Working with 16:9 Material in DVD Studio Pro

Posted on by Larry

[ This article was first published in the April, 2008, issue of
Larry’s Final Cut Pro Newsletter. Click here to subscribe. ]


Joseph Cochran sent in the following:

I’m currently finishing up a DVD for an independent film I shot in 16:9 anamorphic on a DVX100a SD camera. I’ve encoded the resulting footage as a 16:9 MPEG-2 streams accordingly. Ideally, I’d prefer to structure my DVD with the 16:9 footage in the Pan-Scan & letterbox display mode so that when it plays on HDTV sets, it will be able to utilize the entire 16:9 screen area. If I were to structure the DVD preferences simply in the 16:9 letterbox display mode instead, then it seems that not only would black letterbox bars appear on the top and bottom of the footage, but vertical black bars would also appear on the sides as well when playing back on HDTV’s–something I would like to avoid if at all possible. Furthermore, I’ve also read in several places that many, if not most, DVD players can recognize SD 16:9 (pan-scan & letterbox) wide screen DVD’s and automatically play them as letterboxed on NTSC TV sets. How true is this?

(So far, I’ve been able to test my pan-scan & letterbox DVD’s out on a few different DVD players and they seems for the most part to hold up… not to mention the numerous wide screen DVD’s that come out of the movie studio system. But I also realize that I’ve only been able to test a small fraction of the DVD players that are out there.)

The thing that gives me pause is that I was recently listening to your tutorial, “DVD Studio Pro 4 Essential Training” in which you suggested 16:9 letterbox display modes and preferences should be used as opposed to 16:9 pan-scan & letterbox display mode and preferences. Why is that?

Larry replies: Joe, thanks for writing.

Just to restate, there are four aspect ratios available inside DVD Studio Pro:

DVD Studio Pro

According to the DVD Studio Pro manual, these control how a 16:9 image is displayed on a 4:3 monitor.

Apple’s manual states:

Using 16:9 sources in your project raises a number of issues that you need to be aware of. Your main goal is to ensure that 16:9 assets play back correctly on 16:9 monitors and as expected on 4:3 monitors (and that 4:3 assets play correctly on both monitor types as well). Incorrect settings can lead to distorted video. For example, the video may appear horizontally compressed (objects look “skinny”) or expanded (objects look “fat”).

…The DVD specification and DVD Studio Pro require 16:9 video to be anamorphic. An anamorphic 16:9 video frame has the same number of pixels as a 4:3 video frame. When displayed on a 16:9 monitor, the frame is horizontally stretched to fit the screen, and the content appears normal.

…The most common error is to letterbox your 16:9 video assets before bringing them into DVD Studio Pro. Once a 16:9 asset has been letterboxed, it becomes a 4:3 asset with black bars along the top and bottom of the video image. If you flag letterboxed source video as 16:9 video when encoding it, you will have problems when you play it back later.

So, here’s the way this works:

Remember, these selections are used to determine how your 16:9 video plays back on a 4:3 monitor.

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5 Responses to Working with 16:9 Material in DVD Studio Pro

  1. Brian Barnes says:

    One of the key variables is that DVD players should be set up so that they know what aspect of screen is attached to them. In the setup menu you can normally set them to 16×9 or 4×3.
    Most people don’t bother so they are left to default. If the DVD player thinks it is playing into a 16×9 but it is in fact a 4×3 you can get issues, then it needs correcting on the TV remote.
    I am always amazed though at what people will actually watch, I can’t sit and watch something of the wrong ratio it does my head in.
    Too many years worrying about what is correct and what isn’t on set and in the edit suite!

  2. Larry Jordan says:


    I know – I spend all this time making my images look perfect, only to discover them being watched on a TV set with bad color and a speaker that doesn’t work.



  3. Eric Barstow says:

    hello Mr Jordan, I have been having incredible trouble with DVD Studio Pro. I have a video I shot in HD, edited in HD, exported using compressor DVD settings which gave me a 16:9 video.when I imported that video into DVD Studio Pro, and created my menus and everything, all looks well within the program. when I actually build and burn a DVD, I’d son play it on my DVD player which is connected to my standard definition television 4:3. when I look at it there, the picture is contained within the white screen ratio, but the picture still looks stretched. So I have black bars on top and on the bottom, but the picture within looks “fat”. What am I doing wrong here? Any insight would be greatly appreciated.

    • Larry Jordan says:


      Hmmm… Its probably a DVD Studio Pro Inspector setting that is off.

      First, look at the M2V file that Compressor created (it will be video-only so don’t panic if you can’t hear sound). Play the file in QuickTime player. Does the video look 16:9? Does it look OK? Does it play properly? If so, then your compression is probably fine and we can look at DVD Studio Pro itself.

      In DVD SP, select the DVD itself in the Output tab and make sure the Inspector is set to 16×9.

      Then, import the video into a track, select the track in the Output tab and make sure the Inspector is also set to 16×9.

      Somewhere in there a setting is incorrect. One of those three should fix it.


  4. Eric Barstow says:

    Hello Again Larry,

    In regards to your advice:
    “In DVD SP, select the DVD itself in the Output tab and make sure the Inspector is set to 16×9.

    Then, import the video into a track, select the track in the Output tab and make sure the Inspector is also set to 16×9.”

    I am confused on how to select the DVD itself and also, where the Output tab is located. I have scoured through the menus, and maybe it’s a case of not seeing the forest for the trees. It may be right under my nose. but could you give me assistance on how to find those spots you referred to? Thanks so much for your time.

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