Wednesday, January 26, 2005

MGM DVD Class Action Lawsuit

MGM has settled a class action lawsuit about marketing DVDs as widescreen, when they were actually Pan&Scan with the top and bottom chopped off. Replacements are being offered through a tortorous process detailed at the MGM site on the class action suit.

The DVD list includes hundreds of films like Y Tu Mama Tambien, the Rocky films, Raging Bull, Terminator, Hannibal, the James Bond films and many more.

As per the settlement notice,
Class Members have the right to return to the Claims Administrator one copy of each DVD title manufactured by or on behalf of MGM which was created for a film shot in the aspect ratio of 1.85 to 1 or 1.66 to 1 (“Eligible DVD”) for either
(1) a new MGM DVD from a list of 325 titles or
(2) a cash refund of $7.10.

If you are eligible to participate in the Settlement, the Claims Administrator will send you a Proof of Claim Form, a List of MGM DVD Titles and a postage pre-paid mailing label which is sufficient to allow you to return the Proof of Claim Form and each Eligible DVD to the Claims Administrator.

The retailers named in the suit are:


A good definition of Pan&Scan, etc from
What does 2.35:1 and 1.85:1 mean? Why do I have Black Bars on my TV? What is Anamorphic, Widescreen or 16 x 9?
Aspect ratio refers to the width to height ratio of a film's presentation. Most home televisions are 4x3 (also expressed 4:3). Films, however, are presented in a variety of very different sizes. Armageddon, for instance, is in 2.35:1 (when you watch this film in its widescreen presentation, you will see that it is approximately 2.35 times as wide as it is tall), while As Good As It Gets is in 1.85:1.

Newer, high-definition TVs have an aspect ratio of 16:9, much closer to the size of an actual movie screen, and can therefore impressively accommodate the video output from your DVD player!

So if you don't have a 16:9 TV, does that mean you can't enjoy your DVD movies? Of course not! Your 4:3 TV will present your DVD movies in their original aspect ratios (provided that such a transfer is actually on the disc) by means of "letterboxing." Letterboxing simply means that the image on your TV is "boxed" by black bars of varying size (depending upon the aspect ratio of the movie you're watching) at the top and bottom of the screen. Though some people don't like watching letterboxed movies on their 4:3 TVs, most videophiles find it highly preferable as they get to see the movie as the filmmaker intended it to be seen.

Which brings us to Pan & Scan, the alternative to letterboxing, and Full Frame. Pan & Scan is a method of transferring a film to video in which a camera is "panned" back and forth over a film, thereby "scanning" so that the video transfer will contain the most important elements of the original film. What are the most important elements? Well, that's a might touchy question. The Pan & Scan version of a film will usually concentrate on the center of action, or on elements central to the plot, i.e. on the person speaking, on the killer's knife entering the edge of the screen, or on the Death Star exploding. As you might imagine, quite a bit of detail gets left out completely, sometimes as much as 50% of the originally filmed image! Sadly, most anything you rent on VHS has been panned and scanned.

Though "widescreen" and "letterbox" are usually used interchangeably, there is a big difference in "Full Frame" and "Pan & Scan." Films presented in Full Frame were originally shot that way, i.e. matted for presentation in roughly the aspect ratio of a 4:3 TV. An example of a Full Frame movie is Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket.

This is effectively a frivolous lawsuit that's got lucky - from various discussion boards, one finds this may be a case of confusing advertising rather than deliberate fraud. Nevertheless, jump the hoops if you qualify - before March 31, 2005.
Look on the back (or booklet) of certain older MGM releases, and there's a little graphic that tries to explain widescreen. It shows a frame from the movie, and it looks like the "widescreen" version of a movie offers more image than the "fullscreen." (It's a little widescreen frame with the "fullscreen" part of it framed off.)

The problem is, when you're dealing films that were shot flat (1.85:1 or 1.66:1) the widescreen transfer is (usually) soft-matted from a 1.37:1 image. So the matted widescreen transfer DOES NOT offer more image than the unmatted fullscreen.

There is nothing wrong with any of the transfers, only that the way MGM marked the packaging in an erroneous manner when trying to explain the benefits of widescreen.

And, yes, while the information about widescreen isn't wholly accurate, it's still a silly lawsuit. The widescreen transfers appear as they should

However, according to the proposed settlement, they didn't chop anything. They merely distributed the same content as both P&S and widescreen, despite the aspect ratio/image width being identical. As opposed to just labeling the same case as both.

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