4:3 vs. 16:9 -- What is the best solution?

Evan Powell, November 21, 2001

People are rightly confused about formats these days. 4:3 is the standard, but 16:9 is the future--so what is the best solution for a home theater today? If you get a native 4:3 projector, will it display 16:9? What format of screen is best? If you are about to set up your home theater and are totally confused about 4:3 and 16:9 format options, read on.

By the way, if you are new to the whole concept, when we talk about 4:3 and 16:9 formats we're talking here about the rectangular shape of the video image, or what is called its aspect ratio. Your standard TV has an aspect ratio of "4:3". That means the picture is 4 units wide for every three units of height. The new HDTV standard is 16:9, which is 16 units of width for every 9 units of height. So HDTV's 16:9 is a rectangle that is, relatively speaking, horizontally wider than regular TV.

Here's the problem: video comes in many different aspect ratio formats. Material made for regular TV is 4:3, often denoted 1.33 since 4 divided by 3 = 1.33. Shows broadcast in HDTV are 16:9, which is 1.78. Movies, music videos, and other content on DVD comes in a variety of formats including 1.33, 1.78, 1.85, 2.00, 2.35, 2.4, 2.5, and so on. Since there is no universal standard for the rectangular shape of a video picture, confusion abounds. Ideally, what native format should your projector be, and what format should the screen be that goes with it?

The simple answer is this. As far as projector/screen formats go, there are three ways to set up your home theater. You can get a native 4:3 projector with a 4:3 screen. You can get a native 16:9 projector with a 16:9 screen. Or you can get a native 4:3 projector with a 16:9 screen. (In theory you could also get a 16:9 projector and a 4:3 screen, but for reasons that should be obvious after you read this, it would be rather bone-headed to do so.)

All three of these projector/screen combinations have some advantages, and all three have limitations for which you must compromise. There is no perfect solution-there is only the best solution for you. And you will know what that is after reviewing this comparison of your options.

Contents: Introduction Screen Option One Option One Continued Anamorphic Lenses
  Screen Option Two No Right Solution Screen Option Three Conclusion