Blu-ray and DVD collecting can be quite a technical hobby, and with the wealth of information available in each of our reviews, we wanted to make it easier for our readers to understand some of the technical terms we use in our writing, and to help answer any movie collecting or home theater questions that our readers may have. Hopefully this is an excellent resource for everyone. If there are any questions you have that you feel would warrant an additional FAQ section, please feel free to email our Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will take a look.
Aspect ratio is the ratio of how wide an image is, compared to how tall it is. Below we will examine and explain the aspect ratios that are commonly used in mainstream film and television, and explore their origins:
What is 1.33:1 Aspect Ratio? – Academy Ratio
The 1.33 to 1 aspect ratio is presented as an image that 1.33 times as wide as it is tall. It was established as a standard by the Academy of Motion Pictures and Art, and was used for most pre-1955 films and pre-1999 television productions. It is the native aspect ratio for a 35mm and 16mm motion picture frame, as well as certain versions of the Arri Alexa digital camera.
The image is presented in a pillarboxed format in 1080p Blu-ray, with black bars on either side to simulate how the image would be presented in theaters.
What is 1.66:1 Aspect Ratio? – European Flat Widescreen Ratio
The 1.66:1 aspect ratio is presented as an image that is 1.66 times as wide as it is tall. This aspect ratio originated during the mid 1950s, as studios were trying to create a widescreen format out of existing films, to make them more exciting and compelling for audiences. It was adopted in Europe as an early standard as a result of the economic devastation of World War 2 and The Great Depression, as theater owners could not afford to buy new screens to accommodate wider images, and 1.66:1 was comfortable fit into their taller screens.
1.66:1 is the native aspect ratio of Super 16mm film, as well as cropped 35mm motion picture film frames. It became less common as time went on into the 1970s, and is now only used occasionally, to imitate the style of 50s and 60s films. The image is presented on 1080p Blu-ray in a slightly pillarboxed presentation, with black bars on the left and right sides of the frame.
What is 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio? – American Flat Widescreen Ratio
The 1.85:1 aspect ratio is presented as an image that is 1.85 times as wide as it is tall. This aspect ratio was settled on as a standard by most major motion picture studios by the end of the 1950s. It presented an excellent compromise, one that wide enough to look impressive without the use of additional lenses while still looking presentable, and one with which theaters could crop 1.66:1 film to while still having a comfortable image. The majority of movies have been produced for this aspect ratio.
1.85:1 is the the native aspect ratio of no origination photography, and is the result of cropping, either in post production, or in projection. It can be pulled from just about any format that uses spherical lenses, whether it be 35mm, 16mm, or 70mm film negatives, as well as most digital formats using cropping. The image is presented on 1080p Blu Ray with slight black bars on the top and bottom of the frame.
What is 1.78:1 Aspect Ratio? – Standard HDTV Widescreen Ratio
The 1.78:1 aspect ratio is presented as an image that is 1.78 times as wide as it is tall. This was the aspect ratio determined by HDTV manufacturers to become the standard for modern television. Most modern television productions and flat widescreen productions are now presented on home video using the 1.78:1 aspect ratio in order to fill the entire television frame, even if they were presented theatrically using the 1.85:1 aspect ratio.
The 1.78:1 aspect ratio is the native ratio for Super 35mm 3-perf productions, which were used in television in the 90s and early 2000s to save money, and almost every single digital cinema camera available. It is presented on 1080p Blu-ray without any bars, filling the entire HDTV screen.
What is 2.35:1 Aspect Ratio? – Standard Scope Widescreen Ratio
The 2.35:1 aspect ratio is presented as an image that is 2.35 times as wide as it is tall. It originated from Fox’s Cinemascope format, which used an adapter to squeeze twice as much image onto a standard 35mm motion picture film frame. Because the original format used a slimmer sound-on-film format, the aspect ratio was actually 2.55:1, which can be seen in Fox and Warner Bros. films like A Star is Born (1954) and How To Marry a Millionaire (1953). The format, along with the flat aspect ratios discussed above, were created to help cinema stand out against competition from American television studios for audiences. Because the original sound format used for Cinemascope was expensive to upgrade to, it eventually switched to a standard sound format, which reduced the image area on the film to an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 as we know it today.
The 2.35:1 aspect ratio, which is interchangeable with aspect ratios of 2.39:1 and 2.40:1, is the native aspect ratio of a 35mm motion picture frame or a 4×3 digital sensor with a 2x anamorphic lens. It can also be achieved through cropping, which many digital cameras utilize to create the scope aspect ratio. Super 35 is a film format that uses standard lenses that also utilizes the area of the film where the sound would traditionally be found on a film print, allowing for a slightly larger image area. That image area is then cropped in post to create a 2.35:1 aspect ratio for theatrical projection. The 2.35:1 aspect ratio is presented on 1080p Blu-ray with thick bars on the top and bottom of the frame to show the entire wide frame of the scope presentation.
What is 2.20:1 Aspect Ratio? – 70mm Todd AO and Super Panavision 70 Widescreen Ratio
The 2.20:1 aspect ratio is presented as an image that is 2.2 times as wide as it is tall. The image conforms to the size of a standard 65mm motion picture film frame, which is roughly twice the size of a standard 35mm motion picture film frame. The two competing formats that brought this image to the screen were Todd AO, which Fox had a stake in, and Super Panavision, which was used by most of the other studios. They are comparable formats in terms of image quality and lens choice. These films became 70mm in width with the addition of 5mm of magnetic sound, added to the sides of the image area. The films that were shot using this material were not really meant for high quality 70mm presentations, but rather to create better 35mm presentations, as 35mm scope presentations of the 50s and 60s were grainy and lacked detail. Printing movies down from a 70mm master created a finer grained, detailed image for 35mm print presentations.
The 2.20 aspect ratio is native to 65mm motion picture film frames with standard lenses for both the Todd AO and Super Panavision 70, as well as the new Arri Alexa 65 camera, which has seen limited use in films like The Revenant and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. In 1080p Blu-ray, the image is presented with slightly smaller thick black bars than a 2.35:1 presentation, to show the entire frame.
What is 2.76:1 Aspect Ratio? – Ultra Panavision 70 Widescreen Ratio
The 2.76:1 aspect ratio is presented as an image that 2.76 times as wide as it is tall. Much like the formats mentioned above, the image originates from a 65mm motion picture film frame, except that it uses an adapter on top of standard lenses, much like scope films. This adapter is much less extreme than the 2x adapter used to make the original scope films, and instead only squeezes 1.2 times as much image onto the 65mm image frame. It saw limited application during the 50s and 60s with films like Ben-Hur and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, but it seeing a comeback with the release of the Arri Alexa 65 which can utilize these adapters, and was most recently used in a traditional film shoot on Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight which saw the widest 70mm release since 1992 this past December.
The 2.76:1 aspect ratio, which is native to films produced using the Ultra Panavision lenses using a 65mm origination source, either film or digital, is presented on 1080p Blu-ray with the thickest black bars on the top and bottom of the frame, to maintain the incredibly wide aspect ratio.
Resolution, in terms of home video refers to the number of pixels available on a given disc’s presentation, or the amount of pixels your TV can display.
What is 720p? – 1280 pixels (length) x 720 lines (width)
720p was the earliest progressive high definition standard to become available to the consumer market, with 720p televisions becoming available during the early to mid 2000s. This resolution presentation never made it to any home video format, but is widely used in broadcast television through over-the-air cable transmissions and set top boxes as well as streaming providers like Hulu and HBO Go. Many video games on console systems are rendered at 720p to help improve performance in many games. It has a native aspect ratio of 1.78:1
What is 1080i? – 1920 pixels (length) x 1080 lines (width)
1080i is the current standard for interlaced high definition presentations, and represents a small minority of displays current available to consumers, although their presence is rare in 2016. 1080i is the current standard for high definition presentations through set top cable boxes, as it stretches the limits of current cable limitations in terms of bandwidth. Most broadcast television is presented in 1080i to those that receive high definition signals, as well as a small, small minority of Blu-rays. Most 1080i Blu-rays are concert recordings, or the Todd-AO 30 frames-per-second presentation of Fox’s Oklahoma, as 1080p on Blu-ray does not have a 30 frames-per-second standard for presentation.
What is 1080p? – 1920 pixels (length) x 1080 lines (width)
1080p is the current standard for the progressive high definition presentations, and represents the majority of displays currently available on the market as well as the majority of high definition home video presentations. Nearly every Blu-ray disc ever made utilizes a 1080p resolution presentation. Some of the streaming services, such as Netflix, offer 1080p resolution streaming, albeit in a heavily compressed format for a better Internet experience, where streaming a Blu-ray quality video would require significant Internet speed, which is not available to most users. With compressed 1080p video, some of the detail is lost and artifacts and a general softness to the image are common , especially when held up to Blu-ray presentations. It has a native aspect ratio of 1.78:1.
What is 2K? – 2048 pixels (length) x 1080 lines (width)
2K resolution is the current standard for theatrical presentation of films as set by the Digital Cinema Initiative. Although it has a similar amount of pixels to that of 1080p presentations, presentation is vastly improved due to a vastly lower amount of compression, leading to a superior presentation. Many films are finished in 2K such as Gravity, The Martian, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens because there is currently so 3D standards for 4K presentation in theaters, as well as on home video. 99% of most films produced today are finished in 2K resolution to save time in post-production for effects and storage, regardless of their origination format, as well as many restorations of older, less prestigious films. It has a native aspect ratio of 1.90:1, although most films are not presented in such an aspect ratio, outside of IMAX 2K Digital presentations.
What is 4K Ultra High Definition? – 3840 pixels (length) x 2160 lines (width)
4K UHD is the next step in the evolution of high definition displays available to consumers. Unlike the 1.90:1 aspect ratio of 4K for cinemas, the native aspect ratio of UHD is 1.78:1, which accounts for the slightly lowered amount of pixels. It is the successor to the 1080p home video standard. 4K UHD can be found through the brand new UHD Blu-ray format, as well as from certain streaming providers, such as Netflix, and various proprietary boxes. The accessibility of 4K UHD is fairly limited right now, but expect that to change in the next few years.
What is 4K? – 4096 pixels (length) x 2160 lines (width)
4K is the current maximum image quality presentation available in theatrical presentations as established by the Digital Cinema Initiative. Very few Hollywood films and film restorations are carried out in 4K resolution, because of the expense and time required to create the 4K file and the lack of 3D capabilities currently available. It has a native aspect ratio of 1.90:1, and has twice the pixels of a 2K presentation.
What is Mono?
Originating in the late 1920s, monaural soundtracks were the standard for all film productions outside of experimental productions such as Fantasia’s Fantasound in the 40s and other various niche productions until stereo soundtracks became the standard starting in the 70s. All sound is mixed through a single channel of sound output.
On Blu-ray, mono sound is typically reproduced using 1.0 LPCM or Dolby Digital through your surround sound system’s center channel, or more commonly through 2.0 LPCM, and DTS-Master Audio, in which your left and right front speakers produce two identical sound channels to simulate the mono sound experience.
What is Stereo?
There are multiple origin points of stereo sound on film prints from the 30s, all the way through the 80s, and many different ways to record and reproduce it even today. Stereo soundtracks are mixed with a left and right channel, usually coordinated to create a phantom center channel for dialogue. Effective stereo mixes typically use the left and right to pan sound effects between the channels, as well as dialogue.
On Blu-ray, the typical stereo sound mix is presented in 2.0 through LPCM, DTS-Master Audio, and Dolby TrueHD lossless sound.
What is Matrixed Stereo Surround?
Many stereo films from the late 70s, 80s, and early 90s were printed on 35mm film or released on Laserdisc and VHS Tape using Dolby Stereo on film, or Dolby Surround on home video. These films could be listened to comfortably in stereo, but can be processed to create a 4.0 surround sound mix – left, center, right, and mono surrounds using specific processing features such as Dolby Pro Logic or DTS Neo.
On Blu-ray, most of these films were remixed to 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound by the studios, but some are still maintained in their original 2.0 matrixed surround sound format. These soundtracks are typically presented in 2.0 LPCM or DTS-Master Audio, but can on occasion, such as with films like Edward Scissorhands, be presented in 4.0 DTS-Master Audio or LPCM to replicate the original sound mix without any special processing.
What is 5.1 Surround Sound?
5.1 surround sound, which is presented with a left, center, right, left surround, right surround, and low frequency effect subwoofer channel, is the defacto standard for modern movie making. This style of sound mix originated in the late 1970s, with Dolby Stereo 70mm magnetic soundtracks, and evolved over time into the standard for Dolby Digital, DTS, and SDDS presentations in theaters for most mainstream films. It is now presented in theaters using lossless LPCM soundtracks.
5.1 Surround Sound can be found on Blu-ray with DTS-Master Audio, Dolby TrueHD, and LPCM 5.1 lossless tracks. Some Blu-rays also feature standard Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 lossy Surround Sound tracks.
What is 7.1 Surround Sound?
7.1 is a more recent innovation in sound presentation, which splits the surrounds into four distinct channels, instead of the two surround channels that is typical of 5.1 sound mixes. Instead of having a left and right surround, there is a left and right surround, as well as two additional rear surrounds. This is used in some mainstream cinemas, but is more popular in the home video circuit.
7.1 Surround Sound mixes can be found on Blu-ray in DTS-Master Audio, Dolby TrueHD, and LPCM 7.1 surround sound mixes. There is no possible lossy equivalent.
What are Dolby Atmos and DTS-X?
The most recent evolution in cinema and home video audio formats is object based sound mixes, in which films are mixed using traditional surround sound configurations, but have additional channels mixed to support overhead speakers to help immerse audiences. Typical home audio systems that are setup for this type of audio presentation use a regular 5.1 or 7.1 surround set up, as well as 4 additional height channel speakers. Information on how typical speakers configurations work for Atmos can be found here. DTS-X is much less formalized sound format in the home, and information on it can be found here.
What is a Standard Blu-ray Case?
A typical Blu-ray case is a bit shorter than a DVD case, and is often a light, transparent shade of blue. There is a “Blu-ray” logo on the top center of the case, and it is often screen-printed, but there are versions available where the logo is embossed.
Although all standard Blu-rays are roughly the same, there are different variations. For example, an “eco-case” features the classic “recycling” logo cut-out on the inside of the front cover, which saves on plastic use, hence the name “eco-case”. There are also “Viva Elite” cases, which are the typical standard case with an easy open hub, or the “Vortex” cases which feature a snap-close feature and have become popular with most of Disney’s Blu-ray releases.
What is a slipcover?
A slipcover is a cardboard cover that slips over the top of a standard Blu-ray case. The slipcover often features the same artwork as the standard case underneath. Slipcovers are a hotly debated topic in the collector community, with some people throwing them out to save shelf space, and others fighting to find slipcovers for all of their movies. New releases typically come with slipcovers for a few months following their release, until the original print run is gone.
The most highly coveted slipcovers are those from Disney/Marvel and Scream Factory Collector’s Editions. These slipcovers (by themselves) can go for upwards of $10 on eBay to collectors who want to “complete” their packaging. Occasionally, there are retailer exclusive slipcovers, like with Target’s release of The Big Short or Zootopia, or Best Buy’s exclusive Disney lenticular slipcovers, but most often they are the same across all retailers.
What is a Steelbook/Metalpak?
A Steelbook or Metalpak is around the same size as a standard Blu-ray case, but it is made of metal. The steelbooks are a popular choice for limited edition or retailer exclusive versions of a movie, as they are viewed as more “collectible” than a standard case and often feature new and more creative artwork than the typical studio fare. Some art studios, like Mondo, have even gone as far as to release their own Steelbook lines featuring their artists work. Steelbooks can typically be found at Target or Best Buy in the US, but overseas retailers have many more Steelbook versions available. In the UK, HMV and Zavvi have an excellent line-up of Steelbooks, and retailers like Plain Archive, KimchiDVD, and country-specific Amazon sites like Germany, Japan, or France often have great Steelbooks for sale.
The difference between a Steelbook and a Metalpak is simply in the design. They are both made of metal, but the Steelbook has a defined spine with the movie title, and the Metalpak has a hinged spine and is less defined. When it comes to industry adoption of different metal cases, Steelbooks have largely won out as the favorite, with the only recent Metalpak releases being Days of Future Past from Target or the new Godzilla from Best Buy.
What is a Digibook?
A digibook is a Blu-ray package that, like its name suggests, looks like a small book. It often features 20 or so pages of commentary on the movie bound to the inside front cover, with the inside of the back cover serving as the disc hub. The artwork can be different than the standard Blu-ray release, although that is not always the case. Universal used the digibook as a popular format for Anniversary Editions in the earlier days of Blu-ray, releasing titles like JFK, King Kong (1933), Jaws, and All the President’s Men, among others, in digibook packaging.
The digibook packaging has fallen out of favor in recent years in favor of Steelbooks, with the most popular ones in recent memory being the 35th Anniversary release of John Carpenter’s Halloween, the Blomkamp collection (Chappie, District 9, Elysium), or the 30th Anniversary Edition of Labyrinth.