Editor's Note: Each Friday, High-Def Digest's own HD Advisor will answer a new round of questions from our readers. If you have home theater questions you need answered, send an email to HDanswers@gmail.com.
Answers by Joshua Zyber
Movie Aspect Ratios Changed for Blu-ray?
Q: I have been looking at Blu-ray releases of Clint Eastwood films and have noticed that many are now being released for the second time. What I noticed first was that the aspect ratio on many is changing from 2.40.1 over to 1.77.1 (such as 'The Gauntlet'). The re-release of 'I Am Legend' also is also being treated the same way. Would you happen to know why this is happening and how do I look up what a movie was originally shot in to see what aspect ratio I want to buy?
A: I think what we're dealing with here is simple confusion over the way the studio has chosen to print the aspect ratio specs on the disc packaging. Both of the above movies you cite are from Warner Home Video. When I look at the specs table toward the bottom of the back of each disc case, it reads: "1080p High Definition 16x9 2.4:1." This is, admittedly, not the clearest way to convey this information.
In this case, the "16x9" refers to the native format of the entire Blu-ray image, inclusive of letterbox bars. Blu-ray is natively a 16:9 format. Movies of different aspect ratios are presented by either letterboxing or pillarboxing the picture within the 16:9 frame. There's really no reason to mention this on the disc packaging. It's just confusing. In the Warner spec bar, the later "2.4:1" refers to the movie's actual aspect ratio after you take the letterboxing into account.
Compare this to another recent Warner title such as 'Caddyshack'. The packaging for that one reads: "1080p High Definition 16x9 1.85:1."
Also, you should keep in mind that sometimes the studios simply make mistakes on their disc packaging. The Blu-ray case for 'Bullitt' claims that the aspect ratio is 2.4:1, while 'The Getaway' claims to be 1.85:1. In fact, the studio has confused the two titles. The Original Aspect Ratio (OAR) for 'Bullitt' is 1.85:1 and 'The Getaway' is 2.4:1. The HD transfers for both movies are presented correctly on disc. Only the packaging is wrong. Likewise, Fox's disc case for 'Cast Away' claims to be 2.35:1, but the movie's OAR and HD transfer are both 1.85:1.
The quickest way to search for a movie's Original Aspect Ratio is to look up that film on IMDb, and click on the "Technical Specs" link in the left-hand column. That's where the aspect ratio information is listed. IMDb is not infallible (and rarely distinguishes the difference between 2.35:1 and 2.4:1), but is generally a good resource and is right far more often than it's wrong.
To date, most movie studios have been very good about maintaining each movie's correct Original Aspect Ratio on Blu-ray. Instances where a studio will decide to alter a film's aspect ratio do happen, but are fortunately very rare. If you're concerned about a specific title, be sure to check sites like ours for reviews of the disc to find out whether it's presented in the correct aspect ratio or not.
Rental Discs Different from Retail Copies
Q: I have noticed recently that some Netflix rental discs, most notably from Fox, tend to be considerably different than the sell-through versions of these titles. I noticed this first when I rented 'Jennifer's Body'. The review on High-Def Digest says that the disc includes copious special features and an Unrated cut of the movie via seamless branching. The Netflix disc does not have an unrated version. It has the icon for extra features on the menu, but you cannot click on that screen. This happened again on another recent Fox title, but I cannot remember what it was. Is everyone having this problem or did I just get a bad disc? If this is the norm, how can it possibly be cheaper to create completely different encodes and discs just for the Netflix market? I found this especially frustrating as I heard the Unrated Cut of 'Jennifer's Body' improves on the theatrical cut. This seems like a very frustrating new trend that needs to be brought to light as I like to rent titles before I buy.
A: What you've noticed is a very annoying trend being perpetrated by a few studios – primarily Fox, Warner, and Disney. Lately, these studios have been sending stripped-down copies of their movies to the rental market. (Not just Netflix, but other rental outlets like Blockbuster as well.) The rental discs will typically have no bonus features or alternate Unrated versions that might be available on the standard retail copies.
You're right that it can't be cheaper to create completely different discs for the rental market. The issue isn't cost. These studios are trying to differentiate rental and retail copies in order to entice you to buy a movie that you might otherwise settle for just renting. The rental is essentially a trial period for the movie. If you rent the movie and like it enough that you'd want to watch a Director's Cut or listen to an audio commentary… well, now you're just going to have to go buy a copy. You can't get that on a rental anymore.
Yes, this is a shameless marketing ploy. With home video sales on the decline in recent years, studios are desperate to maximize revenue in any way they can. This is just the latest idea they've come up with.
The HD Advisor knows many things, but he doesn't know everything. Some questions are best answered with a consensus of opinions from our readers. If you can help to answer the following question, please post your response in our forum thread linked at the end of this article. Your advice and opinions matter too!
Demo-Worthy Blu-ray Discs
Q: I would like your opinion on Blu-ray demo discs. I work at a computer shop. We usually have a few of our systems pre-built and sitting up front on display. Lately, we have been getting more and more requests for Blu-ray drives. I proposed to the owner that we put a pre-built system with a Blu-ray drive on display and play something that shows of the video quality of high definition. He agreed, and has tasked me with finding a suitable Blu-ray demo disc to play on the system. I don't know where to start. I am not sure if I should be looking for a really great looking Blu-Ray movie, or one of those Blu-ray showcase discs that you see in retail stores played on HDTVs. Any insight you can give me would be greatly appreciated.
JZ: There are so many excellent-looking Blu-ray discs available, I hardly know where to start. For the purposes of showing off a high definition system in a retail environment, a safe bet would be to choose something with a lot of pretty scenic travelogue footage that you can play in a loop, like 'Planet Earth' or 'Baraka'.
If you decide that you'd rather play a Hollywood movie rather than a documentary, you'll want to avoid anything excessively violent or with "adult" content, regardless of how good it looks on disc. I'd probably go with 'Star Trek'. That seems pretty safe, and looks fabulous on Blu-ray. Any Pixar disc would also be a great choice.
For more suggestions, I'll open this up to our readers to discuss in the forum thread linked at the end of this article.
Check back soon for another round of answers. Keep those questions coming.
Joshua Zyber's opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of this site, its owners or employees.