What Aspect Ratio Works Best for an LED Display: 16:9 or 4:3

One of the most essential factors to consider when choosing an LED display is the aspect ratio of the specific display. You have probably encountered this phrase before. However, do not worry if you have not. In this article, we will discuss everything you need to know about aspect ratios. We will also compare 16:9 and 4:3 aspect ratios to establish the best one among them.

What is a display aspect ratio?

The aspect ratio is one of the standards used in the display technology world to establish uniform criteria for everyone. It makes it easy to have a common ground for different people. But what does it mean?

Let us split up the phrase phrase ‘aspect ratio’ into two for us to understand it fully.

  • Aspect: In geometry, aspect is a term used to describe the appearance of an object in relation to its proportions. In other words, the aspect is concerned with the visual characteristics of the object.
  • Ratio: This term means the relationship between two proportions. It compares the two numbers based on their quantity or size. 

LED displays have visual characteristics that can help us describe what an aspect ratio is. In particular, these displays have a width and height that defines their shape and size. 

The height and width of an LED display are measured and the measurements are recorded in inches or centimeters. For instance, an LED display could measure 5 inches in width by 3 inches in height.

When the height and width measurements of a display are compared against each other, we get the ratio. This ratio is expressed as width to height, with a full colon separating them. In the example we made above, the ratio would be 5:3. 

Having derived these two concepts, we can now define aspect ratio as the proportional relationship between the width and height of a display. In other words, how wide in relation to how high. Throughout this article, we will be referring to this term to help us establish the best aspect ratio for an LED display.

Other aspect ratios

The term aspect ratio can be somewhat ambiguous because there are other components of an LED display that have aspect ratios. In this case, we are talking about pixels and storage components. Let us briefly define these two aspect ratios.

  • Pixel aspect ratio: This describes the relationship between the width and height of a pixel that makes up an image. It is used in standard definition displays where the width and height of an image form a rectangular shape. This leads to a difference in the height and width of the image.
  • Storage aspect ratio: This term can be used as a synonym to display aspect ratio. But if we consider the technicalities, it can described as the ratio of the number of pixels found in an image. That is the total area of pixels in width and height of an image.

The two aspect ratios are more about the image shown on the screen as opposed to the screen itself. However, both the display and image aspect ratios are supposed to be compatible for a seamless visual quality. 

Standard LED display aspect ratios 

Display aspect ratios depend on factors like product specification, customization, and other essential considerations. That means aspect ratios cannot be pegged to specific units for width and length. 

Still, the mass production of displays focuses on a few standard aspect ratios to ensure uniformity across the board. 16:9 and 4:3 are two of the most common aspect ratios in the industry. Let us explore them and try to compare them.

16:9 aspect ratio

From the definition, you can clearly tell what the 16:9 aspect ratio represents. It means that the width of the display measures 16 inches while the height measures 9.

The 16:9 aspect ratio is quite common across the industry. It is synonymously known as a full high-definition (FHD) display. If you picture it in your head, this proportion creates a widescreen form factor or design. In fact, the 16:9 aspect ratio is regarded as the international standard for widescreen screens. 

When talking about aspect ratios of LED displays, the concept of screen resolution comes up. This is the total number of pixels that can fit a display size. Most 16:9 widescreen displays, especially for computer monitors and televisions, have a 1920*1080 resolution. This means the display will have a total of 2,073,600 pixels.

It is worth noting that not all 16:9 or widescreen displays have this number of pixels. Pixel density depends on other factors such as packaging technology, and pixel pitch, among others. 

The 16:9 aspect ratio is sometimes expressed in a decimal format. When you divide the width units by height units, you get 1.78 units. That is 16/9 = 1.78 approx. This gives us a 1.78:1 aspect ratio to represent the 16:9 as a decimal number.

This display aspect ratio has a lot of benefits over its counterparts. For one, most digital cameras can capture images and videos in a 1920*1080 resolution which works well with most 16:9 aspect ratios. Also, as an international standard, you will have an easy time choosing components and additions that work with 16:9 aspect ratios.

4:3 aspect ratio

This is another of the standard aspect ratios you will encounter in the industry. Again, it shows us that the width has 4 units while the height has 3. When talking about LED displays, we usually say 4 by 3 inches. However, other devices that are smaller will have fewer measurements, so that is why we say 4 by 3 units.

The 4:3 aspect ratio has a long history. With the emergence of televisions, this format ruled for several reasons. For one, most old-age TVs were standard definition (SD). Most TVs and display screens that were standard definition had a resolution of 720*480 for full frame displays.

While the 16:9 display aspect ratio creates a widescreen form factor, the 4:3 can be considered a full-screen format. While this aspect ratio was used in early iterations of screens and monitors, there are few displays in the market with this ratio.

This aspect ratio can also be expressed as a decimal. Dividing 4 by 3 units gives us 1.33. This means the width of the display is 1.33 times more than the height. Expressing this value as a ratio will give us a 1.33:1 aspect ratio.

The use of a 4:3 aspect ratio in the current world is minimal. Most content producers feel that this technology is too old for the current generation that is used to large screens. However, there are specific situations where this aspect ratio is almost unavoidable. 

Configuring LED display aspect ratios

LED panels are used to create large displays in most commercial settings. Doing so allows for flexibility in designing and configuring displays into different aspect ratios. This means that an installer can create an LED video wall with a 16:9 or 4:3 aspect ratio depending on your tastes and preferences.

For rental LED screens, most of them come in panels that can be assembled in different formats based on your needs. This ensures that you can match the aspect ratio to your specific use case and model. 

LED video wall installation

The installation of an LED video wall is a perfect example of how different aspect ratios can be configured. The panels that are used are modular in design. This means that they can be disassembled and assembled easily. 

Another feature of these panels is that they have invisible bezels. This ensures that they perfectly fit together when stacked. Also, it makes sure that the viewer cannot see the bezels of the individual modules when the display is turned on.

The installation process of an LED video wall will depend on the technician and the modularity of the panels. It will also depend on whether the display is meant to the permanent, outdoor, indoor, or otherwise. In either case, the goal is to design a display with a favorable aspect ratio for a particular use case.

Differences between 16:9 and 4:3 aspect ratios  

One way to determine the superior aspect ratio in our comparison would be to look at the major differences between them. Both 16:9 and 4:3 aspect ratios have their unique features and strengths alongside weaknesses. 

One approach we can use to differentiate them is to look at how they relate to the different features of LED displays.

Use cases

Given the differences in resolutions that can be supported by each aspect ratio, you can clearly tell that the two will have different use cases. A use case is supposed to be the most favorable use of something depending on its unique features and characteristics. Let us compare a 16:9 and 4:3 aspect ratio based on their use cases.

  • Use cases of a 16:9 aspect ratio 

In the digital era, the use cases of a 16:9 aspect ratio are immeasurable. Most screens, irrespective of their sizes, come in a 16:9 aspect ratio. Provided that most digital cameras record content in the same format, it means that this aspect ratio is quite essential.

Some devices that use a 16:9 aspect ratio include;

  • UHD 4K displays (3840x2160p)
  • HDTV displays (720p to 1080i)
  • Full HD displays (720x480p)
  • Large LED displays

These displays have a long width and a relatively short height, a proportion that results in a widescreen display.

  • Use cases of a 4:3 aspect ratio 

When it comes to displays with a 4:3 aspect ratio, the choices of applications are not as wide as those of 16:9 aspect ratios. This limitation is partially because this aspect ratio is slowly getting phased out by larger ones like 16:9. 

IMAX is among the modern companies that use a 4:3 aspect ratio for their films. This is done for several reasons. First, the 4:3 aspect ratio is sufficient since the IMAX screens are usually quite large. Secondly, IMAX films are encoded in a 4:3 aspect ratio. This configuration limits them to displays that can support the film format.

Also, there are conventional computer monitors and TV screens that still use 4:3 aspect ratios. Most of them are low-resolution displays that have older display technologies. These uses of the 4:3 aspect ratio are valid given its features. This implies that this display proportion will still remain relevant as long as its uses are there.

Screen real estate

In the tech space, screen real estate is essentially the size of a usable screen on a device. Usability in the sense that the space is free and can occupy the device output. The concept of screen real estate is usually relatable to small gadgets such as smartphones.

  • 16:9 screen real estate

As a widescreen display, 16:9 aspect ratios have more space on the horizontal plane. This means that the screen real estate on the width is larger by far compared to the height. The implication of this is that content that is incorrectly formatted for 16:9 ratios will look distorted on the display.

Some benefits that widescreen real estate offers include;

  • Ability to multitask with split-screens
  • Immersive viewing experience
  • Wide viewing angles

Generally, 16:9 aspect ratios support design aesthetics, functionality, and reliability of a display. This is different when it comes to 4:3 aspect ratios.

  • 4:3 screen real estate

The difference between the units of width and height of a 4:3 aspect ratio is 1. Therefore, if you think about it, the shape is almost square. This is opposed to the rectangular shape seen in 16:9 aspect ratios.

Such a form factor is best suited for static content like images and documents. In the modern world, most people have switched to video content, which invalidates 4:3 aspect ratios to a certain extent.

Think of a 4:3 aspect ratio as being a smaller and not a perfect rectangle like 16:9. Since the height is almost the same as the width, the display will struggle to support most content formatted in other aspect ratios. 

Content compatibility 

Displays are supposed to be compatible with the content that they are displaying. Content is typically formatted in aspect ratios. This depends on factors such as the source. Content can be formatted in aspect ratios such as 16:9 and 4:3. As you can see, content in these formats will easily be compatible with a display that has a matching aspect ratio.

  • Compatibility for 16:9 aspect ratio

Most videos are formatted in 16:9 aspect ratios. This means that widescreen displays can showcase videos perfectly. This compatibility is essential in order to promote the visual quality of the content being displayed. 

  • Compatibility for 4:3 aspect ratio

Again, images and documents are mostly in 4:3 aspect ratios. Quite a few videos are formatted in this aspect ratio. This limits the range of content that a 4:3 LED display can showcase. Such limitations are what you need to consider when choosing between different aspect ratios.

Multitasking

One of the benefits of modern display systems is the ability to improve productivity regardless of the design and formulation. Multitasking is one of the productivity features of most LED displays in the market today. This means that you can use one screen for multiple functions simultaneously.

The level and nature of multitasking is influenced by the display aspect ratio. Essentially, a 16:9 aspect ratio will allow for a better experience with multitasking than a 4:3.  

  • Multitasking on a 16:9 

The good thing about 16:9 display aspect ratios is that they resemble two 4:3 displays lined up side by side. In other words, there is more display to output multiple signals without struggling. This means multitasking on a 16:9 aspect ratio is far better than anything else.

  • Multitasking on a 4:3

When it comes to handling multiple tasks, a display with a 4:3 aspect ratio will not yield the best results. For one, the screen size is small so you will not have enough screen real estate to work with. Secondly, most 4:3 aspect ratios have poor resolution, which also limits the quality of output from the display.

Design appeal

The design of a display matters in both commercial and non-commercial settings. Components of design include shape, size, and resolution. All these are elements that can be used to describe the aspect ratio of a display.

  • Design appeal of 16:9 aspect ratio 

While aesthetics are subjective, the vast majority of people find 16:9 aspect ratios to be much better than 4:3. There are several reasons why people feel this way. To start with, historical depictions of content on a standard definition are getting phased out. The new generation content is focused on 16:9 or widescreen formats. 

Also, since people are primarily using LED displays for playing dynamic content such as videos, they have gotten used to 16:9 aspect ratios. This form factor looks right.

  • Design appeal of 4:3

Displays with a 4:3 aspect ratio provide a narrow field of view. This is true especially for small display sizes as seen in small televisions and other monitors. As such, these displays do not have the best appeal to the eye.

Most people associate 4:3 aspect ratios with old-era devices. That is partly true. Therefore, it explains the low design appeal of this display aspect ratio.

Similarities between 16:9 and 4:3 aspect ratios

While there are several differences between a 16:9 and a 4:3 aspect ratio, the two have quite a number of similarities. Some of these similarities include the following;

Overall rectangular shape

When defining an aspect ratio, we said that the ‘aspect’ represents the shape of the display beating the specific aspect ratio. In this case, both a 16:9 and 4:3 aspect ratio have a rectangular shape because the width and height units are not equal.

The rectangular shape is a defining feature of 16:9 and 4:3 aspect ratios. This shape shows us the differences and the similarities of the two.

Suited for specific types of media

LED displays are suited for playing a diverse set of media. Whether you intend to use it for commercial or recreational purposes at home, they will serve you right. For instance, the 4:3 aspect ratio used by IMAX works well for that setting.

When you consider the native aspect ratios and formats of content, you discover that each aspect ratio is suitable for a specific case. To clarify, a 4:3 aspect ratio will work best for images while 16:9 would be perfect for video content.

Flexible use cases

Flexibility is another similarity shared between these two aspect ratios. In this context, flexibility means that the display is not pegged to a certain use case. While it is true that both have specific use cases that fit them best, they can serve other functions. This concept is explained by the idea of letterboxing and pillarboxing.

Adapting content to fit aspect ratios

Being in a situation where the format of certain content does not coincide with the aspect ratio of a display is normal. The solution to this is to adapt the content to fit the aspect ratio of the display. To achieve this, two techniques are applied. Let us learn about them.

Letterboxing  

When you hear of letterboxing, think of widescreen content being adjusted to fit a standard definition display. In other words, you can say a 16:9 aspect ratio getting shrunk to 4:3.

What you need to understand is that the original aspect ratio will not be lost but it will seem like it has been. The technique is effective at remastering content and making appear visually appealing regardless of the aspect ratio of the display.

Letterboxing aims to retain the aspect ratio of the content being adapted by ensuring it does not get cropped or stretched. The technique happens automatically with the help of advanced algorithms.

Pillarboxing  

The other technique known as pillarboxing is used to enlarge content with a small aspect ratio so that it can fit a higher display aspect ratio. In other words, it is the complete opposite of letterboxing.

This technique can take a 4:3 video and make it fit a 16:9 LED display. The result will appear very natural as if no changes were made. Such an approach ensures that a display is able to be seen on a widescreen aspect ratio and still appear neat.

Factors to consider when choosing an aspect ratio

If or when you find yourself having to choose an aspect ratio for your LED display, you need to be deliberate and consider various factors.

This approach will ensure that your pick is foolproof and that you will have made a convincingly good decision. We have discussed the features, use cases, and strengths of two aspect ratios in this article. Use the following factors to scrutinize the two and choose the one that best fits your needs and preferences.

Type of content

What kind of content are you aiming to watch on the display? This question should be your first step to finding the right aspect ratio. Factors that are tied to this include resolution, audience, and others. If you are planning on watching or playing high-quality videos, a 16:9 aspect ratio should be a no-brainer. On the other hand, 4:3 display aspect ratios are better suited for images.

Environment 

The environment is also another factor that will and should influence your decision. In this case, there are two possible environments; indoor and outdoor.

  • Indoor: An indoor environment might mean inside a home or a commercial setting. Both of these environments require a display that is immersive and offers enough comfort. That said, a 16:9 aspect ratio would be most suitable here.
  • Outdoor. There is not much to consider for outdoor environments. An outdoor environment could be a storefront, an open exhibition, or something related to these. In such environments, there is not much to consider. Therefore, both 16:9 and 4:3 aspect ratios can fit outdoor settings.

Future-proofing  

If you project where the future of display technology is headed, you can tell which aspect ratios will stand the test of time. Screens have become such an integral part of our daily lives. Most content is also following a specific pattern.

It is hard to definitively tell what the future will look like. However, you can look at trends and projections from experts to gauge the path technology will take.

Cost considerations

This is something we cannot avoid talking about. Costs of products, maintenance, and services are differentiated across many levels. It is not just about the cost of either a 4:3 or 16:9 aspect. You will have to consider how much it costs you to develop content for the specific aspect ratio and operate a display with the specific ratio, among other factors. 

Conclusion 

As you have seen, the aspect ratio of an LED display is as important as its resolution. Both 16:9 and 4:3 aspect ratios have their unique properties that make them stand out. To sum up, if you were to choose between the two, the 16:9 would give you more flexibility in terms of flexibility, compatibility, and reliability.  

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