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Why Do 4K Movies Have Black Bars?


Do you notice black bars on the top and bottom of your screen while watching some movies? For some of us, there is nothing worse!

Black bars are a common occurrence, so there’s nothing to worry about if you notice them on your TV. They simply mean your screen and movie aspect ratios do not match.

Some people think that black bars won’t show up on your TV while watching a 4K resolution movie. However, this is untrue.

This article gives a detailed explanation of why 4K movies have black bars. Do they bother you? Keep reading to find and how to get rid of them.

What Causes Black Bars?

black bars on Tvs

While watching a program or film, you may notice black bars on either side of the TV screen; top and bottom, or left and right. 

To understand this phenomenon, you must first have a good understanding of aspect ratios.

Aspect Ratio: 

Aspect ratio is one of the important specifications for projectors, TVs, and other display devices. It depicts the width and height of your screen or image.

Aspect ratio is expressed as two numbers separated by a colon (i.e., 4:3). The first number (4) refers to the width, while the second number (3) refers to the height.

Hence, the aspect ratio 4:3 describes an image whose width is 1.33 (4/3) times its height.

Videos can be filmed in different aspect ratios, and display devices (projectors, TVs, and monitors) also have different aspect ratios.

When the aspect ratios of a movie and display screen do not match, the movie will not fill the screen correctly, and the TV will fill the difference with black bars. 

Common Screen Aspect Ratios

4:3

2 types of aspect ratio

Manufacturers made older analog TVs (SD TVs) with an aspect ratio of 4:3, which gave them a more square screen than modern TVs. 

16:9

16:9 is the standard screen aspect ratio for TVs and display devices manufactured recently.

The 16:9 aspect ratio has a rectangular appearance. It is common with HDTVs, 4K UHD TVs, LED TVs, and LCD TVs. 

21:9

This screen aspect ratio is found in monitors designed for ultrawide cinematic displays. The monitors are curved to avoid image distortion.

There are also curved projector screens designed for projecting cinematic videos.

Four Common Movie Aspect Ratios

Throughout the evolution of filmmaking, different aspect ratios have been used to create movies. Four stand out as the most popular, and we’ll explore them below:

4:3 (Standard)

This was the earliest aspect ratio for motion pictures and the standard for old TVs. If you have a box TV, you should be familiar with the 4:3 aspect ratio.

Filmmaking has since gone past this aspect ratio, but you may find some modern movies filmed in the 4:3 aspect ratio as a form of nostalgic art. 

16:9 (Widescreen)

This is the most popular aspect ratio for movies today. It is referred to as widescreen because the notable difference between width and height gives it a rectangular (broad) look.

HDTVs, most computers, and many mobile phones use the 16:9 aspect ratio to display visual media. 

Hence, the 16:9 aspect ratio is commonly used to film movies for TV or internet streaming.

1.85:1 (Cinematic Widescreen)

a feature of Cinematic Widescreen

This is one of two aspect ratios used in cinemas today. It is slightly wider than the 16:9 widescreen format.

Many films intended for the cinema and movie theaters are shot in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio to achieve a wider look on the cinema screen. 

Some TV show producers opt for this aspect ratio to achieve a cinematic appearance.

4. 2.39:1 (Anamorphic Widescreen)

The anamorphic widescreen format is the widest aspect ratio used in cinemas. It is popular with movies that show natural scenery.

Filmmakers primarily use the 2.39:1 aspect ratio for dramatic films intended for the cinema.

Other (unpopular) film aspect ratios include the Cinerama (2.59:1 to 2.65:1), Cinemascope (2.35:1 to 2.66:1), and Academy (1.37:1) ratios.

Why Are There Black Bars on 4K Movies?

black bars on a 4K movie

4K UHD movies are filmed in the resolution 3840 × 2160. This translates to 8,294,400 pixels, which are displayed in the 16:9 aspect ratio. 

4K movies fit the standard widescreen aspect ratio for HDTVs. You will not notice any black bars on your screen when displaying 4K movies on an HD or 4K TV.

If there are black bands on your 4K movie, this means your display device (TV or monitor) uses a different aspect ratio. 

If you’re displaying on an ultrawide monitor (21:9), black bands will run vertically on the right and left sides of the screen. 

Types of Black Bars

Black bars may run horizontally or vertically on the sides of a movie on the screen. There are two types, and we’ll consider them below.

1. Letterboxes

Letterboxes black bars

Letterboxes are black bars that run horizontally on the screen (at the top and bottom of the movie).

Letterboxing occurs when the movie has a wider aspect ratio than the display screen. 

2. Pillarboxes

Pillarboxes black bars

Pillarboxes are the black bars that run vertically on your video’s right and left sides. 

Pillarboxing occurs when you display a movie whose aspect ratio is not as wide as the display screen.

For example, let’s say you own a modern HDTV with a 16:9 aspect ratio.

  • If you play an anamorphic widescreen movie (2.39:1), there will be large black bands on the top and bottom of the screen.

The movie’s aspect ratio is wider than the 16:9 of your screen. The movie reduces in size to fit onto the screen, leaving spaces above and below filled with black bars.

The square-like appearance of classic films means that they have more height than modern screens. 

The movie reduces in size to fit the height onto the screen, which leaves spaces on the right and left sides, which are filled with black bars. 

  • If you’re watching an HD or 4K movie, their 16:9 aspect ratios will fill your HDTV’s screen perfectly.

NOTE: No matter your TV screen size, the aspect ratio is always the same for HDTVs and 4K TVs.

You can stretch a 4:3 film to fit a 16:9 screen and erase black bars. However, stretching can make the images appear disproportionately wider.

Still interested in erasing the black bars on your screen? The following section is for you!

How Do I Get Rid of the Black Bars on My 4K TV?

Removing black bars on TV

It is easy to stretch a picture from its original aspect ratio to get rid of the black bars on your screen.

If you have a large 4K TV, the black bars may not be as distracting as usual. Still, below are steps to help you get rid of it.

Steps to removing black bars:

  • Step 1: Display a film or program on your TV. 
  • Step 2: Check for a button labeled ‘Wide’ or ‘Zoom’ on your remote.
  • Step 3: Press the button repeatedly to select your preferred Wide mode.

You may also go through the Menu > Picture settings > Ratio/Format > Wide mode. Remember that all TVs are different, and so are their menus.

We have listed and explained the wide mode options below for clarity. 

Wide Mode Options and Their Functions

Source Aspect Ratio

Wide Modes

Function on 4K TV

4:3

Normal

The 4:3 video maintains its standard size, and pillarboxes fill the screen beside it.

Wide Zoom

This option enlarges the video and tries to lose as little data as possible. 

Full

This mode stretches the video horizontally to cover the 16:9 screen, but the video ends up looking abnormally wide.

Captions

This option allows you to stretch the video while ensuring that captions (if any) fit on the screen.

Fine (normal)

It displays a 4:3 picture in its original size with pillarboxes to fill the 16:9 screen.

Fine (full)

The Fine (full) option stretches a 4:3 picture horizontally to fill the 16:9 screen.

Portable Game

If you’re transmitting a PlayStation portable video game, this option can stretch it to get rid of the black bars.

NOTE: There are many other Wide modes to choose from, but we have listed those that affect the SD-Video aspect ratio (4:3).

Options such as the Zoom and Horizontal Stretch are for 16:9 videos showing black bars. They fit the videos properly onto the screen.

Wide Mode options may vary depending on brand and model. You can test the options available on your TV to find the most suitable one.

Conclusion

Watching a program with black bars can be annoyingly distracting, and not all of us can overlook them.

A difference in aspect ratios causes black bars. This article explains how to stretch a video and erase black bars using the Wide modes on your 4K TV’s settings. 

However, after an image has been stretched, some parts may not be visible. If they contain important information such as news headlines or subtitles, that’ll be very inconvenient.

Our advice? Ignore the black bars and enjoy your movie!


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