Tech Time: Aspect Ratio (Part 2)

Posted by Emma on February 23, 2011 at 9:58 am. Captioning, Subtitling, Techy

This is Part 2 of a two part series about aspect ratio. In Part 1, we talked 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios. Now, we’ll talk anamorphic aspect ratio & how aspect ratio affects captions and subtitles.

Anamorphic widescreen

Some widescreen programs, such as HD TV, are just straight-up rectangles. But there’s also a type of widescreen used for standard definition programming that people watch on TV sets (broadcast and DVDs), because the producers don’t know what kind of TV the viewers are going to use. For this type of widescreen, called anamorphic widescreen, the rectangular picture is horizontally squeezed into a square for delivery to the screen. The sides are pushed in, and this makes objects look taller and skinner until the picture is stretched back out. When played on a 16:9 screen, the picture will be stretched out again. When played on a 4:3 TV, it’s either zoomed-and-cropped or letterboxed, depending on the TV’s settings.

The key point to remember about anamorphic video is that it is stretchy. It is a widescreen 16:9 rectangle and should be treated as widescreen, but it is disguised as a 4:3 square, and sometimes you will see it in disguise.

How to determine if a file is true 4:3 or anamorphic

It’s tricky. This isn’t a numerical value that you can just look at on a deck. You actually have to watch the video to see if things “look right.” Look for spots with people, circular objects, and on-screen text. Is something that’s supposed to be round, like a planet or the sun, shaped more like an egg? Are all of the people suspiciously gaunt and scrawny? Probably anamorphic. Be sure to check the video in several places, because some people really do have kind of skinny faces.

Most importantly…ask for help! A second set of eyes is very important. Even if you do this all the time, you will start to second guess yourself and start thinking everything looks stretched or squeezed, even physical objects in real life. This is called anamorphic madness (not really, we just made that up).

Does aspect ratio affect closed captioning?
Not at all. The captions are drawn by the TV or player’s decoder, and it’s the decoder that determines the absolute placement of the caption text on screen. A caption file contains coordinates for where the captions should display on the grid, but the size and screen location of the grid are determined by the decoder. Most TVs draw the captions after any manipulation of the image.

Does aspect ratio affect subtitles?
It could! The producer has more control of where and how subtitles are placed. For anamorphic video, when the video is stretched into a rectangle, the subtitles may also be stretched causing them to look squat and blocky. Try using a narrow font so that when the video is stretched the subtitles will look normal. For letterbox video, many people like to put the subtitles in the black matte and not on the image. Normally, that is the best option but you always have to watch that the subtitles stay in title safe.

Hopefully we’ve answered a lot of questions about aspect ratio. Is there anything else you want to know or want to add? Leave us a comment and we’ll get back to you ASAP!

Fun Word Friday: Change the World…

Posted by Emma on February 18, 2011 at 8:45 am. Fun Word Friday

by Kirsten Dirkes

Be a Fiction Writer

Retcon/Retroactive Continuity - Another way to say, “I, uh, meant to do that.” Retcon occurs when a writer/creator changes the previously established facts of the story.  A famous example is when Arthur Conan Doyle killed off Sherlock Holmes and then, after the public wasn’t down with that, decided that Holmes just faked his death.

Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome (SORAS) – the rapid aging of a character, usually a baby or child, to allow the writers to introduce plots that wouldn’t work with a younger person.  The difference is usually a matter of a year or two, but apparently the writers of All My Children once tried to introduce a 16-year-old daughter as the product of a 24-year-old rape.  After the public wasn’t down with that either, they then applied retcon and adjusted her age to a more believable 23.

Fridge Logic – When you accept something at the time but then later, as you’re standing at your fridge, you realize that it didn’t make sense.  Warning: DO NOT ATTEMPT TO APPLY FRIDGE LOGIC TO ANYTHING SEEN ON ALL MY CHILDREN.  JUST GET YOUR ICE CREAM AND GO.

Hang a Lampshade/Hang a Lantern – a writers’ maneuver of purposely drawing attention to an implausible occurrence to diffuse the audience’s disbelief. (i.e., a soap opera character saying, “Wow, my 96-month-pregnancy sure is unusual. It’s something that usually only happens in soap operas!  By the way, honey, my water broke this morning, so I called my doctor, and she told me to get to the hospital in 4 years, at the very latest.”)

Tech Time: Aspect Ratio (Part 1)

Posted by Emma on February 16, 2011 at 9:26 am. Captioning, Subtitling, Techy

Part 1 of a two part series about aspect ratio. First, we’ll talk 4:3 and 16:9. What is the difference? What do those aspect ratios look like? Then, in Part 2, we’ll talk anamorphic aspect ratio and how aspect ratio affects captions and subtitles.

You’ve probably heard about aspect ratio before, even if that is not the term that was used. Who knows, you might even have been in an argument about widescreen versus pan and scan.

Aspect ratio is a number that describes how wide an image is compared to how tall the image is. It describes the shape of the image.

First, a little terminology clarification because it can get a little complicated…
1. 4:3 and 16:9 (occasionally 4×3 and 16×9) are the common notations and values for aspect ratio.

2. The ratio can also be expressed as a decimal rather than with a colon: 4:3 = 1.33, because 4 divided by 3 is approx 1.33.

3. Note that the size of an NTSC picture is generally said to be 720×480, which isn’t precisely 1.33. That’s because it’s measuring lines instead of square pixels, and we really don’t want to get into pixel aspect ratio yet. (Yikes!)

4:3 (Regular NTSC TV)

This is the aspect ratio you’re thinking of when you imagine an iconic TV, the square with the rounded corners. The image is almost as tall as it is wide. Until a few years ago, all American television looked like this.

Now most TV is produced in 16:9. If you watch a widescreen TV show on an old-school TV, it will either be letterboxed (see below) or the sides will be cut off. This depends on the settings on your TV or receiver and also what flags the broadcaster is transmitting. Most networks require that programs delivered in 16:9 HD respect 4:3 title safe, so text is in the center of the frame and not cut off for people using standard sets.

Letterboxed 4:3 (…or “I hate those black bars”)

Letterboxed video is still 4:3. The video itself is not actually widescreen. Lots of people get this wrong; even some software gets it wrong. Letterboxing is a way to simulate a widescreen picture on a 4:3 monitor. The actual active video is presented as a widescreen rectangle, and the rest of the space is filled up with black mattes on the top and bottom. But the overall image itself is still 4:3.

The mattes do not (we repeat do not) cover up any of the picture. You can confidently assure your grandma that the black bars are not stealing any television from her. Seriously, some people do get really upset about letterboxing, but not letterboxing is what takes picture away. When you buy a “full screen” DVD of a movie, if they still sell those, there won’t be any black bars, but the sides of the picture will be cut off (see the first image in this article) in order to make the rectangle into a square. Beautiful scenery and even whole characters can be excised this way. These zoom-and-cropped, pan-and-scan full-frame releases aren’t nearly as common as they used to be, but you’ll still see them from time to time.

16:9 (Widescreen)

This is a rectangle. If you have a TV that is a rectangle, congratulations, you will see the entire widescreen picture in full screen. A 4:3 picture will be either pillarboxed (see below) or stretched out in freaky ways. We can’t even tell you how many big fancy plasma TVs we’ve seen that have had their settings all wrong, including the aspect ratio. The tears, the sadness, the gnashing of teeth!

It is possible to have a 16:9 widescreen video that also has letterboxing—it means that the active picture is ultra-widescreen, like 2.35:1, and is being fit into a 16:9 aspect ratio. That isn’t usually relevant to standard definition, though; it generally happens when a very wide film is being shown on 16:9 HDTV.

Just because an image is 16:9 does not mean it is high definition. Standard definition video can also be 16:9, almost always anamorphic…

Pillarboxed 16:9

Pillarboxed video is when a 4:3 video displayed on a 16:9 screen. In order to display the video in its correct proportions, black bars are added to along the side of the frame. Pillarboxing will be used instead of displaying a stretched video. And just like a letterboxed video, the black mattes do not cover up any of the picture.

Whew, got all that? Any questions? In Part 2 we’ll discuss anamorphic video and how aspect ratio affects captions and subtitles.

DVD Subtitles are Unreadable

Posted by Emma on February 10, 2011 at 9:54 am. Captioning, Consumer Advisory Board, Subtitling

CaptionMax has a dedicated Consumer Advisory Board with experts in all kinds of accessibility. As guest bloggers, we ask our board members to share their accessibility stories or voice their concerns.

by Carl Jensema, Ph.D.

I’d like to comment on a very annoying trend that I see in subtitling. I’m deaf and I use captions or subtitles on all of the video media I watch. I’ve also been involved in television captioning research for more than 30 years, beginning with my appointment as Director of Research at the National Captioning Institute back in 1979. Before the first closed caption television decoder was manufactured in 1980, quite a bit of research was done to determine the font and background characteristics that made the captions most readable. The first decoders presented captions as white letters in a black box, and 30 years later television decoders still use that method.

There is a reason for it: a black box with white lettering makes the most readable captions.

In recent years there has been a trend toward subtitling movies and other programs with a white or yellow font without a background. This often makes the subtitles virtually unreadable.  The difference in readability is obvious; check out the examples below. I and other people who use subtitling find it very frustrating to have unreadable subtitles spoil what could otherwise be an enjoyable program.

Screen shot of a man in a space suit with easy to read subtitles in a black box at the bottom of the screen.

Screen shot of a man in a space suit. White subtitle text blends into white space suit making it difficult to read.

What do you think? Tell us about your subtitle experience.

Fun Word Friday: Misheards and Other Fun Manglings

Posted by Emma on February 4, 2011 at 9:37 am. Fun Word Friday

by Kirsten Dirkes

Spoonerism: an accidental or deliberate rearranging of sounds or letters of a word or phrase that results in a new meaning.  Named after Reverend William Spooner, who was notorious for speaking the accidental kind.

  • Examples:
  • “A lack of pies” in place of “a pack of lies.”
  • “I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.”

Malapropism: an unintentional use of an inappropriate word or phrase; from the 1775 play ‘The Rivals’, in which the character of Mrs. Malaprop (from the word “malapropos,” meaning “inappropriate”) spoke many of these mistakes.

  • Examples:
  • “He is the very pineapple of politeness.” – Mrs. Malaprop
  • “They misunderestimated me.” – George W. Bush
  • “If you can’t imitate him, don’t copy him.” – Yogi Berra

Mondegreen: a misheard phrase.  The term was coined in a 1954 essay whose author had, as a child, misheard a ballad’s line of  “They have slain the Earl O’ Moray and laid him on the green” as “They have slain the Earl O’ Moray and Lady Mondegreen.”  A famous example from music is “Scuse me while I kiss this guy” instead of “Scuse me while I kiss the sky” from Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze.

Eggcorn: a recently coined term for a misheard word or phrase that is deemed by the speaker to make sense in context.

  • Examples:
  • “old-timer’s disease” for “Alzheimer’s disease”
  • “pus jewel” for “pustule”

Soramimi: a Japanese term for a change of song lyrics from one language to similar-sounding words in another language.  Example: A line from Sean Paul’s song Fire Links Intro goes, “Mayday! Sean Paul! This one is hot!”  It is humorously sung in Japanese as “Me itai! Shanpū! Rinsu wa nai sa!” (My eyes hurt! The shampoo! There isn’t any more hair conditioner!)

The Art of Spanish Translation

Posted by Emma on February 2, 2011 at 9:51 am. Captioning, Translation

by Eladio Canibano

What’s translation? If we research the word, we find a simple definition, “a rendering from one language into another.”

Pretty straightforward, isn’t it?

Well, not that straightforward when you have about 20 countries and 330 million speakers on 3 different continents.

At CaptionMax, we’re always brainstorming about how to obtain the best possible translation, keeping in mind our target market is Latinos in the United States, and this market is compounded by multiple nationalities, cultures, and dialectal varieties. It’s not an easy task, that is for certain.

Our goal is to try to convey the meaning in the most neutral Spanish possible and one the “average” Latino can understand. This is a challenge at times; identical words can mean such different things in two countries.

For example: “pollera,” means “skirt” in Argentina but in other countries—like Spain—is simply a “chicken coop” at best.

Our goal has always been and continues to be to convey the meaning of the sentence regardless of the individual words, and that’s something we take a lot of pride in. Through research, dictionaries, glossaries, online tools, and personal experience, we will always come up with the most universal way to make a message understood.



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