If you’ve ever asked why there are black bars above and below the picture on your TV or ever wondered what’s the relevance of 4:3 or 16:9, the answer is it’s all to do with TV Aspect Ratio.
Basically, TV Aspect Ratio is shape of a visual image on any screen, whether at home or at the cinema, specifically, the relationship in size between the width and the height of the video image on the screen.
Traditional TVs were designed in the 4:3 format, because up until the 1950s, all movies were made in this format. That is, the image was wider than it was high by a proportion of 4 to 3. Divide 3 into 4 and you get a ratio of 1:33 and this is why Academy Standard, as it was known back then was designated 1:33:1. This was the standardised format and that is why older CRT TVs are shaped the way they are.
This all changed when widescreen was born. The widescreen format was introduced by the film companies in an attempt to bolster flagging cinema attendances, as people were staying at home watching more TV instead of going to movie theatres.
It was thought that this new format would improve the viewer experience by conveying more dramatic, dynamic scenery to the viewer and boost sales at the box office. Viewing widescreen format on a traditional 4:3 TV meant that some of the picture was cut off at the edges, so viewers had to go to the cinema if they wanted to enjoy the full experience of the movie.
It was 20th Century Fox that pioneered the introduction of the widescreen format with CinemaScope. Later, CinemaScope become Panavision, forming the basis of the most common widescreen format we see today.
Modern CRT TVs and all flat-screen TVs adopted the 16:9 widescreen TV aspect ratio in order to imitate the experience of viewing movies at the cinema. As a result, movies not made in this format cause the size and shape on the picture on your TV to change.
TV manufacturers addressed the problem by introducing two formats known as Pan & Scan and Letterbox. Pan & Scan centred the widescreen image on the screen, resulting in the loss of a significant portion of the original image, which is why many viewers prefer the letterbox format, whereby the image is downsized in order to show the extreme right and left of the picture that Pan & Scan removes.
However, using the Letterbox format results in the familiar black bars at the top and bottom of your screen, which is how the format gets its name.
What’s more, things have become more complicated as directors are now shooting movies on even higher aspect ratios, meaning that even with the latest widescreen HD TVs you may still have to put up with those annoying black bars taking up the bottom and top of your TV.
Now that you know what is TV aspect ratio, let’s have a look what size of HDTV you really need.