Coding Horror

programming and human factors

Media Center 2005 adds Non-Linear Stretch

As Omar recently pointed out, Update Rollup 2 for Windows XP Media Center 2005 adds one essential new feature that makes it a "must have" upgrade -- non-linear stretch! I took a few screenshots on my HTPC to illustrate.

This is typical 4:3 television content:

typical 4:3 television content in MCE 2005

On a widescreen 16:9 display, the content just doesn't fit-- at least not at the original aspect ratio. You get black bars on the side. So what can we do about this? You could zoom in:

zoom mode in MCE 2005

Look how much content we've cropped away around the edges! Let's try a simple stretch to fit instead:

stretch mode in MCE 2005

No content is lost, but we've distorted everything: it's wider and fatter.

Clearly zooming and stretching both have their drawbacks. Non-linear zoom, on the other hand, is a happy combination of both: the image is slightly cropped on the top and bottom, then progressively stretched more towards the edges; the center is barely stretched at all:

Intelligent Zoom in MCE 2005

Microsoft calls this Intelligent Zoom, and it has far fewer downsides than a pure zoom or stretch. It's my new favorite viewing mode for 4:3 content!

This new viewing mode isn't just cosmetic. It can be essential to preserving your plasma or LCD television investment! After 8 months, our plasma TV had noticeable burn-in on the edges where the "black bars" appear for the 4:3 content! I immediately switched the bars to 100% white until the wear levels equalized, and now I have the bars permanently set to 50% grey.

However, this new non-linear stretch mode is an even better option. Highly recommended.

Written by Jeff Atwood

Indoor enthusiast. Co-founder of Stack Exchange and Discourse. Disclaimer: I have no idea what I'm talking about. Find me here: