View Full Version : How do I know if a DVD is anamorphic widescreen?

Steven Jackson
Apr 1, 2007, 11:54 AM

I have many DVDs, most of which are widescreen. As packaging is generally pretty bad or misleading, how do I tell which films are anamorphic widescreen and which are letterboxed?

My reason for asking is that I want to rip for Apple TV. I figure that the letterboxed films can be ripped in exactly the same way as my 4:3 content without making any huge sacrifices in quality.



Apr 1, 2007, 11:58 AM
Watch them to find out? :p

Apr 1, 2007, 12:06 PM
Just double check what the packaging says over at IMDb (http://www.imdb.com/). The aspect ratio should be in the additional details section.

Steven Jackson
Apr 1, 2007, 12:27 PM
Watch them to find out? :p

But how do I tell?


Apr 1, 2007, 12:41 PM
If you have a widescreen monitor then a letterbox film will have black bands on the top and bottom (really quite noticable). Whereas your widescreen films will cover most of the height of your monitor if not all of it (16:9 ratio).


That is letterbox widescreen. A 16:9 widescreen film would have not much black bands.

Apr 1, 2007, 01:01 PM
But how do I tell?


Some (but definitely not all) anamorphic DVD will include the phrase "Enhanced for 16X9 Televisions" or something similar. If your DVD has no such labelling, you can play the DVD in Apple's DVD Player application. An anamorphic widescreen feature will open in a wide window. A "letterboxed" feature will open in a normal aspect window.

If you have a widescreen television, a "letterboxed" video will have black bars on each side.

The labelling on the disk may be confusing, as many labels use the term "letterboxing" to describe the letterbox effect seen when watching an anamorphic film on a 4x3 set.

Steven Jackson
Apr 1, 2007, 01:17 PM
All good points, but the TV (most TVs, I think) automatically detects what kind of film you are watching and adjusts accordingly. I know letterboxed films should theoretically display in 4:3 with black bars at top and bottom, but this is not what my telly actually displays... hence the difficulty detecting at-a-glance which are anamorphic and which are letterboxed.


Apr 1, 2007, 01:32 PM
"walliver" has given you a good description. Another clue is that anamorphic transfers use the full 4:3 frame and look "skinny" on a 4:3 TV or require you to "stretch" the image to fill a widescreen TV. Non-anamorphic transfers will be letterboxed and look normal on a 4:3 TV or be both letterboxed and pillarboxed on a widescreen TV. These require that you "zoom" the image to fill a widescreen TV.

Another really good resource is the user-created database at www.dvdprofiler.com . The software is Windows-only, but it is probably among the most comprehensive and accurate sources of information available to the public. It just recently changed hands and now belongs to invelos.com but I believe the database is the same. There are some utilities for Windows that will tell you details about the video and audio formats on the disc, but I don't know of any like this for the Mac.

Apr 1, 2007, 02:20 PM
If you got questions about a specific disc, load it into you software of choice that allows playback/preview so you can display it on your computer screen & attempt to resize the playback/preview window to eliminate the black bars:

(Assuming you are starting with a widescreen release)
- If you have a window with an image that fills the entire window you've got an anamorphic release.
- If you've got a window that has small black bars on top/bottom, you've got a 2.35:1 anamorphic release.
- If you've got a window with large top/bottom bars, you've got a letterboxed release.

95%+ of the commercially available widescreen DVDs will be anamorphic.
Like Usually Kilamite displays in the image above, the black bars are part of the actual video in letterboxed releases. DVDs have only 480/576 horizontal lines.... letterboxed releases have long been frowned upon because a significant portion of those lines are wasted on the black bars, resulting in less real estate for the actual video.