Why do people choose anamorphic projection over zooming?

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Letterbox zooming refers to using the projector’s lens memory settings for zoom, shift and focus to zoom up a letterbox image to fill an UltraWide 2.35:1 or 2.4:1 screen, while then zooming back down to place 16:9 content in the center of the screen. This approach is an economical way to keep the black bars of UltraWide movies off the screen by projecting them onto the walls above and below. Almost every high end home theater projector has this capability and yet every high end home theater projector also has the anamorphic modes for using an external Panamorph lens. Which should you choose, and why?

Let’s start with the bottom line: Anamorphic UltraWide projection improves the visual performance of your entire home theater experience by over 30%.

 

That’s really what this all boils down to – performance. After all, your UltraWide image is the visual focal point your entire cinema is built around. If you’ve got a 4K projector then you want to be using that entire 4K for the largest movies – not just the 3K performance you get with letterbox zooming (since 1K is used to create the black bars on the walls). But of course pure performance is just the big picture. Here are eleven reasons thousands of people have installed Panamorph anamorphic UltraWide home cinemas …

The Top Eleven Reasons

1. 30% greater brightness. A big UltraWide screen needs a bright, high contrast image for the most impact from today’s movies. It’s that simple. Even with typical optical losses, using the 33% extra pixels of your projector with a Paladin lens gives you around 30% actual additional light on your UltraWide screen compared to a zoomed-up letterbox image, delivering the absolute best experience from major motion pictures.

2. 33% greater picture detail. If there’s one thing that has been proven with today’s image processing technology it’s that more pixels can lead to dramatic improvements in picture quality (yes, even if the original content has limited resolution). For example, it’s well known that Ultra HD displays with upconverted HD Blu-ray movies look almost as good as the original Ultra HD movie content itself. The same applies to upconverting letterbox movies with 33% more vertical pixels. Those pixels (over 2 million from a 4K projector) represent greater flexibility and potential for image processing algorithms to make the image look as good as it possibly can.

An anamorphic projection system lets you watch even HDTV content in the UltraWide format.

3. You can now watch ALL today’s content with maximum performance to fill your screen 100% of the time with no black areas at all. You may have not seen this one coming, but many people use an anamorphic lens to watch smaller format movies and HDTV content stretched out to fill their UltraWide screens. It’s actually a very simple thing to do. Just input any 1080p or Ultra HD content to your projector and include the anamorphic lens. Absolutely no electronic processing is required. The anamorphic lens simply stretches the full image out optically to fill the screen. And if that’s not the look you prefer then you also have the option of turning on the anamorphic mode to crop a bit off the top and bottom of the image so that the image looks completely normal. And of course, you still have the option of watching smaller content, well, smaller – with black “pillar boxes” on the sides – at the push of a button. But these first two options mean you can get the immersive impact of the UltraWide experience even with all today’s movies and any HDTV content from sports to entertainment. To see these options in action checkout the Panamorph Demo Theater. The choices are yours!

4. Convenient menu visibility. If you use the zoom method to watch an UltraWide movie, any menus brought up by the player (such as pause, scene change, etc.) or projector will partially show off the screen and on the wall above and below, making them difficult to see. To bring the full menu onto the screen means the projector needs to be zoomed down each time the menu is engaged and then zoomed back up to frame the movie on the UltraWide screen, often taking 5-10 seconds each way just to use a menu feature. With anamorphic UltraWide this is much simpler because it’s immediate: Just turn the anamorphic mode off on the remote and the entire menu will be instantly visible.

5. Less noticeable pixel structure. The reason you chose projection for your home theater is to go large, but the larger you go the more you can see the individual pixels that make up the image. In reality, it’s primarily the vertical dimension of the pixels that we notice the most because video content has more horizontal motion. As an example, if you create an UltraWide image on a 48” (1.22M) high screen with an HD projector, you are only using 810 rows of pixels for a pixel height of about 1.5mm. Alternatively, the full 1080 pixels provided by the anamorphic approach on that same screen are much less visible at a height of only 1.1mm.

6. Knowing you’re using the full performance of your projector. While this is somewhat overlapped with the other reasons, there’s just something “right” about seeing major motion pictures with the full performance of your projector rather than restricting them down to 75% of that performance. It’s like driving a car at the peak of its torque curve and knowing you’re not riding the brakes at the same time. Everybody is talking about 4K these days. It’s just not right getting 3K from your 4K investment when you’re watching blockbuster movies on your UltraWide screen.

7. No unnecessary heat build-up in the projector. If you are zooming up a letterbox image then all those pixels used to create the black bars on the wall above and below an UltraWide screen aren’t actually turned off. In reality they’re set to “black” by absorbing 25% of the lamp’s full intensity inside the projector and turning it into heat. Of course, since anamorphic UltraWide uses those pixels to form the image then this unnecessary heat build-up is eliminated.

8. No moving parts. These days most anamorphic UltraWide projection systems operate with a fixed anamorphic lens so that no mechanical adjustments are ever needed after installation. On the other hand, letterbox zooming requires adjustment of zoom, lens shift and sometimes even focus every time the content aspect ratio changes from UltraWide to smaller formats (including those times you need to see the full menu), creating mechanical wear that may require periodic maintenance, especially if the image is no longer returning precisely to its programmed configuration with each change.

9. Greater projector setup flexibility. Using a zoom lens with an UltraWide screen means one zoom setting is used to fill the height of the screen for 16:9 content and then another zoom setting is used to fill the width of the screen for UltraWide content. The projector must therefore be installed in a position where both these zoom settings are within the available zoom range of the projector at that position. With a fixed Paladin lens your projector only needs to fill the width of your screen for all content (or the height for all content with the Phoenix) so there is a much greater range of possible installation locations.

10. No pixels wasted on your walls. Many of today’s projectors can project the black bars above and below your UltraWide screen so black that only a ghost of those bars remains. But since anamorphic UltraWide UltraWide puts ALL your projector’s pixels on the screen the purist in us loves knowing there will never be ANY type of black bars on our walls, ghost or otherwise.

11. Your cinema is a real cinema. Most UltraWide movies created in the past 50+ years were both filmed and projected using anamorphic lenses to provide the maximum performance in commercial theaters. Their use in home cinemas was directly inspired by this same use in the motion picture industry. It’s nice to know that your home cinema uses projection technology that goes all the way back to the Golden Age of Hollywood.

BONUS. Your anamorphic lens will probably work with your next projector. Especially if you go with the more universal Paladin lens model, these lenses are likely to work with your future projectors, meaning you probably only need to buy one lens to fit them all. Naturally the attachment hardware may need to be upgraded but the lens itself will probably last you until your own Golden Years.

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