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Why aspect ratios are central to video broadcasting

You can think about the type of devices that more viewers may use to watch your videos, and then make your decision accordingly.

video aspect ratios grid
Image: KnowTechie

Video aspect ratio is a key measure in the creation and broadcasting of content. It is used to measure the proportion of a video (i.e. its width and height) and is one of the key attributes for any video. Back in the days when DVDs were in fashion, widescreen/full-screen options for viewing video were introduced.

While this used to be a great attribute to watch videos, choosing the resolution was equally important as some parts of the video would be altered if the right resolution isn’t opted. Further, too much padding around the video created issues in projecting the right proportion of the picture, thus undermining the quality of content and compromising the viewer experience. 

Back in 2010, producers made movies with the 4:3 aspect ratio, mostly suitable for television screens. However, more recently the display aspect ratio of 14:9 has been standardized and is chosen simply based on geometric mean between 4:3 and 2.35:1

Other than aspect ratio, things like professional audio, sharp-cut visuals, nice lighting, and some other cinematic measures of quality are key components for making a film. That said, the aspect ratio will always be a priority and should not be left for secondary opinions as it has to be taken care of while creating and broadcasting live video content to your audience.

To provide more insights, here’s a detailed breakdown of what exactly video aspect ratios are, their common usage, suitable video resolutions, and the role it plays in live video streaming.

What is Video Aspect Ratio?

The video aspect ratio refers to the orientation of a video by indicating the ratio of width to height, which is measured in pixels. The numbers included in the ratio are not necessarily representative of the height and width in terms of pixels (px). Basically, that’s just the ratio calculated between width and height. You can use a ratio calculator to count the exact ratio for your video. 

Aspect Ratio and Resolution

Video resolution and aspect ratios are an important part in the video production and broadcasting process. For every aspect ratio, there are different counterpart resolutions. Hence, it is safe to say that aspect ratio and resolution go together.

For the resolution, you multiply the width times the height. Whereas, for the aspect ratio, you divide the width by the height.

When you multiply the width times the height, what you get is the number of square pixels on the screen. The higher that number, the better it is in terms of video quality.

Also sometimes opting for lower quality could be an option. A lower-quality video could benefit if you need smaller file sizes. For instances like these, you can record your video at the highest HD streaming quality and leverage encoding software for lower-resolution copies of the video.

Common Aspect Ratios and Their Use Cases

When it comes to video aspect ratios, they are typically chosen based on the platform you post it on, how it will be viewed, and its purpose.

Videos used for social media will differ from movies or trailers that are generally shown in theaters. Generally, for modern televisions, there are standard aspect ratios but broadcasters are always free to use the aspect ratio that works with their content and audience.

Since most videos are broadcasted through standard online video platforms, there are lesser chances of custom aspect ratios being commonly used.

Common video Aspect Ratios

16:9

Generally, a video with a 16:9 aspect ratio is a wide rectangle that is also often referred to as “1.71:1”. It is the most simplified form of the ratio.

Today, you might be using the 16:9 aspect ratio for most of your video creation and streaming as the 16:9 ratio is considered the international standard format for television, cinema, and all the major online streaming platforms.

This aspect ratio is so popular, and many tend to use it when they live stream on their own sites.

Undoubtedly, 16:9 is the default setting on most video capture devices for professional and consumer-grade products. It can also be the most common size for video players.

Majorly the screens of this size provide higher resolution than others with aspect ratios of 16:10, that is used to be considered the international standard. 

It can also be more cost-effective for creating screens that are compatible with this ratio as per their predecessors. The standardization of both televisions and computer monitors saved producers time and money in the research arena. 

With a 16:9 aspect ratio, 4K or 3840 px by 2160 px is one of the best resolutions you can hit.

1:1

This video aspect ratio is a perfect square and used to be originally used with square television sets.

Today, the 1:1 aspect ratio is not commonly used. Although, you might find it on social media platforms such as Instagram or Facebook.

4:3

Before 16:10 and 16:9, the 4:3 aspect ratio was a standardized version for traditional television and computer monitors. However, after the birth of HDTV, the 16:10 and 16:9 aspect ratios allowed for greater resolutions than the 4:3 one.

It was still used for Apple iPads until their release of the 2018 iPad Pro. 

3:2

The 3:2 aspect ratio was mainly used for classic 35 mm still photography. Mainly used on some laptops, tablets, and handheld game consoles, many micro- to medium-sized cameras have the 3:2 aspect ratio settings, but rarely used by broadcasters today.

21:9

This ratio has a very particular purpose as it is often referred to as ultra-widescreen or cinematic widescreen.

It is mainly used for films with an anamorphic format. The anamorphic format type videos are used to create an optical illusion that provides a 360-degree view.

You can find videos with this aspect ratio in special theaters, museums, theme parks, etc. They are mainly designed to provide more immersive experiences to the viewers. 

The illusion caused by screens of this dimension can feel like you are experiencing the actual scenario.

9:16

This type of aspect ratio is mostly used for videos with more height. It became popular when smartphones were created with greater video capabilities.

For example, the most favorable measure for an Instagram story is 1080 px by 1920 px. That means its ratio is 9:16. And the same goes for other popular apps that have “story” features, like Facebook and Snapchat. 

How to Guess the Aspect Ratio of a Video

When you consider the user experience while choosing an aspect ratio, it is important to choose one that is compatible with every device.

Most of the cameras with video capabilities have a variety of aspect ratio settings. This easily allows you to decide the aspect ratio you’d like your video to have before you record it.

If you are trying to tell the aspect ratio of a video that has already been filmed, you can access additional information of the file. On Mac systems, the information button is a small “i” in a circle. On different PCs, you can right-click on a file and click “Properties.”

It may provide you the actual width and height of the video, but you can divide them to find the aspect ratio.

The Best Aspect Ratio for a Video

The most common aspect ratio for videos is undoubtedly 16:9.  Mostly because it is the standard for high definition televisions and popular streaming platforms like Brightcove, Youtube, TikTok, or Netflix.

A 16:9 ratio is typically seen as optimal because it is capable of the highest resolution. It is also easy to capture this aspect ratio on almost all devices. 

To determine which video aspect ratio is best for your content, consider its purpose and where you’ll be broadcasting the video.

How to Change the Aspect Ratio of a Video

The correct video aspect ratio settings are important in video production and broadcasting. Mainly there are two ways to change your video’s aspect ratio:

(i) Add black bars around your video or crop it

While it is possible to change the aspect ratio of your video after it has been filmed, it is not always a good practice. Because if you want to crop your video, you will need an editing tool that has cropping functionalities. 

Whether you want to make the video taller or wider, cropping could cut important people or objects out of the frame. You may have to choose the important parts of the frame that are most important and lose the rest.

You can also add black bars as an alternative to crop your video. It is great as it keeps the full video. But the black bars aren’t necessarily the most appealing from an aesthetic point of view.

Here is what you need

Aspect ratios are important to consider when producing video content. While the compatibility of the video aspect ratio with your video hosting platform or streaming service is important, you have to keep the user experience first. Always.

You can think about the type of devices that more viewers may use to watch your videos, and then make your decision accordingly. Whether you use a standard 16:9 aspect ratio for laptop content or a 9:16 ratio for a cell phone, it is important to make sure that it presents clearly without unnecessary cropping so that your audience has the best experience while watching the video.

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