Reverse Letterboxing

I normally watch DVDs on my 20" widescreen LCD, and in the past everything has worked fine. Some time in the past few months, though, I’ve noticed reverse letterboxing, where every movie plays with black bars on the top and bottom, as well as on the sides. I’ve checked this with multiple discs, and one Criterion Collection movie, so I don’t think it’s a matter of the discs being coded for a 4:3 aspect ratio. When I check the playback properties, it says the DVD is 16:9, but is being displayed at 4:3. I normally play DVDs in Windows Media Player using nVidia’s codec, but this problem occurs in every media player I’ve tried.

Anybody have any advice?

If you’re talking about the side-bars, I find that I have to specifically tell my TV to expand the picture properly. Theoretically my TV should recognize that the 16:9 content is anamorphic and automagically do so, but it doesn’t. I wonder if you’ve upgraded software or something and it’s doing essentially the same thing. Could you have the aspect ratio locked in media player somehow perchance?

If they DVDs say they’re 16:9, you shouldn’t be seeing what you’re seeing. But if they’re letterboxed, that means the film was recorded in 16:9, but given the top and bottom bars to fit 4:3 TVs. Since your TV is widescreen, you’re getting the bars built-in to the movie plus the side bars the TV is making. If that’s not it, then your DVD player may be accidentally set up to output 4:3.

Guys… he’s playing back the movies on his computer with Windows media player and an LCD monitor, not on a DVD player with a TV. On the subject, I don’t know how you can fix letterboxing when playing on the PC.

I seriously doubt that Criterion would force an ass-like resolution on a film that it wasn’t intended for.

— Alan

That depends on the age of the DVD. Any publisher made letterboxed DVDs in the early days when people didn’t have widescreen TVs.

Sounds like media player screwed up when they added HD ability. We use an add in card by AJA that shows the same issue. What happens is the codec recognizes it as SD so it displays it as SD with letterboxing instead of 16:9-even though the monitor/external CRT can handle true 16:9.
The confusing thing is this- saying an SD signal is 16:9 is just a display property, not a true format- really it is still 4:3, just well, letterboxed. What we have seen, which sucks when you do upconvert from SD to HD, it is double letterboxing, so you get a 16:9 with letterboxing- which is ugly.
You may want to try and fool it and see if there is a setting to force the player to play the DVD as HD since a PC monitor doesnt really care what broadcast format it is.
Be careful though if you are using multiple region, there are some codecs out there that hard lock to a format after a few plays, as I learned the hard way when my DVD player software locked itself to PAL.

Did they add that within the past couple months? I’ve toyed around with every option I could understand in Media Player, including some weird display option where you could set how many horizontal pixels you had per vertical pixels. This did absolutely nothing for DVDs but promptly squished every mpg and avi movie. The only other thing I see is the codecs tab, which is option overload.

What’s especially frustrating is that both Real Player and Media Player do it, and I’ve seen the same thing on my laptop which isn’t using the nVidia codec.

So it’s every DVD? Is there not a setting in Media Player to tell it you have a 16:9 monitor? It sounds like it’s just assuming you have 4:3.

I know at least one early Criterion DVD (High & Low) is “hard” letterboxed: i.e., widescreen image in a 4:3 display, so the black bars are part of the video, like an ol’ LD. You have to manually scale / zoom the image to make it display properly on a widescreen TV.

However, if every widescreen DVD MikeP is playing has this problem, that’s unlikely to explain his issue.