Getting To Know Aspect Ratios In Video Graphics Displays
When you are watching a movie on the big screen when compared to at home, you may notice a difference. Sometimes you might see black bars at the top or side of the screen in the movies, but at home watching from DVD or Blu-ray it doesn’t appear. This has to do with what is called the aspect ratio.
An aspect ratio compares two pieces of information. In displays, that is the ratio of the width and the height of the image on screen. The standard format is denoted by the following representation of aspect ratio (A):
A = x:y
The x represents the width and y represents the height of the image. If you have an image with the dimensions (in pixels) x = 3840 and y = 2160, the aspect ratio is 16:9.
A = 3840:2160 = 16:9
This means that the width of the image is 16 units to a height of 9 units. This ratio was derived from the GCF (Greatest Common Factor) of the two numbers. That is also proportional to what can be displayed on an output device like the screen of a TV or computer monitor.
Capturing Images vs. Displaying Images
The reason for aspect ratios is to understand the resolution in relation to its display. There can be discrepancies when you try to display an image shot with a camera at a higher resolution than the display or a lower resolution than the display. This means there is a difference between the image capture and the display. Likewise, with filming this can also happen with aspect ratios.
When the captured content has a wider aspect ratio than the display, the display will show black bars at the top and bottom of the screen. This is also referred to as letterboxing. When the captured content has a taller aspect ratio than the display, black bars appear at the left and right side of the screen. This is called pillarboxing, since the black bars appear like “pillars” screen.
Users can change the aspect ratio in their display settings on most devices. Older analog televisions do not have this capability. On computer, laptop, tablet and smartphone displays, this can be done since these displays support digital inputs (easier to manipulate and control). If the content has a wider aspect ratio than the display, users can fill the screen to expand the image.
While you can manipulate the aspect ratio, it can affect the amount of scene you can view. The original aspect ratio was probably shot or blocked that way because of how the director envisions the scene. A taller aspect ratio on a wider display may be to give the perspective of scale to the viewer (e.g. Dinosaur size to humans like in Jurassic Park). A wider aspect ratio is ideal if the filmmaker wants to emphasize landscapes and surrounding. You can also just use a display that matches the aspect ratio of the content to view it exactly the way it was shot or filmed.
Types Of Aspect Ratios
There are different types of aspect ratios used in TV and cinema today. Even YouTubers have the option to use an aspect ratio of their choice for their content (depends on camera). Here are some common types.
4:3. The earliest films and shows produced were presented using a 4:3 ratio. This was a normal aspect ratio for standard definition TV (SD). Most displays are now high definition (HD), but some filmmakers still use 4:3 for a more artistic or traditional method of shooting. It appears taller and more square in the frame, so on wide screens it will have the pillarboxing effect.
16:9. This is the most common aspect ratio for high definition (HD) and ultrawide high definition (UHD) TV and most computer monitors. This provides a more cinematic look outside of a movie theater because it has a wide aspect ratio. On taller display screens, wide screen aspect ratio content will have the letterboxing effect. Most digital content make use of this aspect ratio, from YouTube clips to Netflix originals.
1.85:1. This is a modern cinematic aspect ratio regarded as normal for widescreen formats, similar to 16:9 (but it is wider). Content shot in 1.85:1 will appear with black bars on the top and bottom of a wide screen displays that have a 16:9 aspect ratio. Most feature films and major releases use this aspect ratio for filming.
2.76:1 (70mm). This is the aspect ratio for content filmed in 70mm format. This is a huge aspect ratio ideal for large theatric display screens and are often projected on IMAX screens. Large budget production films can make use of this aspect ratio to give viewers a more entertaining experience at the movie theaters. This aspect ratio is a favorite among directors like Christopher Nolan and Quentin Tarantino.
Most aspect ratio is determined from the camera that the filmmaker is using. For example, the Canon EOS R has a native aspect ratio of 3:2 but 4:3, 16:9 and 1:1 aspect ratios are also available. Since many TV and computer monitors have a 16:9 aspect ratio, content is being shot at full HD 1080p or UHD 2160p (both support wide screen). Even older displays with standard HD resolution have a 16:9 aspect ratio.
Eliminating the black bars (top/bottom or left/right) on the screen is a matter of adjusting the aspect ratio from the display. This is probably dependent on the viewer. Purists who want to watch a film shot in its original aspect ratio won’t even bother to make changes. It is probably best to watch content without altering any of its properties, including the aspect ratio. In the end what provides the best result is how the creative frames the image and conveys the perspective that engages the most viewing pleasure.