16:9 vs 4:3 - What's the difference?

First you need to understand "aspect ratio"

Aspect ratio is the relationship between the width of a screen or video image compared to its height expressed as width : height. The most popular aspect ratios in live events are 4:3 (also known as fullscreen) and 16:9 (also known as widescreen). There are other aspect ratios for larger format screens including those used in the film industry. 

Popular 4:3 screen sizes at events

8' x 6' 
10' x 7.5'
12' x 9'
14' x 10.5'

Popular 16:9 screen sizes for events

8 ' x 4.5'
10' x 5.6'
12' x 6.75'
16' x 9'
24' x 13.5'

Working out if a screen is 4:3 or 16:9

All projection screen sizes are quoted with their width first and height second. Therefore to work out if a screen is 4:3 or 16:9 ratio: 

1. Divide the width (first number) by 4
2. Multiply this number by 3
3. If the result is the same as the height of the screen then the screen's aspect ratio is 4:3

If it is not then: 

1. Divide the width (first number) by 16
2. Multiply this number by 9
3. If the result is the same as the height of the screen, then the screen's aspect ratio is 16:9


Can I use 4:3 videos and slides on a 16:9 screen and vice versa?

We encourage all of our clients to create their video content in the same aspect ratio as the screens that they will be using at their event. If you need help with this then your audio visual or event production company should be able to help you get all of your content into the right format. 

 If this is not possible then there are two options: 

Letterboxing

What: Leave a black border around the sides. 

Benefits: There's no need to stretch and distort the content.

Drawbacks: The screen is not filled and so the image is smaller than the screen you have hired which might make it difficult for your guests to see. 

Stretching

What: You can stretch a 4:3 image to make it wide enough to fill a 16:9 screen or squash a 16:9 image to make it narrow enough to fill a 4:3 screen. 

Benefits: The screen is filled so it can look better as part of an overall event design. 

Drawbacks: The text and any images will be squashed or stretched which might make them difficult to read. Squashing logos can upset your sponsors or marketing department. 


Should I use 4:3 or 16:9 screens for my event? 

There are a number of factors that will determine whether you should use 4:3 or 16:9 screens and video content for your event. 

Have you already made all of your slides and videos in one of the aspect ratios?

If so you might find it easiest to select a screen option with that ratio rather than remaking your content. 

Are you going to be using plasma screens, LED screens or LCD screens?

If so, the chances are that they will be 16:9 aspect ratio as this is the case with almost all modern plasma, LED and LCD screens. HDTV is 16:9 and the move towards HD in recent years has made 4:3 aspect ratio screens somewhat obsolete. On the other hand, many AV hire companies still have lots of 4:3 aspect ratio projectors in their hire stock. 

Are you projecting lots of small details like statistics or detailed diagrams?

If so you might consider using an HD projector and, in that case,you will need to create your on-screen content in a 16:9 aspect ratio. 

The height of the room may be a factor in whether you choose a 16:9 or 4:3 screen for your event.

If rooms with low ceilings it's often preferable to use a 16:9 screen as it is much wider than it is tall when compared to a 4:3 screen. This means that it can be easier to see the  bottom of the screen without it being obscured by the heads of other delegates or presenters. You should discuss this with your event manager or AV hire company


Setting up Slides for 16:9 or 4:3

Our blog post Setting Aspect Raio in PowerPoint or Keynote shows you how to set up your slide deck in the right aspect ratio for your event.