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HDTV Frequently Asked Questions

4:3 or 16:9, the simple explanation of aspect ratio

With mainstream acceptance of HDTV, virtually all digital sets arriving on the market today are widescreen 16:9 format.  What does it mean to the typical consumer?  That would depend on your viewing material.

Standard Definition images on Widescreen TV

Transition period from the older 4:3 to 16:9 TVs are virtually complete on the store shelves, but same is untrue for most of the channels that we receive which are still in standard definition, posing a dilemma of what to do about the differential in the screen aspect.  As shown below in the 480p digital TV broadcast, sidebars can cause uneven wear resulting in burn-in on certain types of displays, but stretching the image distorted the aspect and affect picture quality.  Another step change in the aspect ratio, from 16:9 to 2.35:1 often found in cinematic film transfers can cause even further letterboxing if the whole frame is viewed in entirety.  

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Standard Definition 480p Digital TV

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True HDTV image in 1080i on local CBS broadcast

Most displays have options that can be set by the user, commonly described as normal (with bars on both sides also known as pillarbox), stretched (filled from side to side), or zoomed (stretched in all directions and then cut off on top and bottom to retain the proper aspect) modes.    

Widescreen HDTV broadcasts on 4:3 TV

Although no longer a common sight, a 4:3 aspect ratio HD-Ready/HDTV will display widescreen HDTV broadcasts by letterboxing the image and placing bars on the top and bottom, or by zooming into the image and cutting off the sides.



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Display Technology and TV Types




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