Cheap Dave's Home Theater


Aspect Ratio

Probably the most confusing issue in the home theater realm how to address aspect ratio. Now that 16:9 TVs are becoming popular the general public is being forced to think about it for the first time in 50 years.

Probably the most confusing issue in the home theater realm how to address aspect ratio. Now that 16:9 TVs are becoming popular the general public is being forced to think about it for the first time in 50 years.

So here is a quick and simple primer on aspect ratio. So your standard TV is 4:3 aspect ratio. So if it were 40 inches wide it would be 30 inches high. This ratio goes back to the dawn of TV. In fact early movies were also this aspect ratio. So Wizard of Oz and the Original King Kong would be 4:3. Then when TV came out the movie biz thought they had better do something to give people a reason to come out to the movies.

They started to mess around with the aspect ratio, Cinerama and Cinema Scope are two names that come to mind. So this is the impetus for letterboxing on widescreen formatted DVDs. If you want to see the whole picture on your 4:3 TV you have to put up with letterboxing (dark bands at the top and bottom of the screen).

So with the advent of HDTV and DVD a compromise format was developed, 16:9. Now there are almost no movies made in 16:9 ( or 1.78) but it is a good step between 4:3 and 1.85:1 and 2.35:1.

Currently there are about 6000 movies on DVD in 1.85:1 so that is a tiny amount of letterboxing for a 16:9 projector, and there are about 2000 movies at 2.35:1. I was relieved to find out that Ben Hur is the one and only movie at 2.77:1 so you can safely forget about that one.

So what does all this mean for the Cheap Dave when making decisions about home theater. Ok her is my advice in a nutshell. Design you HT for 16:9. If you can get a native 16:9 projector. This will give you the most resolution on a wide screen movie and the least letterboxing. But also keep an eye on features like zoom. If you find a projector with at least 33% zoom and better yet powered zoom, then you can go from 1.77:1 to 2.35:1 one very easily. Now this will mean you screen will have to get wider. So a white wall with dark bands at the top and bottom to create a fixed height and then curtains to adjust the width will almost completely solve the problem.

Guess what, this is the same solution movie theaters use. Also look for features like stretch modes on the projector. On mine it is called "Wide Mode". It electronically changes the aspect ratio and can compensate for some minor aspect ratio issues. But the picture may look funny in some modes.

So there you go. Aspect ratio. It isn't rocket science but it is something you should get familiar with as you design you home theater.

The most extreme widescreen I have ever heard of is Ben Hur. It is 2.77 to one