How to easily get the Cinemascope look in your living room !

Do you want to achieve that cinemascope look when you are watching movies in your living room? I wanted to share how I have setup my cinemascope screen in my home and what things are needed to get yours set up.

When you watch a cinemascope movie on your Tv or 16:9 projector screen you will end up with black bars. Most movies have a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, also called 21:9. There are also an increasing number of tv shows that are shot in this format. Probably because they want to have that cinematic look and feel. But it can look annoying if you have a normal screen.

Image from https://www.zuggsoft.com

Not so pretty and it makes most movies smaller than your regular Tv shows. Luckily there is a solution to this problem. What you need is a cinemascope projector screen and an anamorphic lens, or using the zoom method.

How does an anamorphic lens work?

A lens uses 2 glass elements and by adjusting the angles you can bend the outgoing beam of light and magnify it. The light goes through the lens and the horizontal width is stretched 133% This makes it look like this which is not right.

Image from https://www.zuggsoft.com

In order for the picture to look correct you need to activate a function in the projector that stretches the image vertically. As you can see the proportions are now correct and fits the screen perfectly.

Image from https://www.zuggsoft.com

Below in my Optoma projector combined with an Panamorph u480 lens. You can also use a sled that moves the lens out of place when watching regular 16:9 content. But a motorized sled can be very costly. The alternatives is to use a fixed installation. In my opinion there is not much, if any reduction in picture quality, at least not when watching 1080p content.

cinemascope projector lens

Not every projector has a support for this stretch function, most Optoma projectors as well as JVC and Sony has support for a lens. Some Epson projector do but not the cheaper ones.

The cheapest option – a DIY lens

A diy lens is the cheapest option if you want to experience the cinemascope look in your home. This link shows detailed info on how to build an anamorphic lens

The shortcomings of using this lens are:

Chromatic Aberration

This distortion causes the edges of the screen to be blurry. It can also cause a colored edge to some objects because the light beam starts to get split more into a rainbow.

Image from https://www.zuggsoft.com

Pincushion distortion

This is a distortion that causes the horizontal lines to be sagging towards the center relative to the edges at the top and bottom of the image. Some of this effect can be seen at the sides too but not as prominent. You can hide this distortion in the screen black borders If you position the projectors image correctly. The first picture shows a very slight pincushion distortion and the other shows the distortion hidden in the borders.

slight pincushion distortion on cinemascope screen
slight pincushion distortion
Pincushion effect hidden in black borders on cinemascope screen
Pincushion effect hidden in black borders

Better quality with a commercial lens

A commercial lens has better optics which produces a better picture. The Panamorph u480 that I’m currently have uses a cylindrical technology that almost eliminates the chromatic aberration and makes the corners sharp. Colors will look normal too. Commercial lenses can be very costly so the best option is to get a used lens. A good place to look for used lenses are the classified section at avsforums and also at ebay

4k and anamorphic lenses

If you play 4k content and are using a 4k projector such as the Sony VPL-VW260ES or the Epson 5050ub you might need an even better lens. The u480 was made for 1080p content and many users that have used their old lenses with newer projectors have reported the image to be visibly softer and duller. The Paladin DCR lens is 4k approved but the prices are not consumer friendly since a new lens costs 8995$. So if you have a 4k projector and want to have a cinemascope experience you can try the zoom method instead.

The Zoom method – Pros and Cons

This method works by zooming the projectors image so that the black bars are outside the projector screen. There are some pros and cons of using this method.

Pros

You avoid pincushion effects, chromatic aberration, color distortions and other problems that come with using an anamorphic lens. 

The image don´t need to go through a lens so there is no degradation in picture quality.

You don’t need to buy a lens and can use that money on a better quality projector or projector screen.

Cons

You need to be able to project a very large image on the wall, which means that you need a long room. If you want to project a 120 inch cinemascope image that means that the total image needs to be 126 inch ( black bars in this example is 6 inches ). The room length needs to be on average 4 meters with maximum zoom. So this method might not work if you have a short room length. Every projector is different, check out this projector calculator for exact results for your projector.

You are not taking advantage of the full resolution of the projector, the resolution in the black bars are wasted. This matters mostly with a 1080p projector, if you are using 4K content with a 4k projector this difference becomes smaller and perhaps not noticeable. The resolution is still more than 3,5 times that of 1080p.

Subtitles are sometimes displayed in the black bars, depending on which streaming services or if you are using physical discs, sometimes the position can be moved, but if they can´t you need to disable them, because they will be displayed outside the projection screen.

The walls in your room need to be of the darker colors preferably, at least not white because that will make the black bars stand out more. Below is a picture of a cinemascope movie projected onto a light brown wall with black bars top and bottom. They are barely visibly against the light brown color, and the other picture is a when using a lens ( no black bars ). As you can see there is not much difference them. With a lighter wall color the black bars will be more visible. And also if you have more ambient light in the room.

widescreen movie black bars
Black bars top and bottom
widescreen movie anamorphic lens
Lens used ( no black bars )

A Cinemascope Screen

The third thing you need is a Cinemascope screen which is wider than a normal screen. Its also called 2.35:1 or 2.39:1. You can buy one or save a little money and build one yourself. Depending on your room conditions you can use either a white screen ( dedicated room ) or an ALR screen ( living room ). If you have some degree of woodworking experience you can construct one yourself. Check out grey vs white projector screen for a comparison between these two screens.

Keep in mind that using this screen you will end up with empty space on the sides when watching 16:9 content. If you find this annoying you can add some masking panels on the sides. Here you can also go the diy route or buy some finished panels. When attached they look like this.

masking panels on cinemascope screen
Image from http://www.acousticfrontiers.com

The end result

My current setup is an Optoma 1080p projector with a Panamorph u480 lens. I bought a used lens and attached it in front of the projector. In my case I can’t use the zoom method since I only have 3 meters ( 10ft ) from projector to screen. If I plan to upgrade to a 4k projector in the future I will probably find a way to use the zoom method when watching Cinemascope movies. But for now I’m enjoying this setup.

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