What Is Aspect Ratio?

One of the most important specifications to look into when you’re buying a new computer monitor or television is the aspect ratio. The aspect ratio plays an important role in how content looks on the screen. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not a figure that represents size. Rather, the aspect ratio focuses on the relationship between the screen’s measurements.


What is Aspect Ratio?

Screens come in a wide range of sizes to meet everyone’s needs and preferences. Have you ever wondered how videos can look just the same on a 72-inch television screen as they do on your tiny smartphone? Well, it all comes down to the shared aspect ratio.

The aspect ratio is the ratio between a screen’s width and height. The first number represents the width. So, larger aspect ratios represent wide screens. The figure can be used to talk about the screen’s size in inches. However, it’s primarily used when looking at the screen’s pixel count.

The unique thing about aspect ratio is that the measurements of the screen are completely locked in. The relationship between the width and height remains the same regardless of how big the screen actually is. Thus, manufacturers can scale the designs to create screens of all sizes.


Why is Aspect Ratio Important?

The biggest reason why choosing aspect ratio is important comes down to compatibility. In the early days of computers, screens had a standard aspect ratio of 4:3.

Most films, television shows, and computer software titles were created for this aspect ratio. It’s why most television screens and monitors adopted that signature tall rectangle design.

If you were to try to view older 4:3 media on a modern widescreen monitor, it would not look the same. The image would have to be stretched out, causing all kinds of distortion.

These days, a 16:9 aspect ratio is the norm. This aspect ratio was chosen for a few reasons. First, it offers a wider field of view than the older 4:3 ratio. It offers more screen real estate for the action. Plus, screen sizes can be scaled up significantly without affecting your comfort.

Another reason why 16:9 is so widespread is that it can easily accommodate other ratios without causing too many issues. You can view smaller aspect ratios and use scaling systems to prevent distortion. Black bars can be used to recreate that old 4:3 viewing experience. Alternatively, you can view higher aspect ratios on a 16:9 screen without needing to worry about distortion at all.


Which Aspect Ratio Should You Go With?

Generally, it’s recommended that most people stick with a screen that has a 16:9 aspect ratio. It’s the broadcast standard and should serve you well no matter what type of content you’re viewing. You can easily find 16:9 monitors in any resolution, including 1080p and 4K.

If you want something a bit more immersive for video games, you can invest in a 21:9 or 32:9 monitor. These are becoming increasingly common in the video game market because they provide an ultra-wide field of view for exciting gameplay.