Watching Movies on the iPhone 5

I’ll admit it… I have, on occasion, actually watched a movie or two on my iPhone.  Forgive me David Lynch

(Hell, I’ll even condemn myself to a deeper circle of hell by admitting that I actually watched one of the most glorious wide-screen movies ever – Lawrence of Arabia* – on an iPhone while flying to Jordan earlier this year.   Of course I’ve seen it more than a few times already, but still…)

So even though it’s far from my preferred viewing scenario, all this talk about the alleged size-change of the next-generation iPhone got me to thinking about how that extra real-estate would affect movie-watching on such a device.

The rumormongers all seem to have hit consensus that the next iPhone will keep the same width of 640 pixels, but will extend the height from the current 4S value of 960 up to 1137 pixels.  Do the math on that and you’ll find that the screen is about 18% bigger.  ( i.e. [640*1136]/[640*960] = 1.18333 times larger.)

But there’s more to the story when you actually sit down to watch a movie, because every movie has a specific aspect-ratio  that will be fit into the screen you’re viewing it on.  So if we’re looking at something like The Godfather on our iPhone 4S (assuming our digital file is in the correct 1.85:1 aspect ratio that the original movie was shot in), it will be scaled to be the maximum width of the display and then ‘letterboxed’ top and bottom with black.  Here’s an example of what this looks like (only instead of letterboxing with black bars I’ve made them a dark gray so you can see them better).

Now let’s look at the same movie on a taller (which, when we turn it sideways becomes wider) new device.

The aspect ratio of the movie stays the same but because the aspect ratio of the phone is much wider the image fits much better into the space we’ve got.  And thus the letterbox bars on top and bottom are much smaller.

Raiders of the Lost Ark?

Much nicer, eh?  In fact, even though the display is only 18% bigger, the fact that our widescreen movies fit so much nicer into the frame actually means that they’re a whopping 40% bigger.

Of course if you’re watching Gilligan’s island – a show that was shot in the typical television aspect ratio of 1:33:1 (i.e. 4:3) it doesn’t buy you anything because the other dimension is the limiting factor.

(Not to denigrate 4:3 by associating it only with Gilligan, by the way. Casablanca, Citizen Kane, Wizard of Oz… all 4:3)

But for the most part this new aspect ratio is a really nice perk for the movie-watcher.  Here’s one more example using Game of Thrones which was shot with the HDTV standard aspect ratio of 16:9.  This is almost exactly the aspect ratio of the alleged new iPhone and so it will now fit perfectly (i.e. without any letterboxing at all).

Personally, I’m looking forward to it.  Just don’t tell David Lynch.

(Caveat:  It’s worth noting that, depending on where you get your movies from, you might find different aspect ratios than what I’ve mentioned above.  Many movies are remastered to different aspect ratios depending on their intended release platform – DVD, iTunes, whatever.  If you’re watching a rip of a DVD from 1990, all bets are off)

Also, completely unrelated to this article, feel free to go grab a copy of my FreezePaint iPhone app, which is already tonz o’ fun and which will be at least 40% MORE FUN on the iPhone 5.  Guaranteed.

(*speaking of Lawrence of Arabia, while I was grabbing some images for this blogpost I came across this, which is completely unrelated to aspect ratios or iphones but was just too awesome not to post.  Click to make bigger.  Didn’t find it with any attribution so if anybody knows who did it I’ll be happy to credit them).


2 thoughts on “Watching Movies on the iPhone 5

  1. It’s always nice if the video fill the entire screen and you are right on the aspect ratio thing..but if you want to manipulate your video, we can do that with proper encoders to crop on sides or black bars to fit the screen and keep the aspect ratio..

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