Ask a Pro
Why Do I Have Black Bars on my TV?
Consumer wonders why he's seeing black bars at top and bottom of TV.
August 13, 2009 by CE Pro

Q. I just got a Toshiba SD Home Theatre TV, and when I watch a movie or cable, I have a black bar at the top and bottom of the screen.

In other words, it doesn’t fill up the entire area of the screen.

Sabine Stochastic offers this advice via CE Pro:

A. You might want to check out some information on different aspect ratios.

First of all, what aspect ratio is your TV? Also, what is the aspect ratio of the media you are playing?

Let’s assume you’re playing 2.35:1 on a non-2.35:1 TV. The TV is making up for the difference by scaling down and masking (adding black bars to) the entire image. That means that you are in fact seeing the entire image. The image just isn’t the full size of your screen.

The program materials (movies) are created with theater aspect ratios in mind. Those ratios are then accounted for on the consumer market by black bars (masking).

That means it could cut the black bars off of your TV, but then when you switch back to regular TV (4.3:1 aspect ratio), which doesn’t have the black bars, the image would need the space to make it the right size and not cut out material.

Another way to look at it is your TV was made for multi-aspect ratio use — switching between different aspect ratios with the limitation that you can only go as big as your smallest aspect ratio will allow, not as big as your TV manufacturer told you it would.

Hope this helps and doesn’t confuse you further.

CE Pro senior editor Robert Archer also chimed in:

It could be a few things. If the TV is a 4:3 or 1.33:1, meaning nearly square, it’s a different aspect ratio than a typical widescreen plasma or LCD TV, which is 16:9 or 1.78:1.

That would cause you to have black bars when watching programming intended for 16:9 TV on a 4:3 TV.

The other cause may be a menu setting. There may be an aspect ratio shape setting on the TV. Set it to 16:9. These settings may be called full screen (4:3) or normal (16:9).

Any movies on DVD or Blu-ray may result in black bars, too, if they are in cinema-type aspect ratios of 1.85:1 or 2.39:1. These movies are much wider than a 16:9 and 4:3 screen.

If that’s the case, look to buy movies that are marked as full screen.

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