Reader Ralph writes in and asks: Does 480p and 16:9 Really Match? If a video game is 640x480 which is
obviously not 16x9 how is the image 16x9? So is it some behind the scenes TV work that is going on to make the image
widescreen? Or is the image stretched slightly?"
Yet another great question by an HD Beat reader. This
really drove me nuts until I researched it. You sort of already know the answer, the picture is displayed in the
appropriate aspect ratio regardless of the actual resolution. The reason is that not all pixels are
. Any image can be made up of any number or shape of pixels. When we watch 640x480 on a 4x3 TV the
pixels are square as they are with 1280x720 on an HDTV. When we watch most SD widescreen video like Fox Widescreen or
video games which are only capable of displaying a certain number of pixels, they use square pixels so they can produce
a 16x9 image.
DVD players do this as well as video game consoles and cable boxes. This is why they all these devices have settings
which allow you to set the aspect ratio of your TV. If you turn it to widescreen even though you don't have a
widescreen TV the image will be distorted. Some cable boxes will actually add black bars on either side so that the
image is not distorted by the TV. The interesting thing is that DVDs are 720x480 which also isn't 16x9, but thanks to
abilities of your player, your TV scales the image to
the native resolution of your TV. All the more reason to go HD on your DVD player.
Fox Widescreen has
worked like this for years, Fox was the first to update their infrastructure to digital, but before HD was prevalent,
as a result they were reluctant to go HD and ended up the last of the 4 major networks to go HD. They were able to do
this because their video was recorded with cameras with 16x9 modes that effectively shrinks the pixels to SD and then
stretched them back at the other end. Fox Widescreen still continues to fool many people during promos and shows like
Cops; people think they are HD just because they are widescreen. Some people have actually captured images of Fox
widescreen in a 4:3 fame due to technical difficulties.
DIRECTV is also known to shave some pixels off in
order to save bandwidth. Some call it HD lite, but basically instead of sending out 1920x1080 they will transmit
1280x1080. This is how their HD has some of the lowest bit rates in the business. But regardless of how many pixels
they shave off we still see a 16x9 image.