Seinfeld has officially moved to stream on Netflix today, with a new 4K update that promises to make the show look better than ever. But while Netflix has updated the iconic “show about nothing” to an even sharper resolution, Netflix is following the same strategy that Hulu and other HD releases of the show have used: a more modern-looking 16: 9 aspect, rather than offer the original 4: 3 aspect ratio in which the program originally aired.
Aspect ratio is not a new problem for Seinfeld fans, dating back to the original HD remastering that occurred in 2008 for Syndicated reruns of TBS HD, which were fresh scans of the original film (hence the ability to re-add the widest frames that never made it to the initial broadcast) in widescreen to better fit modern televisions.
But that 16: 9 cut is the only one that has been released publicly in HD; the best versions with the original 4: 3 aspect ratio format are the DVD releases, which means that Seinfeld Fans have been forced to choose for years between visual quality and aspect ratio.
When Netflix announced that it would obtain 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 certain 4K cut, one that re-scanned 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 originally intended.
However, Netflix doesn’t appear to have done that, which certainly makes some sense, given that such a venture would cost a great deal of money on top of the already exorbitant $ 500 million it spent on the rights. But the service also didn’t take the opportunity here to at least offer the option to choose between the 16: 9 HD cutoff and the lower-resolution 4: 3 aspect ratio, which would have been a useful compromise.
The 4: 3 aspect ratio isn’t just about nostalgia, either. The wider aspect ratio has a real impact on things like basic scene locking – in exchange for a bit more footage from the left and right sides of the frame, the top and bottom of the frames are cut off, resulting in on an occasional clipped foot or the top of someone’s head.
And a lot like The Simpsons (which suffered a similar aspect ratio problem when broadcast for the first time), the show’s 16: 9 cutout also ruins some of the jokes – as one Twitter user pointed out, the bump from the episode “The Pothole” no longer appears in the widescreen version thanks to the cutout there.
The good news is that there is a precedent for a solution: when The Simpsons It first started streaming on Disney Plus, it was also missing an option for its original aspect ratio, but the service eventually added the option to toggle the 4: 3 aspect ratio a few months later. Which means there is a (admittedly unlikely) chance that Netflix, or whoever, will end the Seinfeld Rights Below: You may also decide to offer a similar option in the future.