Posted by Matthew Cupper on August 30, 2018
Matthew Cupper

Ever wondered why your TV shows those black bars when certain content shows? Well hopefully this blog post will explain to you in plain English.

Why does my TV go small when I watch certain movies and what can I do about it?


Unfortunately for TV there is not a lot that you can do about this issue as the TV size cannot physically change!


However for cinemas with projection systems you do have a choice….


First we are going to dive into a little bit of information regarding the reasons why the TV picture size changes.


Orion jpg

It is all about the ASPECT RATIO


Aspect ratio is the size of the image that the content has been created in. Back in the old days we had 4:3 aspect which was a boxy image and most TVs were set up this way to present the image, you do occasionally see this on old TV shows on channels that promote the classics of yester year!


We then moved to a standardised new format which was 16:9, a much more suitable format for TV, and all of the TV manufacturers jumped on board with this newer better screen format. There is another format which in effect offers the same ratio however we do not want to get too bogged down with this as this is not designed as a tech document more as an simple explainer doc.


The only issue with the above was that the film studios decided that they did not want to standardise to this format. Whilst some movies were created 16:9 there were also several other “widescreen” formats that were also being used!


Herein lies the issue….


Whenever a widescreen format is presented to a TV the black bars come into play to allow the content to fit and the image height needs to be reduced by around 25%.


If you are watching a 4K TV this means your image is now 3K! On a projector the news gets slightly worse for you as the projector is losing around 1\3rd of its brightness creating the nearly black bars at the top and bottom of the screen!



DO NOT FEAR we have some solutions below….


Option 1: The MOST COST EFFECTIVE SOLUTION is to select a 16:9 screen size and projector as you are happy with the smaller image size for movies in wide screen, same as a TV. This is often best suited for a cinema or media room where the main purpose is to watch the TV, sport or gaming. In some circumstances also with certain room sizes you can end up with the larger image in 16:9 format and still have the same screen size for widescreen, this would be subject to your home cinema designer.


Option 2: Select a projector that has a lens memory function and use a native widescreen projector screen. In this scenario and all other options detailed below you will now have the bars at the side of the screen with a full height image in both TV and Cinema mode.

THE NEGATIVE:- in zoom mode you are actually taking the poorer quality image that has less pixels and brightness and making it bigger. This means you are actually creating a poorer quality image as you are making the 3K pixels a quarter larger! For many people this is a satisfactory solution, however for those that want the best image quality this is not a solution.


Option 3: Pair your projector with a fixed anamorphic lens which will stretch the widescreen image to fit the full widescreen without the black bars. With this option you have a setting on your projector which adjusts the widescreen video and also the 16:9 so both look correct.

THE NEGATIVE:- although this is a better solution than the above as it offers a better image quality and size on the widescreen setting as you now have a stretched 4K image, when you switch to 16:9 the image the image is being processed to accommodate what the lens is doing to it!


Option 4: Pair your projector with a motorised anamorphic lens which will stretch the widescreen image to fit the full widescreen without the black bars. With this option when you switch between widescreen and 16:9 content the motor will move the lens, so you have the best of both worlds!

THE NEGATIVE:- the only negative with this solution is cost and also reliability. When you add a moving part into the process you increase the risk of the potential for things to go wrong!


Option 5: Pair your projector with scaler which will stretch the widescreen image to fit the full widescreen without the black bars. This is a great solution as we can enhance the image for widescreen in effect giving you 5K , and for 16:9 as scalers deliver a greater amount of flexibility in set up and calibration. Also as there are no moving parts there is less to go wrong! Some scalers also have a way to sense the video signal and automatically switch the setting so there is no need to select which mode you require.

THE NEGATIVE:- not really any negatives on this front. A good scaler comes in around the same price as a good fixed lens and can be set up and programmed by a specialist to deliver a better picture in a few hours. This would be my preferred go to route for any standard 16:9 projector.


Option 6: Purchase a native Cinemascope projector which has an image scaler built into it!

There is an option to invest in a projector that has an embedded scaler which offers the same benefits of the above but in a one box solution.

THE NEGATIVE:- not really any negatives on this front my only comment would be that some manufacturers are slower to market with upgraded product so whilst image quality and the likes are generally better due to using better product sometimes the product can be a little behind industry standard. 

As always there is a wealth of information out there on the internet however I have included a couple of links for you to find out more information should you wish to do so.

Check out Panamorph, Barco for some more information. Also DT Screens are doing some really cool stuff see the Art Mask and Dynamic Masking Screens below:-



 Access the definitive guide to luxury home cinema design