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16:9 Aspect Ratio: Why is it widely used?

We often use computers and watch TV, but have you ever wondered why these display devices are mostly rectangular and not square, triangular, or other shapes? Actually, this is the topic we will discuss today: the aspect ratio of screens and why the screens of computers or TVs are rectangular instead of other shapes.

About the Aspect Ratio of Monitors

In fact, all display devices have the concept of aspect ratio, and we often need this concept when designing pictures. Its format is expressed as W:H, and both letters are represented by numbers. Although there is no explicit regulation, the number in front generally represents the width and the number behind represents the height.

Common aspect ratios include: 1:1, 4:3, 3:4, 16:9, 9:16, 16:10, 21:9, and 32:9. Today, we will focus on the 16:9 aspect ratio.

Definition of the 16:9 Aspect Ratio

If we maximize an image in Photoshop, we can see that the image consists of many small squares, each representing a unit. Thus, the 16:9 aspect ratio is a concept that indicates 16 units of length and 9 units of height, where the units could be inches, centimeters, meters, or a unit in Photoshop.

16 9 Picture Design
16 9 Picture Design

In other words, if we color a section in Photoshop with a length of 16 units and a height of 9 units completely red, we obtain a 16:9 image.

Advantages of the 16:9 Aspect Ratio

As the most commonly used aspect ratio, 16:9 has several advantages:

More Comfortable Width

The 16:9 aspect ratio looks more comfortable than the 4:3 and 16:10 ratios. The 4:3 and 16:10 screens appear long and extend beyond our field of vision, causing eye fatigue over time. The 16:9 ratio fits within our visual range, making it more comfortable to view.

Widespread Use

The 16:9 ratio is widely accepted, and you can see it in many places. Not only display devices but also online videos and images are mostly in the 16:9 ratio. If you have uploaded videos to YouTube, you may notice that if a video is in the 4:3 ratio, it will automatically be converted into a short video.

Display More Content

When watching content in 16:9 resolution, you can usually see more content. In contrast, with 1:1 or 4:3 ratios, the video may be compressed, distorted, or not fully displayed.

More Convenient for Gaming

Most games on the market extend horizontally along the X-axis and Y-axis, with less content extending vertically along the Z-axis. This means that if your screen is longer, you might miss many interesting scenes. In shooting games, you could be in a blind spot, making you more vulnerable to being killed first.

16:9 Computer
16:9 Computer

Why 16:9 Aspect Ratio and Not Other Ratios?

We know that the 16:9 aspect ratio is widely used, but many people might not know why manufacturers prefer 16:9 over 4:3, 1:1, or other ratios. This brings us back to the question of why display screens are mostly rectangular rather than other shapes. Here are a few reasons:

Long-standing Usage

The concept of 16:9 dates back to the 1990s in film design, which was generally a rectangle close to the 16:9 ratio. Thus, we naturally chose the rectangular ratio for designing display devices like TVs and computers.

1080P And 720P
1080P And 720P

Related to Resolution

When we study resolutions like 1280*720px (HD), 1920*1080px (FHD), and 3840*2160px (UHD or 4K), we find that dividing one dimension by 16 and the other by 9 results in equal values. For instance, 1280*720px yields 80 each, 1920*1080px yields 120 each, and 3840*2160px yields 240 each.

From this, we can conclude that the 16:9 aspect ratio is in a positive proportional relationship with the pixel resolution.

So, if we want to quickly calculate other resolutions such as 2K or 8K, then we only need to decrease or increase the pixels by 40, and we can quickly get that the resolution of 2K is: 2560*1440px, and the resolution of 8K is: 7680*4320px.

Broad Compatibility

While some industrial display devices might still use 4:3 or 5:6 aspect ratios, it is undeniable that the 16:9 ratio is almost universally applicable for all designs and devices. Even though our phones are mostly used in portrait mode, they switch to landscape mode automatically when watching videos.

Creating More Captivating Content

The 16:9 ratio allows more freedom and flexibility in creating engaging content. Therefore, many images or items are designed using this ratio.

Overall, it mainly boils down to habituation. When people get used to the 16:9 ratio, switching to other ratios becomes difficult. Conversely, if people were initially accustomed to other ratios, they would find the 16:9 ratio unfamiliar.

As for why the shape is rectangular and not square or another shape, it’s easy to explain. A 16:9 ratio cannot be a square; it can only be a rectangle, which answers why display screens are primarily rectangular.

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