As promised, Simpsons fans can now watch early seasons (pre-2009) in 4:3 format on Disney+. Beginning today, users can choose to view those episodes in either 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratios. The 4:3 format won’t cut off sight gags like the one above.
The change should appease fans, but some may still be surprised that it was an issue at all. The Simpsons switched to the 16:9 aspect ratio when it made its high-def debut in 2009. When FXX started streaming the show in 2014, fans pointed out that the 16:9 format applied to older episodes cut off key visual cues. In response, FXX agreed to stream the series’ first seven seasons in their original aspect ratio. That was fine, until Disney+ began streaming all seasons in 16:9 format, resurrecting an issue many thought was solved.
In a blog post, Joe Rice, a Disney vice president, explained why showing the original episodes in 4:3 format wasn’t as easy as some might assume. If 4:3 versions of the episodes were added as standalone bonus content, Rice said, features available for modern HD content, like Continue Watching and Watchlists, wouldn’t be supported.
To avoid that, Disney+ had to change how it packages and identifies content — such as video, various audio languages and subtitles — and metadata — like artwork, descriptions and credits. Previously, a content package could only have one version of a single video. But Disney+ wanted to avoid creating new content packages for every 4:3-format episode.
“It was clear that the cleanest path forward was to make a fundamental change to the content model to break the assumption that only a single version of video would be present in any given package,” Rice wrote.
Now, Disney+ is able to create content packages with two forms of a single video. For Disney+ users, all of this means that they can toggle between watching those early episodes in 4:3 aspect or 16:9 without losing any modern streaming features. For Disney+, the change could open up new ways of presenting content in the future.