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The Widescreen Revolution

Switching aspect ratio from 4:3 to 16:9 — a changing paradigm in the aspect ratio of display devices. A look behind the scenes.

Deutschen Artikel im Volltext herunterladen (Note that the full article is available in German only):

 Die Breitbild-Revolution (1.5 MB, pdf)

Approximately beginning in 2003, widescreen format found its way on more and more computer and TV displays in the subsequent years. On the silver screen, movies have already been projected in a variety of widescreen formats since the 1950s. It was the entertainment industry together with the dawn of the high definition standard, which pushed forward the proliferation of the widescreen format in consumer devices.

First to support widescreen format were displays of portable computers. Desktop monitors sticked to the traditional 4:3 aspect ratio for a little longer. The arguments in favor of widescreen aspect ratio for computers ranged from changed requirements of users to a loss free movie experience on your home laptop to an allegedly increased screen real estate.

On closer inspection, not only the change from 4:3 to 16:10 should make us suspicious but as well the change from 16:10 to 16:9, as we have experienced since 2008. It soon becomes clear that 16:9 screens actually have less screen real estate than 16:10 screens with the same diagonal screen size!

As the industry is starting to eliminate 4:3 panels from their production processes, especially institutional users are forced to join in the format switch. However, this change has far-ranging consequences, e.g., considering a fixed mount of multiple monitors as often used in safety-critical environments, or the design of the applications’ user interfaces.

This white paper investigates the backgrounds and consequences of these development in detail and proposes way out of the new dilemma.

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