Aspect ratio for projectors: Explaining what it means for you

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What is Aspect ratio for projectors?

Aspect ratio is one of the most difficult projector terminologies to understand, next to throw ratio. However, once understood, it’s definitely the easiest. It is also one of the most important. Aspect ratio is completely intertwined with viewer immersion and content. That much so that when you’re looking for a projector you need to first know your desired Aspect ratio. But what exactly does aspect ratio for projectors mean?


Aspect ratio: Explained

Aspect ratio describes the size ratio of your projected screen. This is not to be confused with screen size, as aspect ratios can be displayed in a huge array of sizes (depending on other factors). 

What we mean by Aspect ratio is how many units your screen is wide to how many units your screen is high. So a 16:9 aspect ratio would be 16 units wide to 9 units high. You might be wondering why this is important. 

Unfortunately, different types of content have different aspect ratios. For example, a powerpoint presentation doesn’t have the same Aspect ratio as a Hollywood movie. The most popular Aspect ratios in projection are:

When a projector aspect ratio isn’t mirrored in the content used, masking happens. 

Masking: What is it?

“Masking” refers to the black lines that appear either on the bottom/top or the sides of content. It happens when the content and projectors Aspect ratio don’t match. 

Of course, it isn’t a huge issue when masking occurs occasionally. However, when it is a predominant feature in everything you watch, it can ruin your experience. 

Aspect ratio for projectors: masking
Masking Example

Masking can be avoided by zooming in on content or applying “fit content to screen”. However, this zooms the image and cuts out some of the media displayed. As a result, it isn’t the most ideal solution.

This is why it’s important to understand the type of content you watch before making a purchase decision. 

4:3 Aspect ratio

4:3 Aspect ratio is 4 units wide by 3 units high. Mathematically, this makes it 33% wider than it is high – giving it more of a square shape. 

The 4:3 Aspect ratio is the OG of film. It was implemented in the first movies shot and was the size of the first ever TVs. It wasn’t until much later that widescreen was developed in both TV and Cinema, so 4:3 had about 50 years before being replaced.

This means that a lot of SDTV shows are filmed in 4:3. For example, the first few seasons of friends, as well as the original spongebob. 

The biggest modern day use of 4:3 is in business projectors. Powerpoint and Google Slides still use a 4:3 ratio – although there’s been a lot of push to change this. However, it’s not likely to change anytime in the near future. 

As a result, if your intended use is business, the classroom or old SDTV re-runs, 4:3 is going to be your go to. 

Summary

4:3 aspect ratio gives a more squared image that is commonly used amongst business and classroom projectors. 

Advantages of 4:3Disadvantages of 4:3
Most business/classroom resources suit this sizeNo media content is shot in this size
Cheaper in generalNot future proof 
Usually portable

16:9 – A step into the modern world

16:9 was the first step into widescreen. It was first proposed in 1984 and then made mainstream in TV from around 2009. One of the key reasons widescreen was first suggested was because it matched the human eye. 

The aspect ratio of the human eye falls at around 1.87:1, meaning that content that is similar to this is more comfortable to watch. 16:9 is also described as 1.78:1. This is because:

16/9 = 1.78 

When 16:9 was first suggested, it was scoffed at. However, as the popularity and availability of TV grew, so did the idea of widescreen. Thus, in the 2000’s 16:9 format became popular in films and TV shows alike. 

Nowadays 16:9 is the most popular Aspect ratio, although there have been hints at this shifting to 2.35:1. With the growing budget of TV shows and Netflix series being all the rage, we might see a shift in dominant aspect ratio, but not for a while yet. For now however, 16:9 vs 2.35:1 is simply directors preference. 

As such, the “safest” aspect ratio to look for when purchasing a projector is definitely 16:9. 

Summary

TV and movies often use the 16:9 ratio. It is the best Aspect ratio to go for in order to keep masking at a minimum across different media types.

Advantages of 16:9Disadvantages of 16:9
Used in modern TVNo guarantee it’s future proof
Will minimise masking in most content Not used in powerpoints
Lots of variety in projector choice with this ratio

2.35:1 Aspect ratio 

The 2.35:1 aspect ratio is mainly used within modern cinema. However, as previously discussed, it’s usually directors choice whether to use 2.35:1 or 16:9. The 2.35:1 ratio is arguably more comfortable to view as it is close to the aspect ratio humans see in (1.87:1), although some might suggest 2.35:1 is too wide. However, it is undeniable that 2.35:1 more comfortably fits our field of view. 

This aspect ratio is used more in cinema projectors than home systems. However as with the jump from 4:3 to 16:9, there is no guarantee 2.35:1 won’t start to integrate into home cinema. With the rise in appreciation for good cinematography not only in movies, but also YouTube videos and Netflix series, this is more likely than ever. 

For the time being, however, it’s probably wise to investigate the content you mainly watch and see if it falls into 16:9 or 2.35:1. In all honesty, avoiding masking is near impossible if you watch varied content – minimising it is our goal. 

Summary

2.35:1 is used for select films, but not TV shows. However, with cinematic shooting becoming popular in Docuseries and Netflix shorts, there’s suggestions this ratio might soon move to television series too. 

Advantages of 2.35:1Disadvantages of 2.35:1
Used in select filmsIs less popular than 16:9 for movies + TV shows
Is experimented with in some TV shows
Fills our field of vision well 

Now that you understand aspect ratio, perhaps you need help with other elements of your projector. If so, check out:

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