Convert 4:3 letterbox to 16:9

Thanks to MGM, I’m stuck with a favorite movie that is only available in MGM’s letterboxed 4:3 format. The movie is a true 16:9, so I’m wondering what I have to do to crop off the bars at the top and bottom.

I assume I need to open the individual VOBs in an editor, then recode, then join the pieces back together and re-author.

I have most of the common tools for editing. Nero VisionExpress, Procoder, CCE, TMPGEnc, etc. Can somebody give me a brief tutorial on what I’d need to do? I don’t mind spending some time on this. Unfortunately, thanks again to MGM, the original is in a pretty low bitrate, so I need to conserve what little quality is there.

DVD-Rebuilder has a “Convert from LB 4:3 to 16:9” function. try giving that a shot.

OK, I’ve tried DVDRebuilder using either the CCE or the default recoder. I’ve also tried Procoder Express and TMPGenc. The problem isn’t getting it to 16:9, I can crop it easily enough. The problem is the crappy low-bitrate video that MGM has used. Any recoding just makes it worse, even at high bitrate constant or 2-pass variable with a high rate.

It’s such a beautifull film, it’s just a damn shame that MGM has done this with so many movies. I think there’s just no way to see it on a large screen in even average quality. :sad: I can use the “cinema zoom” feature on my monitor to make it fill the 16:9 screen, but it winds up cropping off the top and bottom. Still that seems to produce the best picture, apart from just watching it in the little rectangle of black bars. :a

DVD Rebuilder will not work. Your problem is not 4:3 letterbox. It sounds like you just want to convert 2.35:1 to 1.85:1/16:9 to get rid of the black bars.

The black bars are supposed to be there.

Could you define what you mean by “letterboxed 4:3 format”

4:3 is a “square” pan&scan format. Letterbox implies a widescreen format.

It usually means Non anamorphic widescreen (Widescreen in a 4:3 frame). To get the right height ratio a zoom mode is needed on a widescreen TV. A zoomed 1:85:1 picture will have no black bars. A 2:35:1 picture will still have small black bars.

MGM/UA was recently the subject of a class-action lawsuit because they persisted in selling letterboxed 4:3 presentations and called them “widescreen” on the packaging and promos. They settled, and were supposed to replace several hundred titles with alternate titles. (I never got my replacements after sending in the old titles). They continue to sell letterboxed and call it widescreen to this day. The transfers are also very low quality, so there’s really no acceptable way to view them on a 16:9 screen, except on a very small one.

Cable/satellite broadcasters do the same thing, broadcasting letterboxed pictures that are pretty useless on a 16:9. When viewed on a 16:9, you see a small rectanglular picture surounded by black bars on all 4 sides.

So, to be honest, a video seller should call letterboxed “letterboxed” and widescreen should be designated as anamorphic or “enhanced for widescreen TV’s” or something like that.

If you have a 16:9 monitor, you already know what this is about. For the uninitiated, here a picture: The first is what you see watching a "full-screen 4:3 picture on a 16:9 screen. The second is a “letterboxed” presentation on a 16:9 screen. A anamorphic 16:9 fills the entire screen.

The MGM thing was a farce. There was nothing wrong with most of the DVD’s. It was just some people who didn’t understand about ratios and anamorphic.

Read here.

It’s not a farce if you buy a movie labled as “widescreen” and you get something else. It’s dishonest. If you take the MGM movies in question, and place them next to MGM titles that are anamorphic, the labeling is exactly the same. They both say “widescreen” on the package with no indication anywhere that there’s any difference. Like I said, unless you have a 16:9 monitor, you don’t know the difference.

The folks who wrote that article are the ones who don’t understand the issue.

To put it another way, in simple numbers:

A anamorphic 16:9 DVD is an image that is 720 pixles by 480. A 4:3 movie is 640 x 480 pixles. The MGM titles in question are in 640x480 with a letterboxed picture. If you crop the black bars at the top and bottom, you are left with an image that is more or less around 626x346. At least this is what I get. Now, try zooming that 626x346 up to 720x480 and you get a big disappointment. Add to that the fact that MGM authors these movies in a really low bitrate, resulting in much less than 640x480 resolution, and you get utter crap for image quality. Even on my little 19" PC monitor, the problem is obvious. Try it on a 52" HD monitor. :Z Basically, they are authoring the video for broadcast quality.

To summarize:
Real 16:9 DVD = 720x480 image
MGM “widescreen” = 626x364 image, or less.

Only just now got back to this thread. Respectfully, what you (in some of the first posts above) call letterbox can’t also be called 4:3. “Letterbox” is a dated marketing-bllsht term which is slowly falling into dis-use. Pros call it “Matted” now. But it IS indeed Widescreen. It’s a cheap-ass way of providing the theatrical aspect ratios of 1.66:1, 1.78:1, 1.85:1, 2.35:1, and some other specialty ratios such as Ben Hur was filmed in 2.76:1 from the rarely used 65mm MGM Camera 65. Letterbox sure as heck cannot be referred to as 4:3 as I read above. Or, again respectfully, am I misunderstanding what you were saying above?

Also 4:3 is just “marketing-math” that the suits dreamed up because they think that the public is too dumb to understand 1.33:1. Same with the term 16:9, they think we are too dumb to understand 1.85:1. “4:3” is the ratio of the old square TV your father owned.

Virtually all movies made before the advent of Cinemascope, Panavision, VistaVision and other widescreen camera formats came into use (around the '50’s) were filmed in an aspect ratio or 1.37:1 which was an industry standard called the “Academy Ratio”. When TV broadcasting started in the late '40’s, they used a slight variation and standardized on 1.33:1. Thats why Widescreen Cinama even started in the first place … to get couch potatoes back into the theatres by giving the public a BIGGER viewing experience for their money.

Matted widescreen goes way back before DVD’s: some VHS tape movies were released in “letterbox” format.

Anamorphic is most desirable for our modern home entertainment systems. By 2005 standards of expectation and for the money we pay, we SHOULD get an anamorphic DVD product. But it’s not dishonest to label a Matted DVD release as Widescreen just because the box didn’t say it was Anamorphic or “Letterbox”. It’s still the aspect ratio that the director chose for the theatre. All they are guilty of is mastering a cheap way out when they should have spent more money and given us a modern anamorphic instead of a matted widescreen. Bastards!

I hope I didn’t misinterpret the first postings on this thread but I wanted to get my 2 cents in, albeit late. Hense my first comment above. You can’t say a movie is 4:3 and letterbox to mean the same thing. And don’t even get me started on my hatred of the Pan&Scan process!

Best regards

Did anyone have laserdiscs? Most of those were 4:3 letterbox (non anamorphic in DVD terms). A widescreen image (whether it was 1.78:1, 1.85:1. 2.35:1 etc) in a 4:3 frame. The 16:9 display device then shows either big black bars which are zoomed to make the right height. Very few were anamorphic. On a 4:3 TV, you just select 4:3 and the person wouldn’t even be able to tell if it non anamorphic or anamorphic as it is not needed. It still had big borders but the height was the correct ratio.

The folks who wrote that article are the ones who don’t understand the issue.

They do know what they are talking. As I said, most of their DVD’s were ok. Only a few were affected. Other sites explained the same conclusion.

actually, all Full D1 NTSC dvd video is 720x480 (and PAL being 720x576). it’s just that letterboxed video has some of that resolution wasted on the black bars and anamorphic video has its resolution lowered on the fly while being played back on a 4:3 display to accommodate the black bars, so your numbers are a little off, but your concept is correct.

I failed to explain that my numbers are for the specific image I’m working with. The movie was matted with black on all 4 sides, with just a few pixels on the sides, presumably to accomodate overscan on TV’s.

I’ve got other, non-MGM, movies that are also 4:3 letterbox that DO have decent bitrates, and can be zoomed to 16:9 with fairly good results. MGM chooses to cram the movie on a SL disc with pathetic bitrates, so I’m out of luck with this one.

have u tryed vso divx to dvd there’s options for 4:3 fullscreen & 16:9 letterbox it might help not to sure but its worth a shot :slight_smile:

Rdgrimes, there’s something I don’t understand. Given the fixed resolution of the original image, why would a preliminary 16:9 blowup give better results than a zoom at the viewing stage? :confused:

Obviously, there’s nothing you can do about low bit-rate encoding. What you could do is resize the image using Gordian Knot for example to best fit the 720x480 frame and maybe use a sharpening filter along with it (although don’t sharpen too much as the added grain may cause your encoder to complain about excessive bitrate) Then convert back to DVD using VSO Divx to DVD. No matter how you resize, you’ll be amplifying the artifacts of low bitrate encoding. It’s a shame to see movie releases released this way with such little respect for the original movie and the consumer that buys them.


With this particular film, it’s unwatchable (to me) either way if I try to make it full screen on the 16:9 monitor. The “picture quality” is better if I use the monitor to zoom it, but because of the way this works, zooming winds up cropping the top and bottom of a 1.8:1 aspect image. Hense the attempt to recode. All in vain. Still, I learned how to do it if I run into a movie that has enough resolution to allow it.

Aaaaaah, OK! Now I get it! Sorry if this was clear from you previous posts :o - I tried to read carefully, but these aspect ratio thingies are very confusing.

Damn companies!! :a - I have a couple of movies with the same problem actually… but my 16:9 TV (Sony KV32FX68) has a half-zooming feature (they call it 14:9 :rolleyes: ), which is very handy for these :cool:

Mine has several different zoom options too.