Sideways Video – A Rant on Aspect Ratio


Television has set the standard of common resolutions and aspect ratios for years, but not everything seems as smooth as it should. For one as we are becoming increasingly more web-centric in our distribution models why are we sticking by these ancient limitations of size and shape.  Isn’t there something inherently more flexible with the web? Let’s challenge those norms and create something new with video.

Why do we have 16:9 aspect ratio TV sets but most computer monitors are 16:10? TV and computers both migrated toward widescreen layouts around the same time, but why such a subtle difference?

Another funny think about resolutions and the web is that there is no consistency. Take a look at this chart showing common resolutions of visitors to this site:


Some common Laptop resolutions and old school 4:3? How about netbooks?  iPhones and Blackberries add even more diversity.

I was sitting at a gas station the other night with my Flip and shot this, sideways. Why not? What I was trying to capture was better suited for a more portrait-like frame and it felt almost natural to hold the camcoorder like a small digital camera. Not to mention I can display a higher resolution video in the confines of the 450px column width on this site.

I’d like to see more creative uses of video, like this. What do you think? Is this just crazy talk?

3 thoughts on “Sideways Video – A Rant on Aspect Ratio”

  1. Computer displays and HDTVs use different ratios because they are made for different things. 16:9 on a computer means more scrolling.

  2. Tim is correct here. Analog TV’s were designed with a 3:2 aspect ratio in order to save bandwidth, otherwise there would have been significantly less TV channels that could broadcast. Further, because of the way these interlaced screens worked, a different aspect ratio would have resulted in it taking too long to refresh the vertical resolution lines, and thus there would be no 30 frames per second. Any slower, and your brain might not connect the images together. In fact, you don’t actually get the full resolution, you only get about 85%, which equates to an aspect ratio of 4:3.

    Now because of the interlacing, text looks horrible (all standard definition analog TV’s were 720×480). So they invented progressive scanning and were able to increase the vertical resolution and the aspect ratio for computers became 4:3 (you see all of the screen though). Now of course as technology has moved forward, resolution has increased on the computer side of the fence. On the TV side they could not, because it was a standard on which TV was/is broadcasted. The higher the resolution, the more stuff you can have on the screen. Several sizes became pivotal, these are your “standard resolutions.” Graphic:

    It gets even more fun than that. On standard 35mm film the vertical height of the frame was standardized to 4 perforations (the holes on the sides) which is 4:3 (but the film industry likes their height to always be one so 4:3 = 1.33:1). If there is a sound track then its 1.37:1 (4.11:3). At some point they turned the film sideways to get a wider screen, though to save money they will sometimes use 3 perforations instead of four resulting in the current movie aspect ratios which are 1.85:1 or 2.39:1.

    So it really is all just a big mess, but I think the question you need to ask is actually:
    What happened to those circular TV’s they had way back in the day that you see in the old movies?

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