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Old March 10th, 2009, 04:15 PM   #1
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Opinion/Experience on 4:3 - 16:9 project

This is more of an experienced opinion question rather than technical...at least I think so!

I have a project which, on this occasion, is editing other peoples footage rather than my own. I'm helping produce a shortish DVD created from footage going back 30 years (yup...it's a 30th Anniversary DVD!).
The majority of the footage is from tired old VHS tapes which have been captured onto Mini DV. Much of the footage is poor quality, although the 70's stuff looks good due in part to the fact it was shot on super 8.
My quandary is to what aspect ratio I'll edit it in - most of the tapes (if not all) have been shot 4:3, but it's the case that most people today have some form of widescreen TV (be it CRTs, LCDs or Plasmas). We might get some more up to date footage shot in 16:9 but that's a long shot.
So...from experience of producing 'modern' DVDs of older video footage, would I be wise to create a 16:9 sequence and 'zoom in' to the 4:3 to fill out the widescreen (wrestling a little with poorer quality) or produce a 4:3 DVD and have the majority of viewers sat watching the production with pillar boxes either side of the film?

I'm editing in FCP (PAL anamorphic or straigh PAL if 4:3) by the way and given the 'not so good' quality of the videos already a bit of a zoom might not make a great deal of difference (one hopes).

Any suggestions will be greatly received.

Many thanks.
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Old March 10th, 2009, 05:47 PM   #2
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This is a question I wrestle with every year I put together several international short film programs for a client. We try to stick with 16:9 because, as you said, most screening rooms are 16:9 now. Bu due to the fact that we are constricted by what is delivered to us, a program can be stuck in 4:3 because the only master delivered of a particular short is letterboxed in 4:3. At that point we are forced to letterbox all delivered 16:9 films because zooming in on a film already letterboxed is absolutely unacceptable when projected.

I put together some extras for a DVD this year which was all shot in HD. Suddenly I was delivered some B-Roll that was shot SD letterboxed directly in the camera (a DVX100 I believe). The only way to use it was to zoom in. Fortunately, the finished product went to SD DVD so the resolution loss isn't as bad as I feared but it's not great.

In the end I think we over think what the audience is expecting. I've seen large audiences sit thru short film programs that switches from 16:9 to 4:3 or full frame 4:3 to letterbox and nobody complains about it. They complain about bad sound or the content of the film but the aspect ratio, never. If the piece you are creating is over 3 minutes I think you should edit in 4:3. Zooming in works for quick insert shots but not an entire program, the reduced quality might be too much especially if the footage is murky already.
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Old March 11th, 2009, 03:18 AM   #3
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This is a question I wrestle with every year I put together several international short film programs for a client. We try to stick with 16:9 because, as you said, most screening rooms are 16:9 now. Bu due to the fact that we are constricted by what is delivered to us, a program can be stuck in 4:3 because the only master delivered of a particular short is letterboxed in 4:3. At that point we are forced to letterbox all delivered 16:9 films because zooming in on a film already letterboxed is absolutely unacceptable when projected.

I put together some extras for a DVD this year which was all shot in HD. Suddenly I was delivered some B-Roll that was shot SD letterboxed directly in the camera (a DVX100 I believe). The only way to use it was to zoom in. Fortunately, the finished product went to SD DVD so the resolution loss isn't as bad as I feared but it's not great.

In the end I think we over think what the audience is expecting. I've seen large audiences sit thru short film programs that switches from 16:9 to 4:3 or full frame 4:3 to letterbox and nobody complains about it. They complain about bad sound or the content of the film but the aspect ratio, never. If the piece you are creating is over 3 minutes I think you should edit in 4:3. Zooming in works for quick insert shots but not an entire program, the reduced quality might be too much especially if the footage is murky already.
Thanks William. Yes, the finished DVD will run around 45 minutes broken up into 5/6 chapters (for each decade for example). I actually have to start this today so haven't really given myself enough time to think about which was I would go (it was only when I saw the footage I realised that I'd have this conundrum).
I know some TV's automatically zoom 4:3 to fill the screen (without stretching) so there's always that...anyway didn't Gus Van Sant shoot one of his recent films (Paranoid Park) in 4:3 - hey it's trendy again!
I'll have a good think about this and play with the footage but I may edit 4:3 (and have a few text/graphics letterboxed 16:9 just to add another dimension to it).

Many thanks William.
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Old March 11th, 2009, 10:48 AM   #4
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You can always drop the finished 4:3 sequence into a 16:9 sequence and play with it that way.
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Old March 11th, 2009, 11:47 AM   #5
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You can always drop the finished 4:3 sequence into a 16:9 sequence and play with it that way.
Now you've got me thinking...two versions...4:3 and widescreen on the same disk as per Directors Cut/Producers cut. Genius William!

I had a quick look with some old camcorder footage recorded in 4:3 to see what it looks like:

1 (Pic7): 4:3 in 16:9 sequence
2 (Pic8): 4:3 zoomed to fit 16:9 with loss of quality and image
3 (Pic9): 4:3 in 4:3 sequence.

Speaking with my colleague I think he'd prefer it to be edited as 4:3 zoomed in...the quality of this footage is pretty lame already...I'll have a play around.

Cheers.
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Old March 11th, 2009, 03:33 PM   #6
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Gets rather mushy zoomed in. If you can, watch a zoomed in section on a good HD set not the computer. If you can live with it then fill up the screen!
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Old March 12th, 2009, 12:15 PM   #7
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Gets rather mushy zoomed in. If you can, watch a zoomed in section on a good HD set not the computer. If you can live with it then fill up the screen!
Yes, it does. I have a pretty decent HD plasma set (television rather than dedicated monitor) so I'll try it on there. The other option was to have a square box 'floating' in the middle of the screen...not so sure about that - maybe for a short effect but not the entire DVD. I'm guessing most people have widescreen CRT's and so wouldn't look as bad as a cheap (but larger screened) LCD...many of which are atrocious.

As it's only going to run for 45 mins or so I'm seriously thinking of putting two versions on the same disc...does this sound 'bonkers' or is it fairly standard practice in such a scenario?

Cheers.
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Old March 12th, 2009, 01:22 PM   #8
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Bonkers?

The practice of providing two aspect ratios on a DVD disc is quickly vanishing if it hasn't gone already. If you have the room on the DVD go ahead and put both, otherwise just pick a version. Many older commercial movie DVDs have the making of section in 4:3 since that's how those were shot.
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Old March 12th, 2009, 01:35 PM   #9
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Bonkers?

The practice of providing two aspect ratios on a DVD disc is quickly vanishing if it hasn't gone already. If you have the room on the DVD go ahead and put both, otherwise just pick a version. Many older commercial movie DVDs have the making of section in 4:3 since that's how those were shot.
Bonkers = Nuts (and not the type you eat, or ahem, carry around on your person)...pleasantly crazy might a better translation :)

I should have room considering the final version shouldn't run longer than 45 mins.
Bit of a dilemma...I may go with 4:3 (if I don't include both aspects) and have the viewers set auto zoom in. Will test out the footage over the next day or two.

Many thanks.
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