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What’s the deal with Seinfeld’s aspect ratio on Netflix?

What’s the deal with Seinfeld’s aspect ratio on Netflix?


Netflix’s 4K upgrade still hasn’t brought back the original 4:3 aspect ratio

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Seinfeld has officially moved over to stream on Netflix today, with a new 4K upgrade that promises to make the show look better than ever. But while Netflix has upgraded the iconic “show about nothing” to even crisper resolution, Netflix is hewing to the same strategy that Hulu and other HD releases of the show have used: a more modern-looking 16:9 aspect, instead of offering the original 4:3 aspect ratio in which the show originally aired.

The aspect ratio isn’t a new problem for Seinfeld fans, dating back to the original HD remaster that was produced in 2008 for TBS HD’s syndicated reruns, which were newly made scans of the original film (hence the ability to add back the wider frames that never made it into the initial broadcast) in widescreen to better suit modern televisions.

But that 16:9 cut is the only one that’s been publicly released in HD; the best versions with the original 4:3 aspect ratio format are the DVD releases, meaning that Seinfeld fans have been forced to choose for years between visual quality and aspect ratio.

When Netflix announced that it would be getting the rights to Seinfeld — and upgrading the series to 4K in the process — there was some hope that the streaming service would go back to the drawing board and create a true 4K cut, one that rescanned the film in the highest possible quality. A new 4K scan would also have offered the opportunity to restore the 4:3 aspect ratio, offering the holy grail of Seinfeld cuts: a high-definition version of the show, cropped as it was originally intended.

Netflix doesn’t seem to have done that, though — something that admittedly makes some sense, given the fact that such an undertaking would cost a huge amount of money on top of the already exorbitant $500 million-plus that it spent on the rights. But the service also didn’t take the chance here to at least offer the option to choose between the HD 16:9 cut and the lower-resolution 4:3 aspect ratio, which would have been a helpful compromise.

The 4:3 aspect ratio isn’t just about nostalgia, either. The wider aspect ratio has a real impact on things like the basic blocking of scenes: in exchange for slightly more footage of the left and right sides of the frame, the top and bottom of the frames get cut off, resulting in the occasional cropped foot or top of someone’s head.

And much like The Simpsons (which suffered a similar aspect ratio issue when it first hit streaming), the 16:9 cut of the show also ruins some of the jokes: as one Twitter user pointed out, the pothole from the episode “The Pothole” doesn’t actually appear anymore in the widescreen version thanks to the cropping there.

The good news is that there is some precedent for a fix: when The Simpsons first started streaming on Disney Plus, it too was missing an option for its original aspect ratio, but the service eventually did add the option to toggle on the 4:3 aspect ratio a few months later. Which means that there’s the (admittedly unlikely) chance that Netflix — or whoever ends up with the Seinfeld rights next — may decide to offer a similar option sometime in the future, too.