Widescreen comes mainly in two different aspect ratios – 2.35:1 and 1.85:1. The 1.85:1 version is also known as 16:9. If you look on the back of a DVD or Blu-Ray box, it will usually tell you which one it uses. What the numbers represent is the difference in width versus height. In other words, a 1.85:1 ratio means the screen is 1.85 times wider than it is tall. A standard definition TV uses a ratio of 1.33:1, or 4:3, meaning it is only slightly wider than it is tall.
Most widescreen televisions utilize the 16:9 aspect ratio since this is the default widescreen size used for HDTV broadcasts. A great many DVD and Blu-Ray movies use this same aspect ratio, but you’ll also find plenty more that use 2.35:1. A movie with a 2.35:1 picture will have black bars at the top and bottom. Also know that a movie in ‘standard’ definition, which is 4:3, will have black bars on the left and right side of the screen. Some movies are available in both formats, so be careful what you buy – especially at Wal-Mart where the standard definition DVD’s are most often found.
If you are watching a widescreen broadcast on your HDTV, then it should be in the 16:9 ratio and therefore should fill up your screen. However, this is not always the case. If it does not fill the screen, you may need to change the settings on your television. Most widescreen HDTV’s have a ‘screen size’ option of some kind that lets you zoom in, stretch the image, and so on. I have a Philips HDTV that I keep on ‘automatic’ so that it can resize when necessary.