Video Watchdog
Glossary of Technical Terms

ALIASING - Instances of pictorial flaws in a moving image—such as slowing, blurring, frame-skipping or sawtoothing (as when a smooth edge appears jagged as the camera pans along it)—caused either by inadequate bit rate in the authoring of a DVD, or by the limited resolution of an NTSC transfer.

ARTIFACTING - Visual distortion that occurs as a result of the compression of video information on DVD. This can take the form of noisy colors, tiling, image breakup, etc.

ASPECT RATIO - The camera gauge at which a film is shot, as measured by the ratio of a frame's width to its height.

AUTHORING - The translation of a film element to a digital medium such as DVD. Authoring may also refer to the intelligence behind the overall DVD presentation, including bit rate, menu design, Easter Eggs, and so forth.

BIT RATE - The measure of data assigned to a digital media, typically measured per second. DVD recorders typically allow a blank DVD-R media disc to be recorded at bit rates analogous to VHS recording: SP (2 hour), LP (4 hour), EP (6 hour)—the picture and sound quality decreasing as more information is accommodated; some recorders also offer a "flexible rate," which allows the recorder to adjust its own playback speed based on how much material is being recorded. Nearly all professional DVD releases are recorded in the flexible mode.

CROPBOXING - Coined by Tim Lucas, this term refers to transfers that are incorrectly letterboxed or matted on video, thus covering up more information than they reveal. An example would be the earliest widescreen laserdisc release of THE ABYSS, a 2.35:1 film which was formatted at 1.85.

DTS - Developed by Digital Theater Systems, this is a remarkably pure surround sound option first introduced to home video on the laserdisc release of JURASSIC PARK. Audibly richer and more present than Dolby Digital, which had the initial audio foothold in home video, DTS Sound is now being automatically included on an increasing number of new DVD releases. It requires the use of a special signal-decoding receiver, all of which also play back Dolby Digital signals as well. For anyone who has invested in a multi-speaker home entertainment system, the addition of a DTS decoding receiver is highly recommended.

EASTER EGG - Surprise bonus content hidden in an unmarked area of a DVD menu screen.

FPS - Frames Per Second. All NTSC video (the standard in North America and Japan) unreels at 24 fps, the same speed at which motion picture film is projected. PAL video (the European standard), on the other hand, plays at a slightly faster speed of 25 fps speed. Consequently, the same film will play shorter in PAL than in NTSC, even if it is absolutely uncut.

FULLFRAME - Bound for antiquity, this is a misleading word rooted in the misinterpretation of letterboxing. "Fullframe" typically refers to a standard video presentation—that is, a picture that fills the entire screen of a square television monitor. A "fullframe" transfer, however, typically crops the left and right periphery of a typical 35mm motion picture frame, or exposes upper and lower parts of the frame that were meant to be covered by soft-matting. With widescreen television screens becoming more popular, "fullscreen" becomes an even more erroneous word, as a "fullframe" presentation occupies only a square in the middle of the wide television screen. VIDEO WATCHDOG has discontinued its use of this word, replacing it with the word that appears on most square-pictured DVDs: "standard."

GATEFLOAT - Indicates a wavering of the film element from side to side as it runs through a projector or telecine, caused by shrinkage.

GHOSTING - When a moving object leaves a hazy after-impression of its movements in its wake; usually the result of a poor film-to-video transfer.

GRAIN - Coarse, spotty image quality, usually caused when a scene is photographed in underlighted environments. Picture grain has been virtually eliminated from the cinematography of more recent motion pictures, but it was common through the 1980s and should not always be interpreted as the fault of a video or digital transfer. Some film preservationists argue that, although grain can now be digitally eliminated from a video transfer, to do so is to distort for posterity a film's original photographic values.

HIGH DEFINITION - A DVD transfer encoded to disc with the highest possible bit rate, typically with a single feature spread out over an entire RSDL (Reverse Spiral Dual Layer) disc, rather than fitting it on half the available space in order to accommodate a wide variety of extras. Also known as "Super Bit."

LETTERBOXING - The widescreen presentation of a film on video, so called because someone once compared it to viewing something through a mailslot. On a regular television monitor, a letterboxed image appears with black or colored matte bars above and below the image; on a widescreen television, a letterboxed image will fill the entire screen. This term will likely become antiquated when widescreen televisions become the norm, as no "boxing" will then be apparent.

PAN&SCAN - A process by which a widescreen film is presented in cropped form on video, showing only 2/3 to 1/2 of the available frame at any one time, but can adjust which detail of the frame to view by skating (or cutting) from one side of the frame to the other. In the case of cutting, a pan&scan transfer imposes a completely new editing rhythm on a film that can make a mockery of the editor's original intentions, no say nothing of those of its cinematographer. Nowadays, pan&scan transfers are most commonly seen on TV broadcasts and older videocassettes.

PILLARBOXING - The proper 16:9 presentation of a film source with an aspect ratio of 166:1. In previous DVD releases, whenever a 16:9 transfer was made of a 1.66:1 ratio film, a measure of the top and bottom of the image had to be cropped to fill the standard 1.78:1 dimensions of a widescreen television. Pillarboxing specifically refers to having the black bars formerly seen at the top and bottom of a letterboxed presentation consigned to the left and right periphery, to maintain the integrity of standard framing in the age of widescreen. Coined by Criterion in 2003.

SUBWOOFER - A special speaker, easily added to a stereo surround receiver, which is especially designed to deliver low frequencies, enhancing the presence of bass in the home theater experience.

TILING - This describes an instance of digital image corruption that reduces the image into a pattern of connected or free-floating cubes.

WIDESCREEN - Technically, any motion picture framing wider than 1.66:1, the most frequent being 1.85 and 2.35 (anamorphic).