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Digital Life: Sexpo and the wide-screen TV

All right, now that I have your attention, let me fill you in on a little lesson I learned at the Sexpo Health, Sexuality and Lifestyle Exhibition last weekend.

Pam Carroll

All right, now that I have your attention, let me fill you in on a little lesson I learned at the Sexpo Health, Sexuality and Lifestyle Exhibition last weekend.

Get your mind out of the gutter -- this is a family friendly Web site. And no, I did not go to Sexpo with a shopping list, but primarily to catch up with a friend from Queensland who was in town to exhibit her company's line of specialty lingerie.

Her story of how two suburban women built a business from scratch into a powerhouse that dominates a lucrative, virtually recession-proof market niche is an inspiration to entrepreneurial women everywhere -- on ya Shazza.

But enough justification for my presence there and back to something I can wrap into context for the digital home. It's this: once you go widescreen, there's no turning back.

Content aside, while strolling around the exhibition hall, you could not help but notice that those stands utilising widescreen monitors to promote their products and services created a big impact.

The aspect ratio for widescreen TVs is 16:9 which yields roughly 30 percent more width than a standard "square screen" TV, which has an aspect ratio of 4:3.

Widescreen images are more suited to the natural field of vision of the human eye and the vast majority of films made today are shot in widescreen aspect ratios, meaning that the shape of the film image itself is much wider than the screen of your square CRT TV.

There have been two main alternatives for transferring widescreen movies for home 4:3 video: pan & scan or letterbox. The problem with either solution is that as much as 50 percent of the film's original image can be lost in the process, not to mention that the beauty of the artistic composition and movement within the frame is destroyed.

Widescreen TV sets were first commercially available in the early 1990s, but until the relatively recent explosion of the widescreen (anamorphic) DVD market, there was a lack of source material to take advantage of the improved capabilities. In addition to DVDs, digital television programming, both SD and HD is in 16:9 format, so the move to widescreen television now has broad global broadcasting and film distribution support.

We are currently in a state of transition between "square screen" and widescreen systems, but don't be tempted to buy a new 4:3 set, no matter how good the deal -- they are rapidly going the way of the Dodo bird.

If you don't want to splash out big bucks for an LCD or plasma TV, note too that widescreen does not mean the same thing as digital. Although they both share the same 16:9 aspect ratio, analog widescreen TVs do not handle digital signals natively, so when you're ready to take that plunge, you'll have to buy a separate digital receiver (set top box) to pick up digital broadcasts. Until such time, you can use your analog widescreen TV to watch a vastly improved picture from anamorphic DVDs.

Oh, and to prove my point, I took a quick jaunt through the (less confronting) Sydney Boat Show on at Darling Harbour today.  Sure enough, there were exhibitors there with widescreen video screens ablaze with jazzier boats, more sparkles on the water, bigger fish…..

For more information on aspect ratios, you can check out CNET.com.au's "Quick Guide to Aspect Ratios."