In the old days, TV was easy. It always looked like this:
If you were snobby about your movies, you might get the widescreen letterbox version (on laserdisc if you were rich, or on VHS if you were me), which slapped some black bars on the top and bottom of your screen as filler:
In the brave new world of HDTV, everything’s supposed to be all wide and beautiful, so you don’t have to worry about whether to get the widescreen edition:
Well it would be if everything switched at once. We’ve still got 50 years of standard-def programs, another 50 years of non-widescreen movies before that, and plenty of channels that haven’t even upgraded to broadcast in high-def.
So some of your programs look like this:
and some of them look like this:
Hey, we can live with that. There’s just one problem… a lot of shows are shooting widescreen like this:
…but broadcasting in letterbox on standard-def channels like this…
…which show up on your fancy high-def set like this:
Hey! Now the black bars are all the way around — don’t you feel cheated? The picture’s so tiny!
For the first couple years after I got my little high-def set, I always dutifully fiddled with the zoom settings when I came across a letterboxed program. For some mysterious reason, you usually get wayyyy too many options, like this:
Ok, we start with our picture too tiny…
Crap, now it’s all stretchy!
Ahh, now it’s just right.
Click again and sometimes you get it so zoomed in that you can only see the middle! WTF?
…and back to full view.
Every time I switched channels I’d have to go through this dance, trying to cycle back to whichever mode was right for that particular program. Needless to say this makes TV watching a bit of a bother.
After my fiancÃ©e and I moved in together, I was horrified to discover that she never touched the zoom button. If there were bars around the whole screen, she didn’t care. If I’d left it zoomed in and the top and bottom of the program were cut off, it didn’t bother her none. I’d just sit there until the urge overpowered me and I’d grab the remote control to adjust the zoom while she rolled her eyes.
When we moved from Florida to California we changed cable companies… new cable box, new remote… To my horror, the zoom button didn’t work! I frantically pushed it for a good minute, until I realized that the bars bother me less than the zoom dance.
I have attained HD zoom apathy, and it is good.