The aspect ratio is the ratio of width to height of an image. In the context of projector screens, it refers to the ratio of a projection or video image. For example, if you have a 4:3 aspect ratio, that means for every 3 inches of height you get 4 inches of width. In terms of screens, that means you get a square-like screen that all TV formats from the 1990s and before that featured. 4:3 was actually the aspect ratio norm during the pre-widescreen age of standard definition (SD) television. However, thanks to the high definition revolution of the late 2000s and 2010s, 16:9 became the norm nowadays.
When widescreen TVs and HDMI connections became more prevalent, the 16:9 aspect ratio became more prevalent. This meant that for every 16 inches of width, the image will have 9 inches of height. So what are the many differences of 4:3 vs 16:9 projector screen? Read on to find out.
Learn More About Aspect Ratio and 4:3 versus 16:9
The thing about the 16:9 aspect ratio is that it’s 78 percent wider than the 4:3 aspect ratio. It’s like when YouTube had a less dynamic player on their website and started making all videos play on a widescreen player. The standard 4:3 aspect ratio videos from recorded TV programs from the 1990s and prior all had black bars on their sides to compensate for their non-16:9 aspect ratio. Nowadays, YouTube can change the player size to suit the needs of the video, but you don’t have that luxury with projector screens.
- Should You Have a 4:3 or 16:9 Screen? Nowadays? Stick with a 16:9 projector screen. Everything is in widescreen in the 21st Century or the 2010s. Presumably, in the 2020s we’ll just see more of the same. If you want your home cinema to be modern, then go with the latest acceptable resolution for HDTV and projector use. Even if you’re watching vintage TV shows that are mostly unaltered from their original 4:3 aspect ratio, it’s still wiser to invest in a 16:9 screen just to avoid the bleed-over of the image going outside the screen and into your walls that a square screen is sure to cause. It’s better to have “black bars” on the side when watching a 4:3 classic TV show like Bonanza, M.A.S.H., or even Friends. Otherwise, get separate screens for 16:9 and 4:3 videos.
- Business Projector Aspect Ratios: Business projectors differ from home cinema projectors in that they serve as second monitors that mirror the interfaces of various laptops and PCs to enable people to view computer presentations made with programs or apps like Microsoft PowerPoint and Excel. They feature a wider amount of possible resolutions because they use popular resolutions for notebook and desktop PCs at the time. For example, the 4:3 aspect ratio for business projectors is available for the XGA and SXGA variety. The closest they have to 16:9 widescreen is 16:10, which is available for WXGA and WUXGA projectors.
- Common Projector Aspect Ratio Resolutions: Most startup companies opt for 4:3 even in the 2010s. Many vintage PCs and laptops have 1024 x 768 or 1600 x 1200 pixel resolution have aspect ratios that match that of analog TV and many non-widescreen computers monitor up until that point. However, tech firms with state-of-the-art notebooks and workstations might have already upgraded to 2010s 16:10 or 16:9 resolution, partly because of the HDTV revolution in that era. 16:10 was the most common sold aspect ratio for widescreen computer monitors until 2008 while 16:9 matches the 1366 x 768 or 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution of laptops and the aspect ratio of HDTVs.
- Technology Marches On: The computer display industry has moved away from the 4:3 format long ago in the early 2010s although you can still do 4:3 with an old laptop, projector, and screen since slideshow presentations don’t require state-of-the-art graphics or resolutions to work. Regardless, as more and more laptops, particularly your MacBook Pros and whatnot, will instead have a widescreen display capable of playing modern widescreen videos and whatnot, so the 16:9 and 16:10 resolution will naturally require an HD projector with an HDMI hookup. It’s pretty rare to have a 4:3 projector with an HDMI link since 4:3 usually doesn’t cover HD resolutions.
- HDTV versus CRT TV: Cathode-ray tube television sets were the popular type of TV sets for many households from the 1930s onwards all the way to the 2000s, before they were rendered obsolete by LCD TVs, plasma TVs, smart TVs, and (of course) the High-Definition Television. They featured the square 4:3 aspect ratio compared to the cinematic rectangular aspect ratio of 1.33:1, which can translate to 13.3:10 or 133:100. So for every silver screen or color screen with 100 inches of height, you get 133 inches of width. Yes, old cinema aspect ratios aren’t exactly like the standard widescreen HDTV ratio of 16:9, but it’s close enough to reliably replicate a movie with minimal cropping, stretching, or squashing.
- Home Theater Video Projector Aspect Ratios: HDTV cable or satellite signals and Blu-Ray disc movies all go for the 16:9 aspect ratio and 1080p to 4K (or even 8K) resolution. Meanwhile, DVDs and CRTs still opt for the 4:3 aspect ratio and 480p (or similar) resolution. 16:9 is also supported by DVDs, but only for any content that’s in widescreen, like movies and HD programs. DVDs are digital in nature, but the 4:3 aspect ratio has long been associated with analog technology ranging from standard definition CRT TV sets to VHS tapes, Betamax tapes, and LDs or laser discs. Regardless, home theater projectors in the 2010s and 2020s employ the 16:9 aspect ratio by default and perhaps the 4:3 aspect ratio with black sidebars.
- Can You Watch 4:3 Content on a 16:9 Display and Vice-Versa? Yeah. As opposed to a 4:3 aspect ratio projector trying to play an HD video, a modern projector is more backward compatible with earlier projector types or even DVDs with 480p and 4:3 aspect ratio. Some projectors even have the ability to play both 4:3 and 16:9 videos, with the 4:3 ones in their original square glory. When it’s projected unto the widescreen, just make sure that at least the height matches the screen so that there’s no bleed over from the top. It’s more problematic to use a 16:9 resolution projector and project unto a 4:3 screen because you’ll either have bled over on the sides of the square screen or you’ll get a much smaller rectangular image with black letterbox bars above and below it.
- The Emergence of 16:9 and HDTV: Until about 2003, computer monitors used the 4:3 or standard TV aspect ratio. In turn, 4:3 has always been the standard for TVs since its invention. Around 2008, the PC industry started to move from 4:3 aspect ratio to 16:9 and 16:10, which not coincidentally matches the standard aspect ratio for HDTVs. According to a DisplaySearch report on 2008, there are quite a number of citations and reasons for this change, including the ability for monitor and PC manufacturers to expand their product ranges by offering higher resolutions and wider screens. Regardless, the new standard nowadays is HD, 1080p, and 16:9 in aspect ratio.
- The State of 4:3 Display Under 16:9 Dominance: By 2010, nearly all laptops and monitor manufacturers have moved to the 16:9 widescreen LCD screen aspect ratio. The 16:10 aspect ratio screen also became available in the mass market to give consumers those extra inches, but they’re much more limited compared to their 16:9 counterparts. 4:3 displays were still being made in 2011, but in much smaller quantities because the demand for square monitors decreased in direct proportion to the rising demand for widescreens. It also helped that commercially, more and more media is becoming digital and widescreen as well, so there’s more of an intersection between PC and TV culture.
- So What’s The Deal with 4:3 and Why Is It Still Around? Stretching or cropping a 4:3 video image doesn’t only bother the purist consumers who wish for high-fidelity translation of old media in modern times. The compromise to watching a 4:3 video on a 16:9 display or projector is to deal with black bars, which is the most unobtrusive solution compared to stretching, squashing, or cropping the said image. What’s more, the vast majority of media nowadays are of the 4:3 aspect ratio type. The same dilemma probably happened during the transition from black and white films to color films, with several classics getting colorized to be more viewable to modern audiences.
When Should You Use 16:9 and When Should You Use 4:3
4:3 used to be for television and 16:9 or similar cinematic aspect ratios where the width is wider than the height were the norm for movies. If you have a home projector, it’s recommended that you use a rectangular instead of a square projector because modern TV shows are now formatted to work like movies with their widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio compared to vintage shows from the 20th Century. You can also play both widescreen and square aspect ratio programs and films on a rectangular projector screen, since a square screen will cut off the rest of the widescreen while a widescreen projector screen will cater to both square and rectangular images. The square ones will simply have “black bars” on the side and whatnot.
- Ben Kirby, “Film Studies 101: A Beginner’s Guide To Aspect Ratios“, Empire Online, May 1, 2014
- “Projectors and Aspect Ratios: Here’s What You Need to Know“, ProjectorPeople.com, Retrieved May 11, 2020
- “Display Aspect Ratio“, Wikipedia, Retrieved May 11, 2020