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.
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!