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Is HBO ‘ruining’ your favorite movies?

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How premium channels are chopping up films

Don’t you want to see the entire movie when you watch it on a premium cable channel? It turns out that, in some cases, you’re missing big chunks of the image.

As the video above shows, premium cable channels often hack off the edges of the image to kill the black lines on the top and bottom of your screen. That makes the picture look bigger, but it’s at the expense of visual information that was in the theatrical version and that the director meant to be in that particular frame. You’re not getting a bigger image in these situations, you’re actually losing a decent chunk of the film.

Even though TV screens commonly went to a 16:9 aspect ratio about a decade ago, as high-definition TVs entered the marketplace, some films are still presented in nonstandard widths. Star Wars: The Force Awakens, actually has three different aspect ratios (per IMDB). So some form of editing to make that look good on a standard television is necessary, but losing a chunk of image in order to make all the black bars disappear isn’t the best solution.

Here’s a simulated look at what you lose when the movies are shown in this way.

I think the video’s thought that this change “ruins” a movie is more hyperbole than fact — you’re going to get the majority of the emotional and visual punch even if a portion of the image is cut from the sides — but you do lose the picture that the creative team behind the film wanted you to see, and you get nothing back in return. Why not just show the movie the way it’s meant to be seen?

You may care, or you may not, but it’s important that you know you may not be getting the entire movie when you watch it on cable. If cable executives want us to stay home and watch movies on your home theater, the least they could do is present the entirety of that movie, or at least disclose how much they’ve edited out.