Bryan Curtis on ‘How Widescreen Won’

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Movies
May 28th, 2004 • 6:37 am

Slate associate editor Bryan Curtis has an interesting column on movie viewing habits in the US and how widescreen movies have become the standard in DVD products — as while “pan and scan” used to be the preferred format in the days of VHS tapes.

As a lover of quality movies, I am obviously pleased that widescreen has “won” the battle. I must say, however, that it seems to be that the preference for “pan and scan” that might have existed until recently was more prevalent in North America than in Europe. I remember watching lots of movies on French TV in “letter box” format (i.e. widescreen), and not just late night movies intended mostly for cinephiles. Even during prime time on mainstream TV channels, quite a few movies would be shown in letter box format. (I don’t know if that’s still the case.)

What I find really disappointing, however, in light of this evolution, is that North American TV channels — or at least the TV channels that I can get here in Canada — have not caught up on the trend. Most movies, even on more “artsy” channels such as Bravo! and Showcase, are still shown in “pan and scan” format. And our satellite pay-per-view service is still broadcasting the immense majority of its movies in “pan and scan”, including movies that typically sell many more DVD copies in widescreen than in full screen.

So what’s going on here? Why aren’t TV channels catching up on this trend and showing more movies in widescreen format? I am puzzled (and frustrated).

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