WHAT YOU NEED IN WIDESCREEN
So you’ve decided to buy a widescreen TV, but what features
should you be looking out for and which ones are a waste of space. Discover the
difference between PIPs and POPs with HE’s widescreen jargon buster!
ASPECT RATIO -- The proportions of a visual display, whether
it’s a 50-foot cinema screen or a 28-inch TV, are defined by its aspect ratio.
A normal TV has an aspect ratio of 4:3, in other words it is 4 units wide, by 3
unit deep. Widescreen TVs have an aspect ratio of 16:9, which best suites the
variety of display formats used by the movie industry.
AUTO SET-UP/INSTALL -- Televisions, even widescreen models
are not difficult to set up, at least not compared with video recorders.
However, many recent 16:9 TVs now have auto installation systems that kick in
as soon as they’re switched on for the first time. They automatically seek out
and store all the locally available TV stations, and put them in the right
order. Some even check to see whether there’s a VCR or satellite tuner
connected as well, telling you what’s what via the on-screen display.
DOLBY PRO-LOGIC -- The most advanced of the enhanced audio
systems (see also Spatial Sound), fitted to many widescreen TVs. Dolby Pro
Logic (DPL) is a true surround-sound system, with four channels of audio, heard
through five speakers. The four channels are: normal right and left stereo,
dialogue or centre-channel, and surround effects, usually heard through a pair
of speakers to the sides or behind the seating position. Sets with DPL sound
can decoded the surround sound information recorded on the soundtracks of a lot
of movies and TV programmes.
FASTEXT -- All widescreen sets have teletext decoders, the
majority of them are fastext types, which uses ‘linked’ pages to help speed up
access times. Page displays have colour-coded menus, that match coloured keys
on the remote handset. A growing number of top-end sets also have large
electronic memories, that can store several hundred pages of information at a
time. This gives near-instantaneous page access.
MULTI SYSTEM -- A
lot of TVs now have multi-system capability, which means they can display ‘raw’
NTSC and SECAM signals, as well as PAL. This facility is only really necessary
when using the TV with an NTSC or SECAM VCR or laserdisc player. However, many
PAL VCRs and most LD players can replay NTSC tapes and discs, that will be viewable on a PAL TV.
NICAM -- near instantaneous companded audio multiplexing:
this is the high quality digital sound system used by UK terrestrial broadcasters.
All widescreen sets have it, and the quality can be very good indeed, though it
sometimes suffers if the set has small or badly placed loudspeakers. TVs with
large, well-spaced speakers generally produce the best sound.
PALplus -- widescreen TV transmission system used by Channel
4 and a couple of ITV companies. Unfortunately PALplus has not been a success
and the feature has been rendered practically useless in the UK by the refusal
of the BBC to adopt the system.
PANORAMA -- aka 'stretch mode': This is one of the best ways
of expanding a 4:3 image, so that it fills a widescreen display, without
cropping the top and bottom of the picture. The sides of a 4:3 picture --
around a quarter to a third of the total width -- are electronically
‘stretched’ to fill the screen, whilst the centre portion retains its correct
proportions. Since most of the action in a TV picture is concentrated in the
middle of the screen, the distortion at the sides of the screen generally goes
PIP -- picture in picture: A very useful facility whereby a
miniature sub-screen is inset into the
main picture. This can be used to show a second channel (see also ‘twin tuners’) or one of the auxiliary
inputs, from a satellite receiver, VCR, or LaserDisc player.
POP -- picture out of picture: Exclusive to 16:9 widescreen TVs;
it’s a similar idea to PIP, but instead of the sub-screens being inset into the
main picture, they’re shown next to a 4:3 image, in what would have been the black
bands either side of the picture.
SPATIAL SOUND -- one of a group of pseudo surround effects
that artificially enlarges a stereo image to give a wider, almost
three-dimensional soundstage, without
the need for any extra speakers.
TWIN TUNER -- TVs with twin tuners can display two channels
at once, with the second channel shown on an inset PIP or POP sub-screen
ZOOM -- electronic enlargement of a 4:3 picture, so that it
fills the screen. Most 16:9 TVs with this facility have variable or pre-set
zoom modes, to compensate for cropping at the top or bottom of the screen, so
that subtitles, or the tops of people’s heads are not lost.
A lot of VCRs claim to be ‘widescreen ready’ or they’ve got
a 16:9 mode, but what does that mean? In fact they’re no different from ordinary
video recorders, except they can detect when they’re playing an ‘anamorphically’*
(where everything in the picture is compressed sideways), or specially ‘flagged’
letterboxed or widescreen recordings; it will then send a signal to the widescreen
TV, to tell it to switch to the appropriate ‘expand’ or ‘zoom’ mode, so that the
image is expanded sideways, and everything in the picture returns to its
correct proportions. This facility only works when the TV and VCR are connected
together by a SCART AV lead.
R. Maybury 1996 0208
* NB, I’m not aware of any anamorpic movies in this country,
though some used to be available on the continent.