Aspect ratio preference when widescreen is anamorphic

I have a question it has been seemingly impossible to find a “right” answer for, so I'm coming to the best of the best (you all) to seek your wisdom.

When a game lets you choose between 4:3 and 16:9 but doesn't change its resolution, which one do you prefer and why? Please read the following details about what I mean.

There are games, especially but not exclusively in the PS2/GC/XB/Wii era, that let you choose between fullscreen 4:3 and widescreen 16:9 but do not change their actual rendering resolution. So if it's a 480i game that runs at 640x480 4:3 in this scenario, the 16:9 mode's horizontal resolution is still 640, and the game just renders from a squished perspective that looks right if you tell your TV to stretch it out horizontally. No more pixels are being added, so you are technically getting a lower fidelity picture by rendering a wider view with the same number of distinct elements, but 16:9 is a more "cinematic" presentation that may be subjectively more pleasing. This is [anamorphic widescreen](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anamorphic_widescreen). Here's a [nice video](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eM16F_dM1Js) about the N64 that presents anamorphic widescreen as purely good, but I'm not convinced.

Please ignore these cases:

  • 1. Actual resolution changes - obviously if the resolution changes, that's "better". 720p and 1080i are always 16:9, and 480p can be. But talking about exact same resolution here.
  • 2. Games that render the whole thing in letterboxed 16:9 when you have the system set to 4:3 or vice versa - there's an obvious answer for these ones. Another thread here about the Wii showed that some of those games definitely do this.
  • 3. Remasters that can take full advantage of 16:9 that was available but with HD resolutions, like Perfect Dark's later releases. Assume you're playing original of whatever it is, or remaster was never made.
  • What do you think? Does your personal answer just depend on the aspect ratio of the TV you're using? Has your answer changed over time as 16:9 becomes more and more normal for us? I'm using a 4:3 TV but I can set it to a widescreen mode for anamorphic content if I think that makes those games look better. I'm currently playing a 3D platformer that has this option, and I was shocked how much more "normal" 16:9 looks now, showing me more of the environment around my character at the cost of some nebulous amount of picture quality (and not filling my TV screen, which has obviously been a contentious issue across the history of home video).

    @“kanisama”#p111598 I usually go wide if its an option, visual quality be damned. Interesting note - Soul Calibur II on Xbox has a 720p mode that is 4:3.

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    @“kanisama”#p111598 Does your personal answer just depend on the aspect ratio of the TV you’re using?

    This is it for me. If I'm on a 16:9 display I'll do that, otherwise 4:3. I find that the distinction matters a lot less to me in games than in movies, because you can move the camera, so all you're really doing is expanding your viewable area. but I get your issue with pixel density, and there it again depends on the display. Like if you're emulating, you probably want the highest pixel density which would, at least to me, feel like 4:3. But on a 16:9 crt, even if it doesn't do 480p, I'd still go 16:9 since I'm already losing information to pixel blur.

    @“tomjonjon”#p111601 Yes, that confused me for a long time about whether 720p was necessarily widescreen. That game just renders inside a definitely-widescreen resolution (and looks amazing). Another fun fact is that is has Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound, but during fights (not the opening cinematic).

    @"exodus"#p111607 I definitely understand matching the TV itself, which is why I started out with everything in 4:3. And I dislike the UI stretching some games suffer from in 16:9. But that wider view is pretty nice.... I am never going to buy one of the widescreen BVMs, I tell myself, so have to decide for 4:3 for sure.

    The pixel density thing is also kind of abstract, at least in a 3D game. When I switch back and forth modes and look off into the distance, it's hard to convince myself I _really_ see a loss of detail. I'm just a big perfectionist, hate knowing it's a thing, and think in some sense it would "add up" over the course of a game to factor into my opinion of the game's graphics. I could just be psyching myself out too, and it's totally fine lol. Someone should do the math on how much detail is lost and whether it matters.

    I was in this dilemma just a few days ago. I‘ve been playing God of War 2 on PS2 and I noticed that the image is quite a bit crisper in 4:3. Partially this is just because everything is zoomed in all the time, though, so the character models are even higher detail that just the resolution boost. But ultimately I settled on the widescreen, because the game is so grand and epic in scale - everything just looks more cinematic when it’s zoomed out and widescreen. Once I sat back a bit from the screen and stopped worrying about it, the quality difference didn't bother me at all.

    So, I think it comes down to case by case basis for me. Like in the same way that some movies and TV shows make sense in different aspect ratios, the same is true for games. So maybe a horror game like Eternal Darkness, although it supports widescreen I think it would benefit from the claustrophobic effect of a narrow view window - like you can see less of what's happening around you that increases tension, plus the game is slow paced and improved detail matters. Whereas like in a racing game, car models are normally pretty detailed anyway and the rest of the world is just zooming by.. and it really helps to be able to see the corners coming up sooner so widescreen makes sense.