Additional MPV Functions

MPV is quickly becoming one of my hidden gems. It’s so clean and buttonless, it’s easy to dismiss it as an under-featured video player and keep using VLC: but don’t let the minimalist UI fool you. This only means the player comes with many features turned off, counting on you to turn them on if you need to. Here’s a quick example.

I’ve been watching The Expanse1 for the last couple of weeks. The show uses a wide-angle 21:9 ratio for certain scenes, but on my screen, it remained a small letterbox with black borders all around. The show is streaming on Amazon Prime, so the first place I looked for answers was there, then a more general web search, but in vein. People were acknowledging the wide-screen angles, but it didn’t look anyone was trying to fix this letter-box problem - or perhaps it was an issue only on my screen.

Watching a show on Amazon Prime means using my no-VPN Brave browser, with all of Amazon’s binge-features2 and their annoying X-ray vision. Add to that the fact that streaming means you start with low-res which slowly build up to what’s supposed to be 4k and mediocre sound quality throughout the show, I don’t know why I didn’t consider downloading the thing in the first place.

With the full-quality episodes on my hard drive, I fired up MPV and looked for solutions. As it turns out, there’s an option to crop videos to widescreen called panscan. While the documentation shows how to launch MPV from the command line with this option on, this wasn’t very useful to me since the scenes kept changing from 21:9 to the usual 4:3 aspect ratio. I needed a manual option to switch between the aspects while watching.

As it turns out, it’s easy to add some of MPV’s additional options if you include a configuration file. You can even include all of the options (which are commented out) on MPV’s repository on Github. I found the option to crop the screen the way I needed after someone pointed that on Reddit, and was able to enjoy the wide-screen scenes as intended: full 21:9 ratio on my ultra-wide monitor. The options I’ve added to my mpv.conf file:

A cycle-values video-aspect-override "16:9" "21:9" "4:3" "2.35:1" "-1"	# cycle the video aspect ratio ("-1" is the container aspect)
w add panscan -0.1		     # decrease panscan
W add panscan +0.1		     # shrink black bars by cropping the video

The first letter at the beginning of each line is the key to use, so in my case, I use lowercase w and uppercase W to decrease and increase pan. I also played with the aspect ratio option, but this doesn’t help in my case of shrinking the black bars.

I don’t understand why a show would be produced half for a widescreen and half for a TV screen without (apparently) an automatic option to switch between the two. I’m guessing that some screens are programmed to switch this way automatically, and perhaps there’s even something on Amazon Prime I missed for viewing on PC… but I’m happy I’m not watching the show there anymore.


  1. This is a show I highly recommend if you’re into sci-fi. If you haven’t heard of it, the main story revolves around a crew of a ship, the Rocinante. The show moves between “real science” sci-fi and near-future politics which can uncomfortably realistic while balancing great character development and a cool alien threat. ↩︎

  2. binge features: Netflix and Amazon (and probably others) want your face in front of the screen as long as possible. They offer a “skip intro” option and a 10 second countdown for auto-playing the next episode as soon as you hit the credits for the one you’re watching. ↩︎