How Does Anamorphic 4K Cinema Work?

Over 80% of the most popular movies since 1972 are made in the 2.4:1 cinema aspect ratio – much wider than 4K/UHDTV – and even streaming content is rapidly evolving toward this format.  

Over 80% of the most popular movies are made in the cinema 2.4:1 aspect ratio for commercial theaters and even today’s streaming shows are migrating to this format. This content is meant and created to be the largest experience in your theater but on a flat panel TV or 16:9 projection system it is actually displayed as the smallest experience with the lowest performance because millions of display pixels are turned off to create black bars. But now today’s most popular projector models also include anamorphic upconversion modes for use with an external anamorphic lens to convert their full performance into the larger 2.4:1 cinema movie format for the highest brightness and detail – all while still providing modes for watching 16:9 content. This anamorphic advantage means these projectors can actually deliver better movie performance than you can get in most commercial theaters and certainly higher than you can get with a flat panel TV.

How does anamorphic projection increase the brightness and detail of movies?

THE ORIGINAL MOVIE SURROUNDED BY UNUSED BLACK DISPLAY PIXELS. Consumer cinema-format 4K movies are delivered using 3840 horizontal x 1600 vertical pixels to maintain their original 2.4:1 aspect ratio (ie 3840/1600=2.4). When displayed in the center of the 4096 x 2160 pixels of a 4K/4096 projector there are 2,703,360 unused black display pixels surrounding the movie or 2,150,400 unused display pixels when displayed in the center of the 3840 x 2160 pixels of a 4K/UHD 16:9 projector.


THE UPCONVERTED MOVIE USING THE REPURPOSED BLACK PIXELS. Anamorphic upconversion is now an included option in all Sony ES and JVC 17:9 DLA 4K projectors and also in most 16:9 4K (UHD) projectors from Digital Projection, Epson and BenQ. This upconversion applies digital scaling and possibly other image processing algorithms to convert the movie to a higher resolution of 4096 x 2133 (17:9 projectors) or 3840 x 2133 (16:9 projectors) using 43% (17:9) or 33% (16:9) more display pixels. While no real, additional source resolution is implied, upconversion from real movie content has been proven to not only provide substantial additional image brightness from those millions of additional pixels but also additional realistic detail and subsequent improved clarity to the projected images. However, the use of additional pixels resulting from this upconversion process, primarily above and below the original image, also leaves the movie appearing vertically stretched by 25% (17:9) or 33% (16:9). Aspect Modes: Sony: “V-Stretch“. JVC: “Anamorphic C“. Digital Projection: “TheaterScope“. Epson: “Anamorphic Wide“. BenQ: “Anamorphic 2.4:1“. 


THE UPCONVERTED MOVIE ON A 2.4:1 SCREEN THROUGH A PALADIN LENS. The upconverted movie is optically compressed through an external Paladin anamorphic lens to correct the 25% (DCR lenses) or 33% (Paladin lens) residual vertical stretch from the upconversion process. This restores the original 2.4:1 movie aspect ratio while retaining the significant performance enhancement from the upconverted pixels for greater visual clarity combined with a net brightness increase of approximately 38% (DCR) or 30% (Paladin) over projection of the original movie.


How can you watch 16:9 TV in your anamorphic 2.4:1 4K cinema?

While 80% of the most popular movies are made for your 2.4:1 cinema, today’s projectors also give you many options for watching 16:9 TV programming such as sports without moving the anamorphic lens. All virtually instantaneous. All at the push of a button.

16:9 ClassicComplete content is displayed in its original format with full vertical resolution but reformatted using 3072 (17:9/DCR) or 2880 (16:9/Paladin) horizontal pixels. Aspect Modes: Sony: “Squeeze”. JVC: “Anamorphic D”. Digital Projection: “4:3 Narrow“. Epson: “Horizontal Squeeze”. BenQ: “Anamorphic 16:9“. (note 1)

16:9 Wide (Stretched). Complete content is displayed with full 3840 x 2160 resolution but with a 25% (17:9/DCR) or 33% (16:9/Paladin) horizontally stretched appearance to better fill the screen, leaving about 3% of the screen width black on the left and right for 17:9 projectors (shown at right) but fully filling the screen with 16:9 projectors. Aspect Modes: Sony: “Normal”. JVC: “Anamorphic Off”. Digital Projection: “Normal“. Epson: “Normal“. BenQ: “16:9“. 

16:9 Full (Stretched). 17:9/DCR systems only. The content fills the entire screen by stretching to 4096 horizontal resolution and cropping about 3% from both top and bottom, resulting in a 25% stretched appearance. Aspect Modes: Sony: “2.35:1 Zoom”. JVC: “Zoom”.

16:9 Full (Cropped).  The image fills the entire screen with full 4096 (17:9/DCR) or 3840 (16:9/Paladin) horizontal resolution and with no stretched appearance by cropping 10% (17:9) or 12% (16:9) from both top and bottom. Aspect Modes: Sony: “V-Stretch“. JVC: “Anamorphic C“. Digital Projection: “TheaterScope“. Epson: “Anamorphic Wide“. BenQ: “Anamorphic 2.4:1“. 

Note 1. When 2.4:1 movies are perfectly framed by your screen then 13 out of 2160 pixel rows of 4K 16:9 content will project onto both the top and bottom screen border. This may impact the visibility of very small characters if they are placed close to the edge such as with sports broadcast scores.