I don’t really use my iPhone 3G as a multimedia hub but I do admit that it is a really handy way of watching your favorite episodic TV shows or movie clips whenever you are away from home or whenever you need to just kill some time off the clock. One of the most irritating things that I had to go through back then was whenever I watch widescreen or any other videos that were not properly formatted to be viewed on an iPhone. I’m sure you folks know what I’m talking about. You know, the videos where there is a black bar either to the top and bottom or right and left of it? Well, I’ve been using a very simple method of converting my videos that will be able to utilize the full screen of my iPhone 3G and so that’s what I’ll go over here. That’s right folks. We’re going to get rid of those irritating black bars once and for all!
What’s the Deal with the Black Bars?
This is definitely a sensitive subject for many videophile’s out there, believe or not. What many of us common users simply label as the “black bars” have been a very confusing subject matter for quite some time now. Quite frankly, I don’t understand too much of it as well. What I do know however, is that the film producers didn’t “purposely” place those black bars on there just to irritate the viewers! There is actually a good reason for why they are there. This reason, from my limited understanding on this this subject matter, is due to aspect ratio. In a nutshell, in order for the film producer to fit everything on screen for you to see as it was “originally” intended to (when it was filmed or how the director wanted you to watch the movie the way “they” wanted you to see it), black bars are needed to accomplish this in certain scenarios.
Have you ever tried to watch a TV channel on standard definition on a widescreen HDTV? Those channels have a aspect ratio of usually 4:3. Your widescreen TV has a aspect ratio of 16:9, usually. Therefore, if you wanted to watch that standard channel the way it was “originally” intended to be watched (on big box TVs), you’ll get two huge black bars to either side of the picture. This makes the picture appear as a square’ish shape, similar to older TVs and not a rectangle shape like newer channels meant for widescreen HDTV viewing. However, we can still “force” the square shaped looking channel into a rectangle by adjusting the aspect ratio (most HDTV’s allow you to do this). We are then essentially “stretching” the picture so that it fills the entire screen, therefore, eliminating the black bars. Look at the example screenshot below to get an idea of what I mean:
This is exactly what we will be doing to our videos before importing them into our iPhones. If you have a widescreen video, you might be wondering whether or not the video quality will decrease since we will be stretching the video. The answer is yes, it will. However, there is one important factor that you must understand. That is, the iPhone screen is already so small that stretching the video just a bit is not a big difference maker (other than the fact that you will be getting rid of the black bar plague). In fact, the screen size was one of the main reason why I always convert my videos before viewing it on my iPhone. The iPhone screen is already so small and so when you add the black bars, the viewing area will become even smaller!
Alright, so if you are like me and don’t really care about all that aspect ratio technical jargon but just want to know how to get rid of those irritating black bars in your videos, then let’s get started!The method shown here should work for all iPhone generations except for the recently released iPhone 4 since the resolution and/or aspect ratio of the screen is different. However, I can’t be for sure as I don’t have one to test it on. If you have an iPhone 4, please let me know if this method works or not. Thanks.
In order to convert our video for proper iPhone viewing, we will be using one of my favorite multimedia conversion freewares, Format Factory. Simply download and install the program. Quick note: after the actual installation of Format Factory, please be sure to uncheck the offers Format Factory tries to make on your computer.
Once Format Factory is running, click on the “All to Mobile Device” button under the Video category.
In the new window that appears, select the “Apple iPhone and iPod” listing. In the choices below, select the “iPhone 480×320 MPEG4″ option.
On the right side of that same window, under Setting, you’ll see a bunch of options and drop-down menus that you can configure for the video you wish to convert. The only, and only option you need to change here in order to get rid of the black bars is “Aspect Ratio”. Find it and in the resulting drop-down menu, select 4:3 from the list. That’s it. Once you made the setting hit the OK button.
In the new pop-up window, you can start adding the video(s) you wish to convert by hit the “Add File” button.
Now in order to show you a before and after, the sample video I used was just a simple Youtube video I downloaded in MP4 format. Here is a screenshot of the video without any conversion done to it. As you can see, there are the two black bars. Also notice the logo location I highlighted in red.
Some users might be wondering why don’t I just use the zoom function in the video player to fill my screen up. Well, I tried that and this is what I see. Notice how a small portion of the video is cut off due to the zoom effect as evident by the new logo location.
OK, back in Format Factory, once you got the video added to the list, hit OK. You’ll now be taken back into Format Factory’s main menu interface. You’ll also see the videos you have just added. To start the conversion, simply hit the Start button at the top. Remember, the total video conversion time varies as it depends on a lot of different factors. For example, your computer hardware specs, video size, video quality, etc.
Once the conversion process has completed, you can now import the video to your iPhone either through iTunes or Sharepod.
Viewing the video again on my iPhone, you can see that without having to zoom in, the entire picture filled the screen and there are no black bars present! In fact, the zoom button doesn’t even work anymore!
In the End…
Although the iPhone’s screen is relatively small, I can’t recount the many times I laid in bed at night watching a movie on it with my headphones on! Because of the small screen, it’s easy to see why users would want every inch of the display to be used when viewing a movie or video clip. Technical videophiles may laugh and explain how black bars are needed to maintain the aspect ratio or whatever but you know what, I really don’t care! All I want is to be able to watch my movie on my iPhone screen in the best possible way. On big screen HDTV’s I understand it is important to keep the aspect ratio since stretching the picture would be too noticeable but on a small screen like the iPhone, you can damn well bet that I’m using every pixel on it!