Screen Ratios by Mercian Events

Screen Ratios

Are you an old 4:3 or..……….  a new 16:9?

Screen Ratios 1





The Screen Evolution: What is an aspect ratio anyway?

One of the cornerstones of the live events industry is the ability to provide the means of presenting to a large audience an important presentation whether it is a still or moving image shown on a projection screen.

Over the years, about forty in fact if you exclude the movie making industry, the commercial format of this medium has gone through numerous technological changes. Do you remember Overhead transparencies, 35mm slides, 16/35mm film, UMatic/VHS/Betamax videos and DVD’s?

It has been an evolution that saw change after change, now thank goodness we have reached the point at which the majority of all presentations are given via a high end laptop computer connected to a digital projector which then projects the image on to one or more projection screens, dependent on your budget.

Because of all these changes, specific to the display devices we used and currently use, a universal projection screen aspect ratio (width to height ratio) has evolved.

We have gone from square screens (aspect ratio of 1:1) for OHPs, 2¼ sq. slides and a mix of vertical and horizontal 35mm slides, to screens with an aspect ratio of 1.37:1 for 16mm projectors to screens of 1.33:1 better known as 4:3 for horizontal 35mm slides and VHS/Beta/UMatic video. There are more but it is better to forget these as it is confusing enough as it is.

By far the most common of all these screens is the 4:3 ratio. This format embedded itself into our living rooms by way of the display screens on all early TVs. Everything related to television and the early commercially available computer screens, desktop and laptop, were of that format.

Over the past decade the way we view images at home has changed at an amazing rate from almost square to letterbox, why?

Over this period industry moved away from supporting slide projectors, OHPs and similar dated methods of displaying images. The digital age was dawning with vastly improved image quality and the ever-expanding international movie industry screaming out for wide HD screen displays in every home onto which they want to show their new breed of high quality (image wise) feature films, remember Todd AO and Cinerama, both pioneers in the development of Widescreen.

When you consider the power and influence of this huge section of the international leisure industry it is no wonder that the industrial and commercial electronics manufacturing industry took note of where their market lay in years to come. Consumer desktop and laptop computers quickly followed the trend to the point where virtually all are now constructed with a widescreen or 16:9 aspect ratio screen and supporting HD resolutions or more.

So, why is it that the conference market is still using 4:3 projection screens on far too many live events today? The answer is quite simple; we have to thank Microsoft – or should I say PowerPoint. Up until Microsoft’s release of its Office 2013 the default design template in PowerPoint was 4:3. Office 2013 defaults to 16:9 and will be a huge driver for change in the conference industry.

One of the biggest benefits to using a 16:9 aspect ratio screen, for your presentation, is area. On a screen of equal height you get a picture with a 25% increase in its viewing area over the traditional 4:3 screen.

Also, the elongated image of 16:9 is much more acceptable to the human eye and brain as it is, more or less, how we humans view the world about us, naturally.

From a purely commercial point of view for those of us constantly striving to provide our clients with the best possible imagery at conferences and live events all year round, we are forever combating small and large so called conference venues that have low ceilings.

We would love to name a few so these so-called conference venues in the UK, but we won’t as it is bad for business, who proclaim loud and clear in their conference packs what marvellous facilities they have with rooms that can accommodate 600 or more delegates, what they don’t tell you is that due to the low ceilings in their marvelous suites only a projection screen suitable for a maximum of 200 delegates can be used. Fortunately, the new 16:9 screens are a possible solution to this all too familiar problem.

For once progress is actual progress, but at what price, we will wait and see: –

We visited Japan back in the eighties, many years ago, on a commercial visit curtesy of Sony UK. The party we were with comprised of commercial video dealers from the UK, we were privileged to visit Sony’s research and development complex just outside Tokyo. It is understandable that we were only allowed to view a very limited part of the site, during the tour one could not help but notice a large white building with no windows and no visible means of access, just a plain white brick like building standing on its own in the middle of the R&D complex.

During the Q & A session at the end of the tour the question was asked “What is the big white building?” the answer we got was quite simple, a Sony bigwig replied “That building houses all the products that Sony will be bring to the market in 10 years’ time.”

So, whether you like it or not what we will be using electronically in ten years’ time is already decided, those future gadgets and products already exist.

Apologies for the digression but it is interesting to know how industry and commerce work. It is fair to say; us simple folk do not know half of what is going on in the big wide world. You may well ask; are we being manipulated and used? are we consider predictable?  by the other half, if almost everything we will be using in 10 years’ time has already been designed and is ready to be produced now, and to crown it all, the other half say the only reason why these products are not available to us straight away is, wait for it, we are not ready for them, so the answer to the question must be, yes, we are predictable and manipulable. Ah well, such is progress.