Please, Don't Use Black Bars on Videos Anymore

Have you used black bars or a so called "envelope" when editing your videos to make them look "more cinematic?" Just stop doing that. This tutorial shows you how to achieve the same effect but in a proper manner.

There's a widespread, unspoken opinion that 16:9 is overrated these days. We want to get widescreen aspect ratios because this is mostly related to big screen movies. To do that we usually add black bars which are an integrated functionality in most of our video editing applications. The problem with this approach is that the black areas at the top and bottom of the screen are not changing the aspect ratio of the video, but conceal parts of it. What's wrong with that? When maximized, the width of your rendered footage may not fit the width of a display which has a wider aspect ratio than your video. Here's an example:

Wrong way of changing video aspect ratiosThe video height will match the height of your display and the width of your video won't have the opportunity to shine in its full aspect ratio glory on a real widescreen display. Working on a project that has that aspect ratio from the very beginning is the way to go.

For more great tips on all things video, head over to EposVox's YouTube channel.

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14 Comments

16mm Camera's picture

Peter McKinnon isn't going to like this too much ;)

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

Well, most of us have been guilty of doing it this way :)

Greg G's picture

Netflix does this. I have a 17:9 display and it makes me so mad when a movie on Netflix uses black bars to force it to 16:9, and I end up with a black frame all the way around! Grrr...

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

Whoa. I thought they were pro's...

Tor Ivan Boine's picture

21:9 monitor here. big black bars on all the sides. but I found a chrome plugin that can zoom in. works on youtube as well. not the best solution, but it is the only solution ...

Daniel Haußmann's picture

I disagree with the method here. It makes your life more complicated. E.g. the Warp Stabilizer only works natively if you provide footage that has the same resolution as the sequence. So you are forced to start nesting, which is something I want to avoid at any cost.

Instead I use the (21:9) black bars to preview the framing in the 16:9 sequence and I have export presets that crops the black bars away on rendering.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

You have 2 choices here:
1) Make your life easier
2) Make the audience's life easier

You're doing it for the audience after all.

You can always apply the Warp Stabilizer and export the video or make a composite (depending on your editor) and then work with it as a self-contained unit applying the changes suggested in the video.

Daniel Haußmann's picture

I think I did not make my method clear. I export a video in 21:9 aspect ratio as well. I do not export it with black bars. The difference is - I use a 16:9 sequence that matches my footage + black bars to preview the framing while editing.

PLUS: When exporting I use a preset that crops the 16:9 video to the 21:9 aspect ratio. So my output never has any black bars.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

That's clear now. Thanks for letting me and the other readers know.

Adam T's picture

If you need to render for broadcast or anything other than online web uploads then I recommend not listening to this man.

Most traffic departments will reject any ratio outside of the 16:9 so you'll have to add the black bars.
New TV will also squash and stretch content and not add your blacks to them. When you see modified for TV, they basically take wide and scale that down to edging which automatically gives you black but is also baked in.

This is one of those videos that is correct for one usage and terribly wrong for others.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

That's why making videos for TV and broadcast has to be accompanied by contacting the media not only for their aspect ratio, but also for the file format and encoding. When they tell you their requirements, you export for their requirements. Some media reject not only non-16:9, but also H.264 (for example).

In all other cases, when you export for the general internet public (whether it's in social network channels or directly as an embeded stream on your website), I'd do what this guy says.

Adam T's picture

Yes that is exactly what I'm saying.