Screen evolution: What’s an aspect ratio anyway?

By Noah Baird

One of the cornerstones of the corporate conference industry is the ability to share presentations and a speaker’s message to a large audience. Over the years, the format of this medium has gone through numerous technological changes: slide projectors, overhead transparencies, VHS/DVD video playback. We have now reached the point at which the majority of all presentations given are executed via laptop or desktop computer, delivered to a digital projector, and then projected onto one or multiple large projection screens.
Screen evolution: What’s an aspect ratio anyway?As the format of these display devices has changed, so has the aspect ratio (or relationship of the width of the screen to the height of the screen). Overheads, for example, primarily employed a 1:1 screen aspect ratio, which meant that for every unit of height, you would have the same unit of width.

The next generation

The next phase of screen ratios entered was by far the longest standing: 4:3. This dates back to slide projectors and the first commercially-available laptops which employed staggering resolutions up to and including 800×600 pixels! The 4:3 screen ratio can most easily be identified by using the consumer electronics market as an example. Do you remember the big bulky TVs that used to sit in all of our living rooms? Yep, those were 4:3.

As our industry moved away from supporting slide projectors, overheads and square format screens, the next stage entered was 16:9. The 16:9-screen aspect ratio is by no means a new thing. Using the previous example, let’s think about what we have in our living rooms today or what we see on the shelves of our favorite electronics store. Gone are the bulky, heavy, low-resolution televisions. In their place are sleek, thin, high-resolution, widescreen TVs. Any guess as to the aspect ratio of these new TVs? Correct, 16:9!

Consumer laptops have followed suit, and we are now at a point where the computers we and our delegates are purchasing are constructed with a widescreen – or 16:9 aspect ratio screen – and support resolutions in excess of 1920×1080 pixels.

Meeting expectations

If we are purchasing 16:9 laptops and TVs, why is it that we are still using 4:3 screens on far too many of our conferences? The short answer is PowerPoint. Up until Microsoft’s latest release of its Office product (2013), the default design template in PowerPoint was 4:3. Office 2013 now defaults to 16:9 and will no doubt be a huge driver of change in our industry.

One of the biggest benefits to using a 16:9 aspect ratio for our presentations is real estate. On a screen of identical height, we get 25 per cent more viewing area than a traditional 4:3 ratio screen. Compare a 7.5’x10’ screen (4:3) versus a 7.5’x 13.3’ (16:9) screen, for example. Both screens take up the same vertical height in a room, but the second screen gives us roughly 25 square feet more viewing area! Think of this from the delegate’s perspective: sight lines, screen font size, seating layout. These are all things we must consider on a daily basis. 16:9 format screens help address all these crucial points and will soon become the expectation of presenters and attendees alike throughout the corporate conference world.

Freeman Audio Visual has made a concentrated effort to prepare for this progression by investing in screens, laptops and projectors of various sizes to accommodate all needs. Our sales staff and operational teams are well versed in guiding our clients through the considerations needed when planning for this change and are excited to work with you and your teams in this next step of technological evolution.

About the author

Noah Baird is General Manager of the Winnipeg Branch of Freeman Audio Visual (formerly known as AVW-TELAV Audio Visual Solutions), a company that connects people in meaningful ways by enhancing the power of meetings, conventions, special events and trade shows through leading-edge presentation technology solutions.

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