Daily Blog – Brian Florian – June 25th, 2008: BAD DVD AUTHORING SHOULD BE A THING OF THE PAST

At my brother’s urging I picked up La Vie end Rose this weekend on DVD….and could barely watch it.

Not the movie itself mind you, which is a very interesting biopic piece, but rather it was the way the DVD was formatted.

Whoever the genius was at the DVD authoring workstation, they decided to encode the film as letterbox-in-4:3-frame.

That alone should be an unforgivable sin this late in the game, but the wrench in the mechanism was the non-negotiable subtitles.

Now I grant that if you have what should now be considered an antiquated 4:3 display system, all of this is of no consequence. But with any conventional widescreen TV setup, the first thing we run into is a loss of potential resolution. We have to force a “zoom” mode in the display system which cuts the top and bottom of the 4:3 frame, usually an inconsequential move from a content point of view since the top and bottom of such letterbox presentations contain encoded nothingness, but ultimatley it yields a picture with 33% less detail compared to if it had been encoded within a 16×9 frame (like virtually every other DVD out there with widescreen content on it).

Now I have a few DVDs like this in my collection, all of which date back to the dawn of DVD I’d like to note, so I can deal with that much. But what made La Vie en Rose impossible to watch was the subtitles. Zooming the frame for best picture-fit on the 16×9 screen causes the subtitles to be cropped.

This blue frame shows the actual content of the DVD, and is exactly how it would appear on a 4:3 TV. Shown here in green are the extents of a widescreeen TV with the content “zoomed”, preserving the image aspect but cropping the subtitles.


There were only two ways for me to watch the movie and still see the subtitles: Either treat it as if it were 4:3 where we get a so called “window box” presentation with substantial unused screen real estate ALL ARROUND the image, or stretched horizontally such that it appears as nothing more than a distorted “slot” of a film.

“Window box” presentation Distorted “Slot Vision” presentation


At this point in the life of DVD we are well, WELL past being able to excuse these sorts of things.

Its worth noting that a few of the very high end video processors/scallers have the facility to vertically offset the frame, which particularly speaks to this scenario of letterbox-in-4:3-with-subtitles: they zoom the frame and then shift it up so that the image is still best-fit yet with subtitles still visible. The reason such processors offer this mode is for old DVDs, very old ones, made at a time when the industry was still working out the kinks. Having to employ it for a new release is simply ridiculous.

Now, there is one possible explanation as to why someone would author this DVD the way it was:  the subtitles appear to have been “burned-in” (they are part of the image as oppose to being generated by the DVD player) which might mean they were there before the DVD author even got a hold of the material.  If so, it is plausible that they HAD to do it the way they did it (space wise, the subtitles need to overlap an image which is vertically centered inside a 16×9 workspace), but if that were the case, I would say they should have instead put pressure on the studio to supply a clean video transfer so that they could have done the subtitles using the DVD system as well as author it in the better 16×9 workspace.