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DVD players usually trigger automatically into widescreen mode when you're watching commercial DVDs.
They often don't recognize widescreen on home-burned DVDs, however, and you need to set it manually on your player.
There's nothing you can do at the disc programming/authoring level to change that.
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Well, once upon a time, this would have been an easy question to give a straight answer to. I'd have just given you the NTSC and PAL sizes, pixel x pixel and then the respective PAR (Pixel Aspect Ratio) for the Standard and the Widescreen variations. Simple little chart with just a few rows and columns. Easy to produce, and easy to understand. The world was using CRT TV's in either NTSC, or PAL (OK, there was Japan with a sort of hybrid, but most of that was regarding lines of scan and how color was handled). Most could only see the DVD material on a 4:3 Aspect Ratio screen, and 16:9 had black bars top and bottom (Letterboxed). Then 16:9 TV sets were introduced, so one got 16:9 images from Widescreen, and when they watched 4:3 material, they got black bars on the sides (Pillarboxed). Still, the world was simple, as everyone had rectangular pixels, of basically 2 flavors. When one viewed this material on a computer, the DVD playback software knew to read a flag in the files and adjust the display to match the square pixels on the computer's monitor.
Suddenly, HD hit in several variations. Confusion crept in quickly. Now, there were square pixels (like on a computer) in TV's, and variations on how DVD players handled things. Some were rather smart and could read those flags, but some could not, and they had to be set via a menu. They began offering several possible ways to handle the display. Some TV's even had their own settings for handling rectangular pixels.
To add to the confusion, BD was introduced, with even higher resolutions, and then HD broadcasts started. There were still plenty of those older CRT 4:3 rectangular TV's, but most new ones were 16:9. Set-top players began to handle either DVD-Videos, or BD's. Because so many had higher-rez TV's, these could up-rez the DVD-Videos to a higher resolution. Along with just the pixel handling user settings, the higher-resolution compounded the variations.
Where did this leave the DVD producer? Well, pretty much in the dark. They had no control over the equipment that the viewer would have, or the myriad of possible settings, they might have chosen. The best that they could do, if working in DVD-Video (SD - Standard Def) was create material for the largest segment of their audience. If Aunt Jane, Martha and Betty had older TV's and only a DVD player, then shooting in 4:3 was probably the safest course. If one had shot in 16:9, then those nice ladies might have to live with some black bars at the top and bottom of the screen. Of course, there was Uncle Louie, who always had the latest equipment in his home theater. He was left to have to make adjustments to get the best display of the DVD-Video. One just hoped that he had kept the manuals, and could work the Menu button on his remote. The producer had no control on that up-rezing DVD-BD player, or how Uncle Louie had set it up. All the producer could do would be to try to satisfy the largest audience, and wait for the family reunion, where someone would complain. The producer had to have suggestions handy to help the aunts, or Uncle Louie.
With HD, things get even more complicated. Does one do two versions - one for the aunts, who only can play DVD's, and one for the family members, who have BD setups? Does one do only DVD-Videos, knowing that Uncle Louie WILL have a good up-rezing player, so he'll get a better picture, than the aunts will, but not equal to what he'd see if one kept the production in full HD to BD? To compound things a bit, do they produce BD in 720, or 1080? Does Uncle Louie have an HDMI connection, or not? How does his setup handle 1080, down-rezzed to 720?
In the end, the producer must go with what they shot, and then try to pick the output that plays OK for the majority of viewers. The rest are on their own to reset their equipment to get the best results.
It isn't so easy any more.
Wow Bill... you should write a book or something.
I really appriciate it, because I actually understood most of it. As for my audience, they are more or less a mixture of Aunt Jane and Uncle Louie. They are my in-law parents, who have a widescreen TV, but don't really know how to use it. So when they watch a ball game which is transmitted in 4:3, a bunch of little fat guys run around playing with an elliptical ball (which – oddly – never seems to roll or spin). If I try helping them by adjusting the aspect ratio to 4:3, then they complain that "the picture got so small!" And that is actually why I find that Widescreen is not always a fitting term. At least in the beginning, they should've been called Lowscreen, because most affordable TVs of this kind were not wider, but in fact lower than standard TVs.
I'll try a small test project in 4:3, and see if it works out on the DVD players. If that succeeds, then that's fine. Computer playback is of less importance. And luckily, I have a standard and a lowscreen TV to try it out on.
Sorry. Forgot to mark the question "answered".
they are more or less a mixture of Aunt Jane and Uncle Louie.
Unfortunately, that is usually how it is. Sometimes, when I have a single particular client, I'll get the specs. of their system, and tailor everything to that. If they pass their DVD around, I'll add a PDF with general, basic instructions.
In print work, we can cover the bases, as we have control over everything through the guy who delivers the magazines to the Post Office. With the Web, we have to consider the audience and their browsers. I still have a copy of IE 3 to test on, for clients who know that part of their audience is still looking at 640x480 on a 486 and a dial-up connection with Windows 3.1. With video, things were fairly easy in the beginning of DVD. Now, who the heck knows?
It's the same with the Audio. On the PrPro forum, we had one producer, who wanted to do an Audio mix for viewers, who would feed the Audio signal into a TV's tiny speakers (a la 1980's), and have it automatically switch to a supplemental Home Theater 7.1 SS system, if one was present. The advice was to do the ultimate mix for state-of-the-art gear, and let those, with tiny TV speakers get over it, or to add two Audio Tracks, one mixed for TV speakers and one mixed of Home Theater, and provide a Menu to allow the user to switch, just like we do with DD 5.1 SS and DTS, or Pro-Logic II HD on a DVD-Video. You want to hear your Eagles DVD in DD 5.1 SS, then do nothing. If you want DTS, click this Button, and for Pro-Logic II HD, click this Button.
Of course, then one has added a couple more Audio Streams to the DVD, but they are not THAT big.
Good luck, and in a few years, our aunts will have all replaced their old TV's and players, and Uncle Louie will have figured out how to adjust his Home Theater - or we hope so...