What Happened to Pan and Scan?

I used to love renting movies and seeing the green screen with white printing that reads “This movie has been modified from its original version. It has been formatted to fit your screen.”

Now when I put on a video or DVD, I rarely see this warning any more. And then when the movie starts to play, I am forced to watch only a fraction of my screen. The picture doesn’t fit my TV any more.

The problem is that movie screens are wider than television screens. So if we want a picture to fill up our entire TV screen, we need to cut a little bit of that picture out. So when the movie is put out on video, it is formatted using a process called “Pan and Scan.”

When most movies are presented in pan and scan, the general public won’t notice any difference. Sure we’ve lost some of the picture but pan and scan formatters are really good at their job and cut out the edges of the picture that aren’t really necessary to capture to story and emotion of the film.

I don’t own a wide screen TV. But I can appreciate why they have become so popular. It certainly is nice to recreate the theatre experience at home. Even TV shows have gotten into the act and now film in widescreen format. Shows and movies at home now feel a little bit bigger.

The only problem is that my viewing experience is now a wee bit smaller. Those black bars on the top and bottom of my screen never seem to go away. DVDs used to be labelled in big writing when they were “Widescreen Format.” Nowadays it seems that it is just expected and the labels have started to disappear. Well, I miss pan and scan formatting. Sometime I just want to sit down and watch a movie that pulls me in. A movie that looks full when played in my living room. I guess I may just have to go back to my old collection for that to happen. Pan and scan seems to be dead on any new releases. I mourn the loss (or maybe I just need a new TV.)

5 Comments on What Happened to Pan and Scan?

  1. Hi Chase. I understand what you’re saying. I don’t have a widescreen tv either and those black bars used to bother me. Now I just watch the movie and ignore the bars.

  2. Hi Davina,

    I actually can ignore the black bars. I just wish we still had a choice between Pan and Scan and widescreen. I'd pick Pan and Scan 9 times out of 10.

    So far the only movie I've really noticed a difference between the formats was Romeo & Juliet. There was one really short 30 second scene that just couldn't work in pan and scan. It looks horrible and the feel of the movie gets tripped up in that one spot. So in this case, I prefer the widescreen version.

    But not all films need a widescreen version for enjoyment by regular guys like me. Some of us still want Pan and Scan.

    Surely, I can't be alone here. Can I?

  3. “I don’t own a wide screen TV. But I can appreciate why they have become so popular. It certainly is nice to recreate the theatre experience at home”.

    I agree! I don’t own one either but it might be in my future. 🙂

  4. Hi Chase,

    I don’t like the black bars on the screen either. It’s hard to get “into” the movie from the start as I’m trying to get adjusted to them. I didn’t realize movies are beginning to do away with the labeling. They certainly don’t think everyone has a wide screen tv, do they.

  5. Hi Vered,

    You know that even with a widescreen TV those bars are often still there. I can’t figure that one out. But I noticed it at my cousin’s house last week. Strange, eh?

    Hi Barbara,

    I think most places that make electronics cater to those who have the latest technology, thinking that we will all have to catch up someday.

    So they might not think that we all own a widescreen TV but they think we will want to, and will someday.

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