New iPad may bring back "Pan and Scan" for HD content

New iPad may bring back "Pan and Scan" for HD content

Summary: The HD display of the iPad 3 is higher-resolution than your TV, but the aspect ratio is different. So how do we deal with HD 16:9 content? Bring back an old film editing technique.


In my last piece, I talked about how the high-resolution screen on the new iPad might be applied to vertical market applications.

For the most part, the issue of aspect ratio on these types of apps and the majority of applications that will be used on the tablet is not of primary concern. Software developers will just have to optimize their pre-HD iOS apps to take advantage of the 2048x1536 iPad display with some additional coding effort.

But for consumers watching HD video content for entertainment purposes, the iPad's 4:3 (1.33:1) ratio does present something of a challenge, and that has to do with whether or not to one should endure the "black bars" or to simply just "zoom" the video to full and center frame, thus missing out on some of the content.

There are a number of "tricks" that can be employed on how to deal with HD-optimized content that has been targeted for 16:9 TV sets or for 1.85:1 and 2.39:1 theatrical release.

Besides just seeing the content in pure letterbox form, the first is the simple full-frame "zoom" which doesn't use any intelligence as to which content is most important. The previous-generation iPads already have this feature, and it simply crops the center of the content to be viewed full-frame.

Obviously, due to the nature of many movies which place a great deal of importance on cinematography, a simple zoom is going to leave a lot of the action out. Another approach may be to allow the viewer to "Pan and Scan" the widescreen content while it is being played, such as with a slider control or by using the sensitivity of the internal gyroscope or accelerometer.

Taken even further, Apple (or Netflix or Amazon) may want to develop a pan and scan "crowdsourcing" type of data-collection and analysis for films in their inventory where the pan and scan is optimized on a film-by-film basis.

For example, 100,000 people might watch the Blu-Ray version of "Blade Runner" on iTunes and center the video as they are watching it using a pan and scan control. Apple may even want to offer incentives to people who do this on the company's behalf, in the form of iTunes credits or free apps.

This crowdsourced telemetry would be then sent back to Apple, and the movie would be adjusted accordingly for automatic Pan and Scan playback.

Another way Apple could deal with this is by actually hiring staff to sit and watch movies all day, and Pan and Scan them so that the full frame video plays back fully optimized when a customer downloads or streams it.

I can certainly envision an entire team in India being hired to take on this task. After all, Indians love cinema, and the work would probably be a great deal more entertaining than call center duty.

While the technical challenge is easily overcome, there is also the issue of whether or not studios and the directors themselves may wish to permit Pan and Scan of HD content.

In the 1990s during the golden age of DVD and also in the 1980s with VHS, many directors refused to issue Pan and Scan or Full Frame versions of their movies to be shown on Standard Definition television because their films were never meant to be shown that way.

Apple may have to negotiate with the studios and the directors themselves -- a process that could be difficult, because in this case the intent of the filmmaker may be in direct conflict with what the studio may wish to do or what Apple may wish to do.

Will the release of the new iPad bring back old tricks and concerns with Pan and Scan? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: iPad, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility, Tablets


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • Pan and Scan? Really?

    Why don't we just go back to silent black and white movies, that way we don't even need a sound card or speakers ...

    Seriously, I hope the studios do the right thing and not permit release of Pan and Scan movies for iPad ... users will either get used to the black bars, or not watch movies on the iPad ...

    Bad choice Apple ... you'd think with such a high rez display, you'd have provided a 16:9 Tablet ... and if you think about it, it could have given a sort of dual monitor effect when using regular 4:3 apps ...


    • Really?

      Do any of you REALLY believe that Apple is considering this absolutely ludicrous idea? This is simply a blogger that wants to up some page views (which I am admittedly adding to). If apple cared about this the iPad would be 16:9. Would you want to hold a 16:9 iPad? I wouldn't. The title of this article says "apple considering". Says who?
      • The title says...

        "New iPad may bring back "Pan and Scan" for HD content"

        Where does it say anywhere in the piece, headline included, that Apple is considering anything? The article is an opinion piece, as is everything else that has been posted on this blog since 2008.
      • Yes,

        I understand that, but the rest of the readership here does not. The comments keep assuming that it is fact.
      • why not?

        I bet you hold your ipad in landscape the majority time anyway.
      • @jonandkelly: iPad is used mostly in portrait mode.

        Plain and simple who 16:9 tablets are mostly DOA.
  • How do we watch...

    16:9 movies on the iPad now?
    • How do we watch...

      We use Airplay to stream them to our 55" TVs.
      • and what if you don't own an

        apple tv box? Then what? YOU are SOL so enjoy those huge chuncky blackbars
  • I hope not

    Pan and Scan? Ewww! Seriously, I used to go out of my way not to buy P&S movies in the old days. Oh sure, back in the day of smaller CRT TV's and VHS where P&S was essential to make the most of the limited effective resolution and make the movie viewable, but really not a problem at all on high res equipment like the iPad (version 1).
  • Black bars is significantly better than any other form...

    of adjusting for resolutions. Cropping out content is not a solution, IMHO. Now that pretty much all movie content and TVs are HD or better, then we can forget the old solutions of pan and scan or other methods of cropping out content.
  • For gods sake Jason!

    What are you even going on about? There are a ton of different aspect ratios. For instance the current motion picture ratio is 2.3:1. Modern methods to display movies on different size ratios is to use pillar boxing or letter boxing. Even a 16:9 display will need to use these methods which is basically scaling keeping the original aspect and have black space on the top or sides.

    You are getting the haters all riled up for nothing. Pan and scan!
    • You are missing the point, CowLauncher

      We all understand there are ways to show the content in its original aspect ratio (OAR), such as letterboxing and pillarboxing, which is the preferred method of maintaining the OAR. The question is whether Apple will try to alter content to be 4:3 so that letterboxing will not have to be used on the iPad and that the image fills the frame (because we all know "those people" who want to blow up/stretch all images to fill their screen, regardless of how the content is meant to be viewed - ever see 4:3 content stretched for a 16:9 screen? Looks absurd, doesn't it?). Any of these methods which do not present the image in its OAR are unaccaptable to me. I have been a strong advocate of letterboxing since the early days of VHS and Laserdiscs. No way I can endorse pan & scan. Next thing you know, they will be editing movies for time or to make a smaller file, like a Reader's Digest version of a movie.
      • Why would they?

        The iPad and iPad 2 don't. Why would it change?
      • The point

        Is that Jason is making this up.
  • Pan and Scan Really????

    Why don't we chop down our arms and sholders just because we can't pass through that iDogFlap on the door?

    Like you said the Pan and Scan *is* a compomise for "technical limitation". It is not how the movie supposed to be shown this way. I just don't see any leveage Apple can get if they try to force it down on Movie studio and directors and negotiate.

    Unless Pixar start releasing movies in theater in 4:3, then we can talk.
    • LOL

      The world just needs to conform to Apple and go back to 4:3. You're holding it wrong.
  • I can guarantee you that Apple won't be editing any films in any way.

    [i]"Another way Apple could deal with this is by actually hiring staff to sit and watch movies all day, and Pan and Scan them so that the full frame video plays back fully optimized when a customer downloads or streams it."[/i]

    You're kidding, right? Do you [i]seriously[/i] think any director, producer, and/or studio is going to give Apple what amounts to "final edit" on their content? [b]Not in this, or any other, reality![/b]
    • Just to be clear

      No film content is going to be "edited" with any of the solutions I described. Essentially, what I am talking about is a "Pan and Scan" data stream that could optionally be used with any film, much in the same way Closed Captioning is used for the hearing impaired. The user would have to turn it on.
      • Re: Just to be clear

        That's what I was thinking. If Apple (or any other supplier) feels like some viewers abhor letterboxing so much, they could develop a hidden channel that defines how the panning and scanning would move, like they do with closed captioning now. And like closed captioning, it could be turned on and off. You could even make it user-editable, so that a particular viewer could alter the panning and scanning to fit their own preferences.