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TK's MORNING BUZZ: Studios That Have Dropped the Pan-and-Scan Version of Movies So They Can Add More Special Features Onto a DVD Are Making a Serious Mistake

19 Jun, 2001 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Sometimes consumers don't know what's good for them, but when that happens, why not give them what they want?

Throughout history, there have been examples of products that have failed even though everything mapped out perfectly on paper, while other products you'd think would never fly ended up soaring into the stratosphere of consumer delight.

Pet rocks and chia pets -- useless, downright stupid, and yet everyone wanted one. Just think if manufacturers had ignored the tide of public opinion, rejected these gizmos on principle and refused to make them any longer?

That's where we stand right now with DVD and the nemesis of DVD purists, pan-and-scan.

Now, those of us in the industry pretty much agree that pan-and-scan is a bastardization -- and the sooner it's phased out, the better. Movies look much better in widescreen because they're made for the wide screens in movie theaters. The consumer electronics industry has caught on, and you're finally starting to see the change on the flat-screen and HDTV-ready TV sets that are now being rolled out.

And yet the masses are happy as a clam with their regular old Trinitons and Zeniths, and can't figure out why so many of the movies they buy for their new $99 DVD players have those annoying black bars on the top and bottom of the screen.

Personally, I'm as big a fan of widescreen as the next Tekkie Geek. I like seeing movies the way they were intended to be seen, and even though I have yet to graduate to a new widescreen set I still appreciate getting the whole picture and not some cropped-off or squeezed-in facsimile.

But I can also sympathize with the people who like the status quo, who prefer pan-and-scan no matter how much they're told it's no good, who don't care beans that they're missing part of the picture because this is the way they've always watched movies on TV and dang if they're going to change now because some people in Hollywood want them to.

So here's a vote in favor of pleasing all the people all the time by continuing to offer both choices on DVD, the pan-and-scan and the widescreen.

Five years from now, when HDTV becomes a reality, I think widescreen will finally have its shot at mass acceptance. But in the meantime, why not utilize the capacity on DVD and make both options available?

I've heard the arguments that there's just so much space on DVDs, and that consumers demand special features. But lately, I think there's been some overkill. Do we really need five documentaries, six running commentaries from everyone from the director down to the key grip, and three hours of deleted scenes? I think there's a happy medium here, and the studios that have dropped the pan-and-scan version so they can pack more special features onto a disc are making a serious mistake.

There's a lot to be said for keeping the customer satisfied. Just ask the retailers -- they're on the front lines, and from what I'm hearing the news from the front is loud and clear: We want our pan-and-scan.

Comments? Contact TK directly at:TKArnold@aol.com

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