Simpsons fans can now watch early seasons (pre-2009) in 4:3 format on Disney+. Beginning today, users can choose to view those episodes in either 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratios. The 4:3 format won’t cut off sight gags like the one above.
The change should appease fans, but some may still be surprised that it was an issue at all. The Simpsons switched to the 16:9 aspect ratio when it made its high-def debut in 2009. When FXX started streaming the show in 2014, fans pointed out that the 16:9 format applied to older episodes cut off key visual cues. In response, FXX agreed to stream the series’ first seven seasons in their original aspect ratio. That was fine, until Disney+ began streaming all seasons in 16:9 format, resurrecting an issue many thought was solved.
The Disney Plus product team knew they had to fix it, but it wasn’t as simple as adding old files. Disney Plus subscribers now just have to switch a toggle on The Simpsons’ description page when they open the app. Essentially, the Disney Streaming Services product team had to rethink how content was packaged for streaming purposes, one that Joe Rice, vice president of media product, called a “fundamental change” in a new blog post.
Now, Disney+ is able to create content packages with two forms of a single video. For Disney+ users, all of this means that they can toggle between watching those early episodes in 4:3 aspect or 16:9 without losing any modern streaming features. For Disney+, the change could open up new ways of presenting content in the future.
Here’s a fun side-by-side to show the difference in how streams are now bundled. They’re packaged together, so once people toggle to select the aspect ratio they want, the version is pulled from the same package and everything reacts seamlessly.