If you have ever worked with video, or even if you just own a TV, it is likely at some point you have been exposed to the term 16:9 ratio. What exactly does this term mean and why is it important? This article will explain in-depth the definition of a 16:9 ratio, how to calculate it, and its applications with LED screen rental and sales.
Understanding Aspect Ratios
A 16:9 ratio is a specific aspect ratio, so we must first define aspect ratio. An aspect ratio is a term that describes the relationship between the width and height of a digital display, written as W:H. For example a 1:1, or square ratio, means that the width and height are equal to each other. A 2:1 aspect ratio means the width is double the height, and so-on.
Pictured above, the landscape example is a 3:2 aspect ratio. For every 3 parts wide, the shape is 2 parts tall. This shape could be 3 feet wide by 2 feet tall, 600 pixels wide by 400 pixels tall, etc. For the square example, as long as width = height then it is a 1:1 or square aspect ratio. The portrait example is 2:3, meaning for 2 units of width, there are 3 units of height. Keep in mind that aspect ratios are independent of size. So a 5’x5′ screen has the same aspect ratio as a 500’x500′ screen (1:1).
16:9 Ratio Defined
A 16:9 ratio (pronounced “16 9”, “16 to 9” , or “16 by 9” and sometimes written as “16×9”) is a specific aspect ratio, where for every 16 units of width, there are 9 corresponding units of height. So examples of 16:9 displays would be 16 inches wide by 9 inches high, 32 widgets wide by 18 widgets high, and 1920 pixels wide by 1080 pixels high. An image has a 16:9 ratio if its width-to-height ratio is equal to 16/9, or 1.78. A 16:9 ratio can also be represented as 1.78:1.
16:9 is significant because it is today’s standard ratio for film and display. The 16:9 ratio replaced the old 4:3 ratio in the early 2,000s. You may have heard terms such as 1080p HD, 720p HD, and 4K UHD. These terms all refer to 16×9 ratios. For example, a 1080p HD display refers to a screen resolution of 1920x1080p (1920/1080 = 1.78).
How to Calculate Any Aspect Ratio
For the sake of calculation, you can treat an aspect ratio as a fraction, W:H = W/H. For example, 16:9 = 16/9 = 1.78 = 1.78:1. Then you can calculate any aspect ratio with an algebraic formula.
Aspect Ratio Formula
For aspect ratio X:1 where X represents units of width, 1 represents 1 unit of height, W represents units of 1:1 display width, H represents units of 1:1 display height:
W/H = X:1
There is a digital display in Vegas with a width of 75 feet and a height of 75 feet. What is its aspect ratio?
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W= 75 | H = 75 | X = ?
75/75 = 1
X = 1
Thus the Vegas display has an aspect ratio of 1:1, or a square ratio with equal units width to height
John has an old school tube TV that is in a 4:3 aspect ratio. He knows that the width of his TV is 32 inches. What is the height of his TV?
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To apply the above formula with this example, we must first convert a 4:3 aspect ratio into an X:1 ratio.
4/3 = 1.33 = 1.33:1
W = 32 | H = ? | X = 1.33
32/H = 1.33:1
32/1.33 = 24
H = 24
Thus John’s 4:3 TV is 24 inches high.
Susan ordered a video wall that is 35 feet wide by 10 feet high. What is her screen’s aspect ratio?
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35/10 = X:1
35/10 = 3.5
X = 3.5
Thus Susan’s screen is an aspect ratio of 3.5:1. While 3.5:1 is technically correct, Susan wants to convert this ratio into a ratio with whole numbers. To accomplish this, she must convert the decimal 3.5 into an improper fraction. 3.5 converted into an improper fraction = 7/2. Thus, Susan’s screen is in a 7:2 ratio as well as a 3.5:1 ratio.
*Easier way to calculate the aspect ratio – When given the width and height of a display, the aspect ratio is simply W:H, thus here screen’s aspect ratio is 35:10. We must then simplify the fraction 35/10 by dividing width and height by the greatest common denominator. In this case, the GCD of 35 and 10 is 5. 35/5 = 7, 10/5 = 2, thus her aspect ratio is 7:2
Too much math? You can also use this aspect ratio calculator.
Aspect Ratios and Video Walls
Due to the modular nature of video walls (with the exception of mobile LED screens, which are usually already built in a 16:9 ratio), aspect ratios are very important to understand. For example, you may wish to display a live TV feed full-screen. In which case, it is imperative that your video wall is in a 16:9 ratio. If you are looking for a custom aspect ratio, it is important to understand ratios when designing custom files and scaling content to the screen. Here are some examples of video walls with custom aspect ratios:
LED Panel Count and 16:9 Ratios
Assuming that LED panels are 1:1 (square), you can apply the above formula and concepts to LED video walls when determining your screen’s physical size and panel count in relation to specific aspect ratios. However, 1:1 panels may pose a challenge when creating true 16:9 video walls, because the only way to achieve an exact 16:9 ratio is to have 16 panels wide by 9 panels tall, or an exact multiple of such. Given that most LED panels are at least 2′ x 2′ in size, a video wall that is 16 panels wide by 9 panels tall would equate to a 32′ x 18′ video wall. What if you want something smaller? The good news is that there is some wiggle room with 16:9 ratios. You want your video wall to be close to a 16:9 ratio and your 16:9 content will automatically stretch to fit the display.
Video Wall Panel Count 16:9 Formula:
Panel Width / Panel Height = Greater than 1.65 but less than 1.85
In other words, your panel width count divided by your panel count height should equal in between 1.65 and 1.85. This is your “16:9 safe zone”. Here are video wall sizes within the 16:9 safe zone:
The above sizing configurations will be close enough to a 16:9 ratio to be undetectable to the naked eye. As you can see, the only exact way to achieve a 16:9 with square panels is with 16 panels wide by 9 panels high. In contrast to 1:1 square panels, there are also individual panels that are 16:9 already, such as with LCD video walls. In this case, a panel count of 1:1 actually equals 16:9 total ratio, since the screens are scaling up from 16:9. So 2×2, 5×5, 10×10 walls created with 16:9 panels all equal 16:9 ratios.
16:9 Content on Non-16:9 Screens
Maybe your advertiser sent video wall content in the wrong ratio last minute. Or say you just want to display 16:9 content onto a custom-ratio screen. What happens if you try to display 16:9 content onto a video wall that is a different resolution? While it can be done, the end result is not ideal. The result becomes worse with the farther the mismatch between ratios is. There are three options for scaling 16:9 content onto a non-16:9 video wall:
- Stretch to fill – This takes the image and forces it to stretch onto the screen’s ratio. For example, if you upload a 16:9 video onto a 3:1 video wall, this will result in 64% distortion. The image will be stretched width-ways. It is an acceptable option at 10% or less distortion. Shapes such as circles can be less forgiving with noticeable levels of image distortion.
- Letterbox – This fits the content into video wall frame proportionally, leaving black bars either vertically or horizontally. A perfect example of this is when you watch an old movie on a new TV. There are black bars on either side because the film was shot in 4:3, while your TV is 16:9. This is most professional option since it displays the original picture exactly as it was intended by the videographer or designer.
- Crop to fill – This one is not recommended in most cases because it involves cutting off parts of the image. This is especially problematic if there is important text or picture contained in the margins of the image. But an advantage is that it allows you to fill the screen and constrain the aspect ratio. It can also be an effective option with content such as visuals since visuals don’t contain text that could be cropped out.
An aspect ratio is simply the proportion of display width to display height, written as W:H. 16:9 is the most popular aspect ratio since it is the standard for video and film. Aspect ratios are especially important to understand when selecting a video wall size or designing content for video walls.
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