As expected, Disney+ has released an update allowing fans of The Simpsons to view older episodes in their original 4:3 aspect ratio. Instead of merely swapping out the existing widescreen (16:9) versions, however, the update allows users to toggle between the different aspect ratios. Going over details Disney shared about the feature suggests adding this new trick was harder than it might seem at first, and it’s something the company might leverage elsewhere.
“To support both the original 4:3 aspect ratio and the 16:9 versions of The Simpsons, we needed to challenge prior assumptions and rethink how content for streaming is packaged and delivered,” Joe Rice, vice president of media product, said in a statement. “We introduced a new Disney+ app feature today that not only gives fans a choice in video viewing formats, but also opens up a number of exciting opportunities for novel ways of presenting content in the future.”
Ever since the service’s launch last year, fans have complained about the widescreen 16:9 format cutting out visual gags and other context from certain shots, an issue that also plagued FXX’s streaming versions of the show.
In an accompanying blog post, Rice detailed the process of bringing the new aspect ratio to the service, and the different approaches they considered. One option would have offered the 4:3 versions as bonus content subscribers could select, but that approach wouldn’t allow for features like Continue Watching, adding to Watchlists, or the type of sequential playback that goes hand in hand with binge watching.
And since all the audio, subtitles, artwork, and other data are essentially identical between the two versions of those episodes, Disney opted for an approach that allows each episode to share those elements, with only the video data changing between the two. The company says this was a more efficient method than having two separate copies of 428 episodes on hand. A separate collection of 4:3 versions would’ve also made Continue Watching and autoplay features more difficult to implement, and Rice points out this approach also allows for those features to work regardless of which ratio you choose.
While Disney didn’t elaborate on how it could use the new feature elsewhere on its service, it’s not hard to imagine new aspect ratio options being added to other classic movies and TV shows so fans can enjoy them in their originally intended formats.
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