Sometimes the aspect ratio of a movie or television show doesn't match the aspect ratio of the television or viewing device. The solution to this is either letterboxing or cropping (pan and scan).

One justification for pan and scan instead of letterboxing is because VHS tapes have low resolution and letterboxing would exacerbate the problem. However there have not been any major VHS releases in a long time and in addition lots of people now have a high definition or even an ultra high definition (4K) TV or monitor rendering this justification irrelevant.

In addition all televisions and DTV converter boxes I used have the option to zoom into the video for people who don't like letterboxing.

Also sometimes someone must review each scene and best decide how to crop it which means that pan and scan has a higher cost associated with it than letterboxing. This does not apply when center cropping the entire program.

Another thing often times pan and scan releases anger fans of whatever was cropped which could result in a loss of revenue.

Also unless the program was intentionally framed for multiple aspect ratios, it's not what the people working on it intended meaning that important things may get removed from the program.

As a specific example of this. Seinfeld has been cropped to fill a 16:9 frame. The result of this is that everything looks zoomed in too much. It almost feels like I'm invading their personal space. In my opinion watching cropped Seinfeld is a terrible experience. Something "feels" wrong when I'm watching this. Of course this is only my own personal opinion. Maybe lots of people prefer the other way around but I've only been able to find people against cropping Seinfeld and when I research if people prefer or don't like pan and scan I find largely negative sentiment associated with pan and scan instead of letterboxing. There seem to be many people who have a very strong opinion in favor of letterboxing over pan and scan.

With all that said why are we still seeing pan and scan releases today?

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    Presumably because the TV network disagrees with you and presents the show in the format that they think their audience prefers. People don't complain about things they like so negative opinions are always more prevalent that positive ones.
    – Paulie_D
    Aug 2, 2020 at 11:05
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    @Paulie_D the concept of not hearing from people who prefer cropping makes sense. The question still remains. What about the zoom option on most TVs? You can't uncrop something but you can always crop it further. It seems like everyone would be happy with letterboxing and zooming in if someone prefers pan and scan. Why force it on everyone? Aug 2, 2020 at 12:12
  • I think you're making a pretty big assumption people even know about the zoom or fill functions on newer TVs. (Also, plenty of people don't have newer TVs.)
    – pboss3010
    Aug 4, 2020 at 16:03

1 Answer 1


It seems that a lot of directors are really against pan and scan because it changes their directorial vision and leaves out important scenes/information. There were even lawsuits with famous directors. Steven Spielberg even refused to release a pan and scan version for one of his films. I think they have made some steps to change this with letterboxing as you mentioned, and recently formatted for HDTVs. I don't know why they don't change this on TV programs, but I have a feeling it is because they have used this for decades and don't have a breakthrough solution to replace the pan and scan.

  • > "[D]on't have a breakthough solution to replace the pan and scan". Isn't letterboxing the breakthrough solution? Aug 2, 2020 at 23:35

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