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

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.


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