat/b5tvm/
for those playing at home, does say that seasons 2 and 3 on Sci-Fi were cropped 4:3. So I was at least partially justified in my resembling the above red angry face.

Anyway, thank you very much again for the clarification. I will fast forward and and do more comparisons because that's the kind of anal retentive maniac I am. I boycotted NBC for three years when they canned The Completely Mental Misadventures Of Ed Grimley. But that's another story.

I very much look forward to B5: LOTR and I do hope it becomes a series, but much moreso, I hope to see groovy DVDs of the B5 series with commentary and blooper reels and stuff. And if they're cropped a little bit, I won't bitch so much next time.

Reverend gB
A lot of people were upset with the first couple of widescreen runs on Sci-Fi - and with good reason. Apart from S1, part of S4 and S5 they were all messed up - simply cropped from the 4:3 masters, not true widescreen. However, this isn't Sci-Fi's widescreen process, and the problem has since been fixed.

The culprit was Warner Bros., or rather, a subcontractor that they hired. They had an outside company that specializes in film to digital video transfers to into their film vaults, pull the original footage, CGI files and editing notes, and assemble new masters.

Unfortunately they pulled the wrong footage for all of S2, S3 and all but the first few episodes of S4, grabbing the 4:3 version instead of the widescreen prints. When the techs did the actual transfer for the broadcast version their notes said, "letterbox it to 16:9", so they did.

There were also a couple of CGI composite errors throughout the five seasons (including a wonderful moment where Londo's teapot shows up on screen in place of the Raider mothership in "Midnight on the Firing Line")

It wasn't until about the third go 'round on Sci-Fi that they managed to get corrected broadcast masters for all the episodes. But in the meantime JMS himself had reviewed all the hi-res digital masters (from which the anamorphic DVDs will be generated) and made sure the problems were all fixed. So Sci-Fi has been airing the show in proper widescreen for awhile now, and I'm confident that what shows up on the future episode DVDs will be exactly what JMS wants.

BTW, Bart Barenberg did a terrific job putting that site together, didn't he?
Glad you found it helpful.



Joseph DeMartino
Sigh Corps
Pat Tallman Division

Welcome aboard, and congratulations on your baby "geek".

Hope you and your new family have much SciFi exploring to do together.


A ship in a port is safe, but that's not what ships are for.

Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper

I don't know if I would go beyond pets when using alien naming. You'll save the kid from years of teasing and a lifetime of despising you.

"Crying isn't gonna get your dog back. Unless your tears smell like dog food. So you can sit here eating can after can of dog food until your tears smell like dog food or you can go out there and find your dog."-Homer in The Canine Mutiny
Joe, you left out one Additional reason the entire show was shot Widescreen from day one:

There were two or three overseas markets that were Already using Wide Screen.
While they weren't a Big incentive for doing it, having widescreen available did make it easier to sell the first run to them.
Call it a bonus for Doing Things Right.

Yes, JMS planned from day one for Babylon 5 to have a Very Long life.

The 3 most common elements in the Universe:
Hydrogen, Greed, Stupidity!

Yes, I remember Garibaldi peeking through the Asteroids and finding Londo's Teacup. That was great.

Thanks again for clearing everything up for me. I'm really glad that a) I was mistaken on a few points and that b) the Sci-Fi Channel fiasco was an error and not a malicious act.

As I mentioned in my first posting, I just had a daughter 9 days ago and even though Susan wouldn't let me name her after any of my sci-fi heroes, I will geekify her. She watched In The Beginning with me and the other night we watched Peter Jackson's other masterpiece - Bad Taste. Someday she will be a Jedi and a Ranger and a Prisoner and a Sandman and Invisible just like her daddy.
For the record, her name is Illyannah Jade, which is a pretty groovy fantasy name.

Be seeing you!
Reverend gB
I never saw the teacup. Darn.

It would be a neat little DVD feature to put that kind of stuff onto the episode DVDs, though.

"You do not make history. You can only hope to survive it."

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