Size Matters

When you watch a film on a small screen, with a basic audio setup (laptop speakers, earphones), you are literally experiencing less of the film.

To understand this concept, we have to make some scientific observations first. When something differs from something else in size only, it generally indicates there is more matter making up the larger object. Therefore, size matters. For some reason, many people don’t seem to notice how this applies to both light and sound.


Here is a brief summary:


I know people might find vehement assertions that they haven’t seen a film unless it was seen in the cinema pedantic, or even ‘pretentious’ (my least favourite word, used by ignorant people to belittle something which they are incapable of understanding), but it has nothing to do with ideology or preference.

It comes down to science. If we assume 8K more or less matches the perceived resolution of 70mm film, then a projection of that size is four times more detailed than a ‘Full HD’ 1080p television, and must also be projected at four times the size in order to make the detail visible. So, even if you argue that your 720p phone screen is HD and therefore great for watching a movie on, you have to concede that the resolution is lower than even 16mm film, which is about the 2K or 1080p mark. Compression and low bit rates also cause a slight loss in detail on digital devices. Even Blu-ray discs aren’t ideal for screening in a cinema. There is less shown by the screen, and therefore you are seeing less of the movie.

Sound is almost, but not quite, half of the film. It follows, logically, that you have not truthfully experienced the movie, as you have missed much of the sound due to inferior speakers. You cannot faithfully reproduce the opening rumble of The Dark Knight Rises through your earphones. Your speaker system would need to be powerful enough to annoy most of your neighbours, unless you have a soundproof bunker (not a bad place for a home theatre).



This isn’t exactly a dynamic, high quality, surround sound experience (Photo credit: James F Clay) Creative Commons Non-Commercial


I’m lucky enough to live in Melbourne, home to The Astor Theatre, which shows a large catalogue of old and new films. When I saw their 70mm print of 2001: A Space Odyssey, I realised how different the cinematic experience is. The simple fact is that the film was made for the theatre. It includes music while the curtains are drawn and the lights are up, reminiscent of an orchestra warming up for a symphony. This doesn’t really work in the same way at home. Neither does the intermission. These aspects of the film are ultimately stage directions, and are meant to be appreciated in a theatre.

While you are more than welcome to watch something on your phone, you have to understand that you just can’t experience the film in the same way. However, if you have already seen it, and you happen to be on a long flight, you might as well watch it on your phone. At least it won’t be censored and edited like in-flight movies are, but you can’t fit a cinema in your pocket, so if you want to appreciate a film, it’s worth seeing and hearing it in its natural habitat, in all its glory – on the silver screen.




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