Widescreen 16:9 and Standard 4:3 Formats

Widescreen vs. Standard aspect ratios

When choosing a projector, TV, computer monitor or laptop screen one of the first things you will need to consider is the format of the screen that you need for you application. Traditionally these electronic display devices used a format described as “standard” 4:3 aspect ratio, but a more recent format called “widescreen” 16:9 is becoming an increasingly popular choice, especially for televisions and laptops. Whether to choose the widescreen format or standard format is an important decision because it will have a big effect on how your displayed image looks. This Bamboo AV Advice article should help you to understand the differences between standard format and widescreen to make sure you choose the format that is right for you.

Why are there two aspect ratio formats?

Historically televisions have used an aspect ratio that is close to a square shape, called 4:3 (4 units measured horizontally to every 3 units measured vertically). This is because at the time of their first production, films were also displayed using a 4:3 aspect ratio known as the “Academy ratio”. By having TV screens match this 4:3 aspect ratio, movies previously photographed on film could be viewed on regular TVs.

However, during the 1950s there was a wholesale change within the film industry to use widescreen images, brought about by reductions in the number of people going to see films at cinemas. Only recently, TVs that conform to the same 16:9 aspect ratio that film producers use have started to be manufactured. These have become extremely popular and have come down in price since their initial launch. More and more broadcasters are switching the aspect ratio of their television programmes from the traditional 4:3 aspect ratio to a 16:9 widescreen format. The revitalization of the European television industry has been largely attributed to the introduction of digital widescreen offerings.

Standard 4:3 format aspect ratio

A standard aspect ratio television screen is a TV with a resolution that matches the NTSC or PAL broadcasting standards. These TVs are designed for analog signals and use a square-like 4:3 aspect ratio. Devices with a standard 4:3 aspect ratio are incapable of outputting High Definition content. In this respect, standard format televisions are inferior to widescreen televisions, and there are many other benefits to using widescreen devices which are covered in more detail below.

Standard 4:3 television screens are gradually being phased out, as are standard definition analog television broadcasts. Within consumer electronics shops non-widescreen televisions are becoming increasingly rare. Furthermore, the majority of countries in North America and Europe now have set dates in the near future when these analog signals will be turned off permanently.

Widescreen 16:9 format aspect ratio

The widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio is the image standard of the future, designed to succeed the traditional 4:3 square aspect ratio. To take advantage of the benefits “true” widescreen can offer, you need to own both a widescreen television and videos coded in a 16:9 aspect ratio, such as High Definition television content, which only comes in widescreen format.

Although widescreen 16:9 format is synonymous with High Definition content, 16:9 is also commonly used with standard definition television and DVDs. The reason for this is because DVD film producers and TV broadcasters offer both 16:9 and 4:3 outputs.

Other display devices

  • Projector panels

    Nearly every fixed resolution projector on the market at the moment uses the standard 4:3 aspect ratio. This means that the panel inside the projector, on which the desired image is to be mapped, is 1.3 times wider than it is high. Although 4:3 is currently the norm, sooner or later the 16:9 aspect ratio will take over in much the same way as it has with television sets.

  • Laptops

    Initially all laptops were developed with a 4:3 aspect ratio. However, widescreen laptop screens are now becoming more prominent due to the extra 25% of screen size offered and the trend towards high definition content. Furthermore, as the surface area of the device is limited, a laptop with a wide screen is more suitable for implementing a full sized keyboard.

  • Computer monitors

    Widescreen 16:9 displays are becoming increasingly popular in computer monitors due to their ability to show multiple windows on-screen at the same time. The aspect ratio that the majority of widescreen computer monitors use is actually 16:10 rather than 16:9.

The benefits of a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio

The benefits of the widescreen aspect ratio format are numerous, so it is easy to see why widescreen devices have become so popular so quickly. These benefits are summarized below.

  • The future format

    In only a few years time, videos in widescreen format will be the only type available. Furthermore, widescreen televisions will soon become the only type of TV available for purchase.

  • Same size picture as films

    All movies are now shot using a 16:9 aspect ratio, meaning if you have a widescreen display device the video will be displayed without the black borders present in 4:3 television screens.

  • Blu-ray format

    Blu-ray is the next generation DVD format that outputs films in High Definition. To make use of this it is necessary to have a widescreen 16:9 High Definition television.

  • High definition content

    High Definition content is only output in 16:9 aspect ratio resolutions of 1280×720 or 1920x1080.

  • Increased viewing area

    Pictures displayed using a widescreen aspect ratio show 25% more of an image than 4:3 aspect ratio pictures.

We hope that this Bamboo AV Advice article has been useful to you!

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