Learning Lab: Screen Aspect Ratios and How They Affect Image Quality

July 26, 2017 by Hannah Evans

Watch the video here.

David Allen: Welcome to the Learning Lab. I’m David Allen here with Daniel Routman and on today’s learning lab we will be discussing screen aspect ratios. Now, we will be covering a lot of information today and that may bring up questions, and you may email those to seminars@fordav.com. We will try to answer all of those questions after this broadcast. Now, Daniel we’re talking about screen aspect ratios, but what is aspect ratio?

Daniel Routman: The aspect ratio is the ratio of the width of a display to its height.

DA: Ok, so I know that there’s a 16 x 9 aspect ratio that means that the width is 16 and the height is 9.

DR: That’s correct.

DA: Ok, so what’s that have to do with what we’re talking about today?

DR: We sell a lot of different aspect ratio screens. Let’s talk about the different aspect ratios that exist today. First is 4 x 3, and that’s been around for a very long time. It started with the 35 millimeter silent films of course, then films went to a very wide cinema aspect ratio, but 4 x 3 still stuck around because it got used with television broadcasts and standard definition television. Then, when the digital age came, we got a lot of computer monitors that all started out in the 4 x 3 aspect ratio as well as the xga resolution. So, after 4 x 3 came 16 x 9, and that came with the introduction of the HDTV technology. All of your consumer displays were being produced in 16 x 9 aspect ratio with resolutions like 720p and 1080p.

DA: What happened after that? Did the computer industry follow the 16 x 9?

DR: No, at the same time the computer industry went to 16 x 10 giving you resolutions like 1280 x 800 and 1920 x 1200, and the reason they went from 4 x 3 to 16 x 10 was in order to give you more productivity because you could look at two documents side by side on a single screen.

DA: …More real estate on the screen basically.

DR: Exactly, but until about 2008, 16 x 10 was the most common resolution for a widescreen laptop monitor, but soon after that all the laptops started drifting towards 16 x 9 to follow the consumer AC TV industry.

DA: Right, that probably had a lot to do with the Blu-ray players being introduced inside the laptops.

DR: People wanted also to be able to plug their laptops into their TV at home, so all the laptops started drifting back toward towards 16 x 9. Meanwhile, Apple remained on 16 x 10 on their laptops. So, 4 x 3 is not really being used today except for the iPad. That’s the one thing that’s still prevalent is the iPad.

DA: Right, so why do we need to understand difference in aspect ratios?

DR: You know the flat panels that exist today are pretty much all 16 x 9, so that’s a standard you don’t have to worry about. But with the projectors it’s a little different story. Most projectors available on the market today are 16 x 10.

DA: I guess we could speculate that they went to 16 x 10 because they were following the computer industry at first, and that’s why they do the 16 x 10.

DR: Right, because the projectors are traditionally used mainly for presentations, and, you know, plugging your computer into it. So, the projectors used to be all 4 x 3 and they all drifted towards 16 x 10.

DA: Gotcha, so we have a little bit of an issue here if we have a system that is using both a projector and a display. How do we deal with that?

DR: We’ll talk about first why there are so many 16 x 10 projectors out there. We know that was because of the consumer driven laptop industry where everything was 16 x 10, but today it’s all 16 x 9 so why haven’t projectors gone with 16 x 9? We’re starting to see a lot more, but you’re still seeing 16 x 10 out in the market and the reason is because within a 16 x 10 image you can show a 16 x 9 resolution without losing any information. If you take a 1920 x 1200 image projector you can fit a 1920 x 1080 image inside of it.

DA: So the only difference between the 16 x 9 and 16 x 10 resolutions is the height of the image. The width stays exactly the same.

DR: That’s right. Let’s talk about the video sources that are out there today. Of course, Blu-ray is all HGTV. Your cable TV boxes and satellite boxes are all 16 x 9. Media players that play movies and, as we discussed, laptops are going 16 x 9. The broadcast television cameras or even consumer cameras as well as video conferencing, these are all the things that we use today that are 16 x 9. But, in the 16 x 10 world, we still have some older laptops that are in use today, so we have to take that into consideration. As I mentioned, the Apple Macbooks and Macbook Pros still use the 16 x 10 aspect. Also, desktop workstations and some high-powered workstations that a lot of big companies like to use, because the people who use these computers want the maximum amount of real estate on it, so 16 x 10 gives them the extra space at the bottom and top.

DA: Gotcha, so if you have all these different types of sources and combinations of sources, what should we as designers or consumers be choosing as displays or indoor projection screens?

DR: The rule is that you want to always match the source to the display. The aspect ratio of the sources needs to match the aspect ratio of the displays. So, if most of the devices that you’re using are 16 x 9, then you should always go with a 16 x 9 projector or display. If you’re using 16 x 10, of course you want to use 16 x 10. But what if you were to use a 16 x 10 projection screen and you want to put flat panels in the room? They have to be 16 x 9. There’s no way that the aspect matches. Of course the downside is that you’re going to end up with black bars on your projector for projecting a 16 x 9 image.

DA: So, the bottom line is that if you put a 16 x 9 screen in here with your 16 x 9 displays you could lose some content on the top or the bottom of your image if you’re projecting 16 x 10. But if you put a 16 x 10, you could maintain all that content, but then could you lose that content on here or will it scale on the display?

DR: If you were to display a 16 x 10 image here, you would end up with black bars on the left and right side of this.

DA: Ok, so it’s going to be black bars either way, either on the left and right or on the top and bottom.

DR: You can also end up with stretching (it depends on the setting of the display), which is not something that you want.

DA: Well, we’ve covered a considerable amount of information today, and you can email any questions that you may have to seminars@fordav.com, and we’ll answer those after this broadcast. Daniel, thank you again for coming and being on the show today and talking about aspect ratios. I really appreciate all the information that you’ve shared with us. This is all the time that we have today, and we hope to see you next time on the Learning Lab!

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