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Screen Aspect Ratio 101

Let’s start with the basics. Do you want your screens to be shaped like your wide screen TV at home or do you want your screens to look like a typical default slide in PowerPoint? The first example is what is known as 16:9 aspect ratio screens and the second example is known as 4:3. Knowing this information will make your life easier as you plan your next event.

You might wonder what those numbers mean. The first number is the relative width of the screen and the second number is the relative height. Each of these screen types can come in different sizes but, in every case, the aspect ratio will always be the same.

Before you produce any content—PowerPoint, video, etc.—you need to decide your aspect ratio (16:9 or 4:3). The reason is that the person developing the content will need to build the content to fit the screens. PowerPoint defaults for a 4:3 size, but you can easily change it to 16:9, if you want to.

Although more and more content is being developed for 16:9 screens, here are some things to consider before making the shift on your show.

Outside Presenters – Guest speakers may use PowerPoint or videos in the 4:3 format. They will show on 16:9 screens, but they will only fill part of the screen. The two sides will be black. That’s called a “pillar box.”

Graphs and Diagrams – If graphs and diagrams are originally created in 4:3 format and 16:9 screens are used, they will look different when they are converted. Dramatic bar graphs for example can look less dramatic because the entire chart has been sized down. Plan ahead so all graphics can be built in 16:9.

Many Options – While 4:3 and 16:9 are the most common screen shapes, no actual standard exists.  In fact you can design video and graphics in any ratio you choose.   For example, wide screen shows using 3:1, 5:1, etc. are happening right now.

So What Do You Do?

Appoint one person on your design team to serve as a clearinghouse for all content for your event. That one person will be the point person for everyone building PowerPoint files, managing guest speakers, producing videos, etc. From the start and with advance notice as possible, clear, concise and consistent communication must be made to all of the parties involved with guidelines on design, aspect ratio, deadlines and expectations. Following this step from the start will eliminate confusion, last minute scrambling and chaos.

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