Why is media not formatted to 16:9?


Mainstream (all?) TVs these days are 16:9 displays. Why is media not? Movies aren’t, lots of YouTube content isn’t. If 16:9 isn’t the ideal ratio for content, why are our TVs? Do the black bars at the top and bottom “add immersion” of some kind? School me.

In: Technology

Like most things in life, 16:9 is a compromise.

Movies started off as 4:3 back in the beginning. As a result, TVs ended up being 4:3 to be able to show movies and shows shot on 35mm film. As technology advanced directors started to use wider formats to be able to give movies a more epic scope and they kept getting wider all the way out to Panavision’s 2.35:1 ratio.

When you overlap 4:3 and 2.35:1 rectangles, a 16:9 rectangle covers both the height of the 4:3 frame and the width of the 2.35:1 frame. This means the tallest film and the widest film both fit in the box and have as little black bar as possible. When the standards orgs were drawing up the plans for HDTV they decided to go with this aspect ratio so that both old 4:3 content and old wide content would look acceptable and new 16:9 content would fill the screen.

Since the conversion to HDTV was only back in the 2000s, we have all this content that wasn’t recorded in a 16:9 format and we get black bars.

Movie directors aren’t interested in making their film comfortably fit your home screen, they’re interested in choosing an aspect ratio that best fits the film they’re making. Since movie theaters traditionally project a film onto a screen in a darkened room, they can adapt to any aspect ratio. Your 16:9 display is the ratio best able to display the majority of common ratios, as another responder described. If the director didn’t choose 16:9 (as is the case in pretty much everything made for either film or television until the beginning of the twenty-first century), then the rest of your display will of course be blank.