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TCM is distorting the appearance of films


cmovieviewer
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Recently it has become apparent that TCM is broadcasting a distorted image for some of the films they show.  This is limited to some of the older 4:3 or ‘fullscreen’ classic films (not 16:9 or other ‘widescreen’ films).

For some reason, in these 4:3 films TCM is in effect cropping the bottom portion of the film and stretching the film downwards to fill up the 4:3 frame.  An easy example to look at is the beginning of a classic MGM film.  Here is Leo the Lion at the beginning of Come Live with Me (1941) as shown today on TCM:

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And here is Leo on the DVD of the same film:

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Notice that in the TCM image the bottom of the MGM shield is cut off below the “Metro Goldwyn Mayer” text.  Also notice that the seal around Leo is stretched vertically and is no longer as round as it appears on the DVD.  I was watching this morning and the same distortion was shown for three 4:3 films in a row - Man of the People (1937), His Family Tree (1935), and Come Live with Me (1941), which for me represents a disturbing trend.  I find this annoying, especially as actor’s faces appear vertically stretched and thin.

This distortion is shown on both the cable broadcast and WatchTCM versions, so it seems to be baked into the TCM video source.  I had also noticed distortion during the Saturday evening presentation of Cause for Alarm! (1951) on Noir Alley.  Interestingly, Eddie Muller showed clips from the film that were not distorted, so TCM seems to be doing something bad in preparing the film for broadcast.

Since TCM has until now comported themselves as trying to show films as they were intended by the original producers, I can’t believe that this defect in presentation should be considered acceptable.

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This is usually the result of where you get your tv signal from.  Past reports of aspect ratio discrepancies on one source have not been duplicated on others.   It is an effect of how the settings you have for your  TV source interact with the movie as it comes from TCM.

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24 minutes ago, slaytonf said:

This is usually the result of where you get your tv signal from.  Past reports of aspect ratio discrepancies on one source have not been duplicated on others.   It is an effect of how the settings you have for your  TV source interact with the movie as it comes from TCM.

The TCM example I show is captured from WatchTCM in a web browser on my computer.  No cable provider or even a TV set involved.  I wanted to make sure that it was not an artifact from my cable company.

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18 minutes ago, cmovieviewer said:

The TCM example I show is captured from WatchTCM in a web browser on my computer.  No cable provider or even a TV set involved.  I wanted to make sure that it was not an artifact from my cable company.

On top of that, it is horrible horribly compressed.  Unless the settings were on your end, there are bandwidth issues with streaming.

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1 hour ago, MovieCollectorOH said:

On top of that, it is horrible horribly compressed.  Unless the settings were on your end, there are bandwidth issues with streaming.

There does seem to be some loss in picture quality when this stretching happens, especially for the web version of WatchTCM.  The picture may look a bit better when using a streaming box connected to a TV (although the vertical stretching problem is still there.)

Pure speculation on my part, but I wonder if these issues might be caused by some process TCM has to prepare video for both high-definition cable as well as streaming distribution, since both delivery types have the same problem.  The other evidence is that newer widescreen movies do not have the issue, where presumably higher definition video sources are being used.

(I should also make clear that currently all 4:3 films shown on TCM do not have the problem.  I watched portions of Now, Voyager and Casablanca yesterday and they looked OK.  This may also tie into the fact that these would have some of the best video sources.)

 

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12 hours ago, cmovieviewer said:

There does seem to be some loss in picture quality when this stretching happens, especially for the web version of WatchTCM.  The picture may look a bit better when using a streaming box connected to a TV (although the vertical stretching problem is still there.)

Pure speculation on my part, but I wonder if these issues might be caused by some process TCM has to prepare video for both high-definition cable as well as streaming distribution, since both delivery types have the same problem.  The other evidence is that newer widescreen movies do not have the issue, where presumably higher definition video sources are being used.

(I should also make clear that currently all 4:3 films shown on TCM do not have the problem.  I watched portions of Now, Voyager and Casablanca yesterday and they looked OK.  This may also tie into the fact that these would have some of the best video sources.)

 

So is TCM streaming in SD then?  You'll have to excuse my ignorance as I've never tried it with them.  Or could this be 16mm sources - just a crazy thought...

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3 hours ago, MovieCollectorOH said:

So is TCM streaming in SD then?  You'll have to excuse my ignorance as I've never tried it with them.  Or could this be 16mm sources - just a crazy thought...

TCM streaming pretty much matches what is shown on the HD channel.  With a streaming box and TV it looks almost identical, although to my eyes the effective frame rate may not be exactly the same (possibly smaller).  It is slightly different in a web browser - if you make the browser page wider to increase the size of the window, the vertical dimension of the movie frame is limited to around 632 pixels.  For widescreen movies, the actual size of the movie shown may be less than that as the letterbox dimensions apply within the frame.  Along with this size limit in the web browser, I don't think the picture quality of WatchTCM in a browser is as good as it is on a streaming device.  (There may be some additional scaling going on for the web browser to fit things in the window like this.)

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