Todd Spangler of Variety reports on what the Disney+ engineering team needed to do in order to allow users to stream episodes of “The Simpsons” in their proper 4:3 aspect ratio:
So the DSS team revamped its content model to introduce the concept of multiple media “facets,” or multiple combinations of audio, video, and subtitle components. Now, components delivered under the same Entertainment Identifier Registry ID can be grouped in multiple combinations, laying the groundwork to support user-selected aspect ratio preference while maintaining existing content interaction features.
By creating the facets-based content model, DSS also was able to reuse thousands of audio and subtitle components that already existed for the 428 episodes on Disney Plus, along with episode-specific artwork and other metadata.
To turn this on, you need to tap on the Details tab in “The Simpsons” and then turn off “Remastered Aspect Ratio.” And if you’re watching on an iPad, you’ll need to use two fingers to pinch outward in order to watch it without a big black border around the whole thing.
I really appreciated Spangler’s deep dive into how a “simple” problem is actually much more complex than you might think. By altering their data model, Disney+ is now able to associate two separate video versions of an episode while keeping the subtitles and audio tracks consistent.
It also paves the way for other alternate views of content. for example, TV shows with remastered special effects could be viewed with the new effects or the originals intact. Or you could offer an alternate version of a show with no VFX at all. More flexibility is good.
That all said, there’s no reason for the cropped 16:9 versions of “The Simpsons” to exist at all. They were made in 4:3 aspect ratio and they should only be seen in that format. At least now Disney+ subscribers have the option. (I am not a crackpot.)