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The Truth Behind 4:3 and 16:9 Formatting


The manufacturers that do this are trying to address the consumer's demand for projectors that make 16:9 look wider than 4:3. And as long as there are consumers for whom this is a paramount concern, vendors will build projectors to deliver that illusion. When a vendor's spec sheet touts both "4:3 and 16:9" aspect ratios, take caution. This may be one of the machines that produces a big 16:9 image by reducing 4:3 quality. If so, think about whether that's something you really want.

(NOTE: To clarify, all native 4:3 LCD and DLP projectors are able to produce both 4:3 and 16:9 images. The discussion here is focused just on those machines that create the illusion of the 16:9 being wider than the 4:3, which is an unnatural act for a machine with a physical 4:3 display.)

Sony's obvious but unique solution

Virtually every maker of digital projectors uses 4:3 physical displays in SVGA and XGA resolution. Almost all of Sony's products are 4:3 as well. However, Sony has built a unique 16:9 LCD panel (1,366 x 768) into the VPL-VW10HT, making it an exception to the rule. When you start with a physical display of 16:9, it is natural to present 4:3 by using black bars to mask the sides. Thus on this projector 4:3 material is shown in native XGA resolution (1,024 x 768) without any compromise in resolution. And when you switch to 16:9, the screen size widens to take full advantage of the native capability of the display.

This is not to say that the Sony VPL-VW10HT is necessarily the best home theater performer in its price range. There are several native 4:3 machines that can deliver more exciting video for the money in today's market. However, the Sony product commands a lot of attention among home theater buyers. And deservedly so since Sony is the only vendor to try to address the consumer's desire for a bigger, wider 16:9 image without compromising the integrity of 4:3 performance.

Know what you want and pick your projector carefully...

Some products do the four-way masking of 4:3 video and there's no way around it. Many don't do this kind of masking at all--they display maximum resolution 4:3, and let 16:9 material display at the same physical width as 4:3.

The question is this: what do you really want? If you want 16:9 to look wider than 4:3 when you switch back and forth, you need to (a) get one of the projectors that are artificially rigged to deliver that experience, or (b) get the Sony VPL-VW10HT which has a unique technical advantage in being able to do this. If you are concerned more about overall resolution, picture quality and maximum performance, look to the projectors that deliver 4:3 in full format and forego the illusion of a wider 16:9 image.

Most importantly, educate yourself about your options. There are hoards of projector sales people at your local "Buster's Big Screen Emporium" that don't have a clue how these products work. But they can press a button that brings up a pre-canned demo showing you the difference between paltry 4:3 and "REAL" widescreen performance! The uneducated consumer is their lawful prey.

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Truth in Formatting
Contents: Defining Aspect Ratio Truth in Formatting Consumer Demand