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A fascinating look at the history of aspect ratios

If you work in filmmaking or other forms of visual storytelling you are already comfortable talking about aspect ratios. But for many people it is still a bit of a mystery. An aspect ratio of a screen, for example, simply describes relationship between its width and its height. Not all that long ago TVs had screens that were 4:3. These days, of course, your TV screen at home or in the conference room has an aspect ratio of 16:9. Movie screens in theaters display even much wider images. In the world of presentations today, slides (which can include HD video) can be created typically in either 4:3 or 16:9. In Keynote, for example, you can choose a 4:3 aspect ratio with a resolution of 800x600 or 1024x768. Or if you want a more cinematic look in 16:9 you can choose 1280x720, 1680x1050, or 1920x1080. Many people still use slides in 4:3, but the trend is moving away from that aspect ratio. Large conferences and other events such as TED/TEDx, etc. will ask presenters to prepare slides (if they use slides) for a 16:9 screen. But how did 4:3 and now 16:9 (and other wider cinematic dimensions) get to be standards? Even if you are well-versed in this subject, you will find the two presentations below by filmmaker John Hess  from FilmmakerIQ.com interesting and informative. I also think these are brilliant examples of good presentation.

The Changing Shape of Cinema: The History of Aspect Ratio

Composition Techniques for Widescreen Aspect Ratios
Although the discussion in the presentation below concerns cinema and filmmaking, the lessons should be of interest to anyone who works and designs for screen displays. There is even a discussion of the Golden Mean and rule of thirds which I talked about in 2005 in this post From Wabi-Sabi to Golden Mean and here in From Golden Mean to Rule of Thirds.

Composition Techniques for Widescreen Aspect Ratios from FilmmakerIQ.com

4:3 example.
This is in the Apple Store Shinsaibashi (Osaka) just after they opened in 2004. The back-lit screen behind me has an aspect ratio of 4:3. Many Apple stores still have 4:3 screens in their theaters, but some have been replaced and I hear others will be eventually changed to 16:9 screens.


16:9 example.
In this presentation at the Creativity World Forum 2011 in Belgium, my slides appeared at four different spots on a screen that wrapped around the audience.


Paul Dunn

And it would be so nice on Keynote if there was a magical way (with the click of a mouse) of changing from a presentation done in 4*3 to 16*9. Right now it requires going through every slide and rearranging if you have simple looking (but complex to do) moves and so on.


Very Interesting.Different types of screen for different purposes and presentations.What would be the golden ratio for the screen that will optimize the work in our home and offices.

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