Opinion: Why all Ultra High Def TVs should be Ultra Wide Screen

Why all UHDs (ultra high def) TVs should be UWS (ultra wide screen)
Credit: Stewart Wolpin/DVICE

(Opinions expressed in this op-ed are solely the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of DVICE.)

With one exception (which we'll get to in a minute), curved ultra high def (UHD) 4K TVs are stupid. The concave nature of the myriad bowed UHDs from Samsung, LG and a few others on display at CES 2014 last week serves no legitimate purpose.

Curved TV con artists (er, executives — my bad), however, try to convince us that the slight 4-5 degree arc enhances contrast, which is stunning bull#$%& akin to the Don Cheadle character in Boogie Nights pushing a more expensive audio deck because it has "three or four extra quads per channel." Only slightly more convincing is the argument that the curling better pulls you into the action, which is at least debatable nonsense.

To "prove" its "curved is better" point, Samsung in its mobbed CES booth actually resorted to hanging one of its curved UHDs next to a same-sized normal HDTV with its brightness jacked up and contrast jacked down to produce a ridiculously beyond bleached image, as if this apple/rotten-orange comparison was legitimate. If a lie is audacious enough, it's easier to believe, right?

Samsung also labeled its bent set as "natural curved design." That's right — curved TVs grow on TV farms bowed like a banana and until now had to be unnaturally flattened. To flatten "natural" curved sets must involve a highly technical process — they're placed between a mattress and box spring and slept on overnight.

On a more logical level, TV makers have expended billions of hours and dollars in R&D to producing TVs as thin as possible, then they curve these skinny sets and make them thick again? Brilliant.

So why the curve? To make it easier for you to differentiate them at retail. After all, it's nearly impossible to tell the resolution/quality difference between a 65-inch or smaller UHD and a similarly-sized normal HDTV. If UHDs are not somehow radically different than normal HDTVs, how will you be convinced they're worth 10 times the price?

No More Cropped Movies

My exception to my anti-curvature stance is the UHD in the photo atop this rant, the Samsung 105-inch 21:9 aspect ratio monster UHD, and its LG doppelganger. For such a wide screen, the slight arching does help bring the sides into better peripheral view.

But if Samsung and LG and other UHD vendors really want to present us with a legitimate reason to spend several month's salary on a 4K TV, then all UHDs should have 21:9 ultra widescreens (UWS). This extra wide screen is far more "natural" than curving and provides actual advantages.

For one thing, 21:9 preserves the "natural" shape of movies. (For some reason, the film business and the TV business express aspect ratios — the relationship between the width of an image to its height — differently, so bear with me.)

Most of today's blockbusters and Oscar contenders such as American Hustle, The Hobbit (all two bloated parts so far), 12 Years a Slave, Iron Man 3, Captain Phillips, Frozen, The Wolf of Wall Street, et al, are shot in a widescreen 2.35:1 format. And, of course, widescreen epics such as Lawrence of Arabia (2.20:1), 2001: A Space Odyssey (2.20:1), Ben-Hur (2.76:1), and both Star Wars trilogies (2.35:1) all were shot in ultra wide screen film formats.

All well and good, except a standard 16:9 HDTV translates to, at best, a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.

So while widescreen classics are shown in their full widescreen (but letterboxed) glory on TCM, most modern movies you see on HBO, Showtime, Starz!, et al, are cropped — slivers are sliced off the left and right sides of the image.

Cropping and/or letterboxing these widescreen films would be unnecessary on a 21:9 UWS UHD.

Smart Data While Watching

But what about normal TV — sitcoms, police procedurals, talk shows, the news, et al? These are shot in 16:9.

On a 21:9 set, TV networks could broadcast a vertical column of supporting data or text on the left or right, or you could access a social media stream, or even display two 4:3 (old-style squarish pre-HDTV) shows side-by-side, such as two sporting events, or view a 4:3 broadcast next to a same-sized smart TV app or web page on a smart 21:9 set.

Or, worse comes to worse, a 16:9 image would be displayed with slim black bars on the left and right, just like old TVs shows on today's HDTVs. Horrors.

In other words, movie-watching on a 21:9 TV would actually be like watching it in a movie theater, completely filling your "natural" wide field of vision, and today's 16:9 TV programming and old 4:3 shows would be accompanied by Internet data or a second broadcast.

And a side-by-side comparison at retail wouldn't need any artificial futzing of the settings to enhance the advantages of 21:9.

Eventually, when 21:9 UHDs reach a critical mass, TV producers will start shooting their shows in the wider format. While writing this, I just saw one of Sony's "Join Together" commercials, which are clearly shot in 21:9 (or 2.35:1).

I even wouldn't mind if these future 21:9 UHDs were slightly curved. Much.

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