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An aspect ratio is simply a figure that represents the width-to-height ratio of an image. Using this simple example you can figure out how to determine aspect ratio.

Take the aspect ratio 4:3. The first number, 4, signifies the width of the image while the second number, 3, indicates the height in any given unit of measure. In this case it could mean for every four inches the image is wide, it is three inches high. The measurements used are irrelevant, only the ratio matters.

Types of aspect ratio

There are multiple types of aspect ratios used for different purposes. These include:
  • 4:3 - used for many computer monitors and older, non-widescreen televisions.
  • 1:1 - an uncommon square-format occasionally used in photography.
  • 5:4 -- a resolution used in computer monitors,  now more commonly used in mobile devices and cameras.
  • 16:9 - the aspect ratio used for High Definition television, as well as movies.
  • 14:9 - a compromise aspect ratio used to create a picture acceptable to both 4:3 and 16:9 televisions.
  • 16:10 - utilized in the majority of widescreen computer monitors.

Native aspect ratios

The two most common aspect ratios are 4:3 (used in most computer monitors and older televisions) and the "widescreen" 16:9 aspect ratio (used in films and widescreen televisions). These two aspect ratios are known as "native" aspect ratios since they are the two ratios that are currently used in display units such as DLP projectors and LCD televisions.

There is no fixed aspect ratio for TV as some television channels broadcast in the High Definition 16:9 ratio whereas others continue to use the standard definition 4:3 format. DVDs offer the user the choice of the two aspect ratios to use where Blu-Ray''s offer only a 16:9 ratio. 16:9 is now becoming more common as the resolution of newer laptops with widescreen televisions.

Anamorphic aspect ratios

Certain DVDs offer a feature known as "anamorphic widescreen" or a picture "enhanced for widescreen television" which scales the video to the aspect ratio of the screen. This allows a user to play a 4:3 aspect ratio film on a 16:9 widescreen television.  The black borders running across the screen will be removed. While this can also be achieved by using a "zoom" button present in many televisions, this will not increase the resolution of the image like a film played in anamorphic widescreen will. This is because during the transfer to DVD the image is stretched by one third, using what would have otherwise been unused space. As a result the full image will appear slightly sharper due the higher resolution it is using.

Aspect ratio comparison

When considering purchasing a projector, television, or other display device, it is important to consider the aspect ratio in relation to your needs, as each is suited to particular tasks.

16:9 aspect ratio

The main advantage of a 16:9 aspect ratio is that it is the standard that High Definition content is output. The 16:9 aspect ratio is particularly appropriate if you watch many modern films on a home movie theatre system since most movies are now produced in 16:9 format.

4:3 aspect ratio

While the 4:3 aspect ratio is viewed as somewhat dated, it is common and is still the standard aspect ratio for most computer screens. While High Definition content is becoming more prevalent, the majority of broadcasters still output in a 4:3 aspect ratio.

This cannot be said for films.  If you watch VHS tapes of older films, then a 4:3 television will allow for the image to take up the screen. Displayed on a 16:9 television it would appear stretched, or would have black borders running along the edges.

Advantages of wider aspect ratios

The main advantage of widescreen aspect ratios is that it is the future standard. High Definition broadcasts are becoming more popular, meaning that the majority of content produced nowadays is shot in a 16:9 aspect ratio. Should you continue to use a square-like 4:3 display then the majority of content will be shown with black bars running horizontally along the edges of the screen. Furthermore, should you intend to play the latest videogame consoles, a device with 4:3 aspect ratio will not be able to output High Definition graphics, as they necessitate widescreen resolutions.

Importance of matching input aspect ratio with output.

It is important to match the aspect ratio of the display with the aspect ratio of the image source to get the most out of both devices. Many devices such as iPods and mobile phones have their own aspect ratios and may not be able to display videos of a different standard. While 4:3 televisions can display 16:9 broadcasts and vice versa, the compromise is a set of black bars bordering the screen either vertically or horizontally, which, should you own a plasma television, can cause burn in. In the case of High Definition (i.e. 16:9 aspect ratio) videogame graphics and text, when made to display in a 4:3 resolution, can often appear squashed and distorted due to the compression.
We hope you enjoyed this article by Projector Source Canada. 

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