A Widescreen Problem – Seinfeld on Netflix

After leaving its Hulu home of six years, Seinfeld has returned to streaming after a brief hiatus: The iconic ’90s sitcom now lives on Netflix. But while Netflix has upgraded the show to 4K in order to look better than ever, fans are pissed.

That’s because Netflix chose to update the show’s aspect ratio also, which, not only cuts off Jerry’s legendary sneakers, but in some cases, ruins visual jokes. See above in the pothole-less “pothole episode.”

You see, back in the day, TV screens were square. The reason for this? Because in the earliest days of the film camera, movies were square. As Kelly Conboy writes on A24’s blog, “the numbers ‘4:3′ describe the literal size of the film, meaning it was four-by-three inches on 35mm film stock.” But in 2021, the default aspect ratio for television is ’16:9.’

And this causes problems for many shows brought into the modern streaming pipeline. In fact, Disney+ had to provide viewers with a switch so The Simpsons could be watched in its original format. After all, as Allegra Frank points out at Slate, “taking a show that was meant to be seen one way and rejiggering it to be seen a whole different way can be quite jarring.”

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