TV Aspect Ratio Explained: 16:9, 4:3, 21:9

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Whether you’re building a home theater setup, or you’re just looking for a new television, the TVs aspect ratio is an important factor to consider because it determines the shape of your television as well as the shape of the image on the screen. There are so many technical terminologies thrown around that it can get confusing for people that aren’t as tech literate, so the goal of this post is to make everything easier to understand.

For home theaters, there are a few television aspect ratios that you can choose from. For the best cinematic experience, you’re going to want to know what the difference between each aspect ratio is, and what the best screen ratio is for your needs.

What Is A TV Aspect Ratio?

what is aspect ratio

The aspect ratio of a screen refers to the width of the screen divided by the height, so a 16:9 aspect ratio screen is 16 units wide and 9 units high. The aspect ratio is independent of the size of the screen, so the size of the screen has no impact on the aspect ratio. With that being said, a 4K screen and a 1080P screen can both have the same aspect ratios.

Essentially the TVs aspect ratio refers to the shape of the screen. If the aspect ratio is 9:16, then you will have a vertical screen as opposed to a horizontal screen 16:9. For watching movies, you would probably want a 16:9 screen as most movies, and tv shows are made in this aspect ratio.

It’s the same concept with the image being displayed being that they have their own aspect ratios too. An image on a screen can be formatted in the 4:3 aspect ratio or the 16:9 aspect ratio, but depending on the screen, you may experience black bars when watching content with different aspect ratios to your screen.

The Most Common TV Aspect Ratio

16:9 tv

The most common TV aspect ratios would have to be the 16:9. 16:9 or 16 by 9 is a standard for HDTVs and this is the most popular aspect ratio because a lot of content produced today uses the 16:9 ratio as their camera can support this ratio. Also, the 16:9 widescreen ratio is the only aspect ratio to natively support the DVD standard.

The main reason for the 16:9 ratio existence is because movie makers for a long time have been trying to figure out a way to make movies look bigger and better, and the 16:9 aspect ratio enhances the image quality which allows for more cinematic experiences. For home theater,s this is the aspect ratio you will want because movie makers have developed this ratio to be as immersive as possible producing bolder backdrops and better sceneries.

The most common film aspect ratio is 1.85:1, and it is prevalent in most movie theaters/cinemas, it has been used since the 1960s. It is slightly wider than the 16:9 aspect ratio, the 16:9 aspect ratio closely resembles the 1.85:1 ratio, this is done to provide a more cinematic experience. However, the universal video format is currently 16:9 or 1.7:1.

What Do Different Aspect Ratios Look Like?

all aspect ratios

Aspect ratios come in different shapes, and when a picture is developed in a specific aspect ratio if that picture is rendered onto a screen of a different aspect ratio, then the screen will produce black bars. A way to fix the issue of black bars is to make the image bigger but then you will be cutting out detail.

The 21:9 aspect ratio is known as the ultra-wide ratio used for showing movies and shows produced in the CinemaScope format. The main benefit of this screen is the absence of black bars on the top of the screen when viewing movies and shows in a different format. The 21:9 aspect ratio isn’t as popular as the 16:9 ratio, but it is still used today in projection systems using anamorphic lenses.

The 16:9 aspect ratio is known as the widescreen aspect ratio and it is the most prevalent today being used in most TVs sold. It is the international format for HDTV and popular resolutions such as 1920×1080 and 3840×2160 are part of the 16:9 aspect ratio. Most content produced today is made using resolutions that are of the 16 by 9 aspect ratio, so it makes sense to use 16:9 displays if you’re not trying to see black bars.

The 4:3 aspect ratio or 4 by 3 is an old-school aspect ratio used by filmmakers. Filmmakers still use it to this day even though it started to see a massive decline in the 1950s. This aspect ratio was used because it closely resembles a square and that is the easiest aspect ratio to use. Eventually, the 16:9 aspect ratio took over, now it’s the new TV standard.

Also Read: How To Fix Black Bars

Anamorphic Aspect Ratios Ultra Wide Screen

anamorphic aspect ratio

2.39:1 is the anamorphic ratio that is used for ultra-widescreen movie production, and it is prevalent for the fact that there is a demand for wider screens. Anamorphic content is produced by using a modified lense that stretches and distorts the image by anamorphic projection. Anamorphic aspect ratios are essentially distortions that widen the original image to produce varying cinematic effects.

Most TVs today are not made using 2.39:1 or cinematic aspect ratios this is because they weren’t really popular as most TV content isn’t made using the ultra-widescreen aspect ratio. People using anamorphic televisions eventually got fed up by seeing black bars on their TVs for viewing normal content which reduced the popularity of ultra-wide TVs. This is why most TVs you’ll see today are made using the 16:9 aspect ratio.

Viewing content that is filmed in the ultra-wide aspect ratio on your 16:9 TV usually isn’t a massive problem as it results in thin black bars on the top of the screen. it doesn’t cut out any content you’re watching and overall it makes better sense for 16:9 TVs as 95% of regular content isn’t anamorphic. As you can see in the image below, a film which is usually produced in the 2.39:1 aspect ratio is being displayed on a 16:9 TV, It results in thin black bars on the top and bottom.