About Friends in 4:3 and 16:9, I took a look into the first episode, and was able to pause in both the cuts, the 4:3 and 16:9 or 1.78:1 version.
It turns out Friends in 4:3 is OPEN MATTE. Meaning there’s extra information on the top and bottom, which was cut for the 16:9. At the same time the 16:9 opens up the image more to the sides, in this specific scene (episode 1, 1m40s or 1m42s) to the right.
Open matte is a filming technique that involves matting out the top and bottom of the film frame in the movie projector (known as a soft matte) for the widescreen theatrical release and then scanning the film without a matte (at Academy ratio) for a full screen home video release.
Open matte versions are not the intended way by the director to view these movies, because they often reveal more information than necessary, so the 16:9 version (and most films are shot with the 16:9 ratio in mind, in fact ALL OF THEM, including TV shows like Friends, shot on FILM and 35mm).
So this extra info at top and bottom is always cut, and then the Widescreen version reveals more details at the sides, which is of course CUT in 4:3.
Think of it this way: face shots are always better in 4:3, while landscapes are way better when viewed in Widescreen, including 2.35:1. If I wanted to take a selfie then I would be showing more my face instead of the people around me, which will force me to take a wide shot that reveals more of the location I am at the moment, what people often do when they travel to a foreign country and want to show how beautiful the surroundings are.
This is when a widescreen picture will make more sense, even if it’s in 1.78 and not 2.35.
Even so, 4:3 open matte versions (or sometimes 1.85:1 Open matte ones from 2.35:1 movies, such as Spider-Man 1, 2 and 3, Terminator 2 (1991), or THE MATRIX) may be interesting to look at.
However in FRIENDS case I am not seeing much benefit.
Here’s another interesting comparison from the same 1st episode:
14m48s and 11m18s
As you can see the 16:9 picture is much better: while it cuts a little the top and bottom (the lamp is hidden), it reveals much more the sides than 4:3. So 16:9 was a great decision by the distributor, despite in some instances not being optimal for viewing.
Why’s that? Read again what Highdefdigest said about the image:
Fans will need to take note of three important aspects of this newer viewing presentation for ‘Friends:’ first, the original 1.33:1 framed versions of the show are not included in this release. Second, the majority of the show was composed in a manner that would keep most of the activity in what viewers would see on the 1.33:1 frame, so while the picture is expanded, it sometimes becomes slightly distracting if one pays attention to the tight composition of the majority of shots, leaving wide open, empty space in a large amount of the frame. Lastly, and most importantly, there have been a number of scenes that created visual goofs, due to the tight filming conditions of some scenes making the ends of sets and sometimes even video and sound equipment visible. For the most part, this Blu-ray release removes these visual errors. For example, in the episode ‘The One with Rachel’s New Dress,’ as Rachel shoos a duck out of the apartment, for a brief moment in the HD broadcast version a camera is visible, as is the end of the set. This Blu-ray release fixes this issue with a cropping of the edge and a slight zoom, making part of Rachel’s body leave frame momentarily. Additionally, errors featured on the 1.33:1 framed version of the show are also fixed, with audio equipment featured at the top of the frame in a shot of ‘The One After Joey and Rachel Kiss’ as Monica does her (somewhat weird) hair braid dance. Said equipment is no longer visible on this release, and it’s not even a noticeable change, like the quick zoom job fix.
What this review says makes sense:
The majority of the show was composed in a manner that would keep most of the activity in what viewers would see on the 1.33:1 frame
So it was shot in 16:9 (film/35mm) but the action was also most of the time happening in a way that a 4:3 frame would not look cropped as hell. Meaning the benefit of expanding the picture to the sides don’t offer so much gain to the viewers. The benefit is there, but most of the action was happening with a 4:3 frame in mind.
That doesn’t mean we need to ditch the 16:9 version, it’s just that it’s not replacing 100% 4:3. Meaning 4:3 may be worse or better, depending on the scene. Or that 4:3 is not really worse as it’s not cutting so much the sides.
Now, compare that to SEINFELD, which was never released in Blu-ray (only in DVD and 4:3) and it’s only available in HDTV broadcasts:
Seinfeld was clearly shot with the 4:3 ratio in mind. Even if it was in the exact same situation as FRIENDS, what happened was this:
The 16:9 broadcast versions are indeed cropping a lot of the top and bottom of the picture, and adding negligible information on the sides. Really, almost nothing.
So that makes me wonder if the distributor did a lousy job with the 16:9 HDTV versions or…
if Seinfeld is ever released properly on Blu-ray, it would have the same fate as Star Trek: THE NEXT GENERATION, being released as 4:3 and never in Widescreen.
Back to FRIENDS: in DVD Warner released as far as I know only the EXTENDED EPISODES. In Blu-ray it was the other way around: only the ORIGINAL BROADCAST VERSIONS.
So episode 1, for example, while UNCUT and blended by the OP, has 28m53s against 22m49s from the Blu-ray release.
It was a very bad decision to not include the extended episodes in HD.
This project is a great idea to finally watch FRIENDS complete, the transitions are smooth and so far I am not seeing anything bad about it. The OP did a great job with it.