When shopping for a display, you’ll need to consider the aspect ratio. Computer monitors, TVs and other displays are available in different aspect ratios. Some of them feature a 4:3 aspect ratio, whereas others feature a 16:9 or even a 21:9 aspect ratio. What is aspect ratio exactly, and why does it matter?

Aspect Ratios Explained

Aspect ratios represent the width of a display relative to the height of the same display. It’s expressed as a ratio. The first number in an aspect ratio indicates the display’s width. The second number indicates the display’s height. An aspect ratio of 4:3, for instance, means the display is slightly wider than it is tall. An aspect ratio of 16:9, on the other hand, indicates the display is about twice as wide as it is tall.

Why the Aspect Ratio Matter

You’ll need to choose a display with an aspect ratio that matches that of the programming with which you intend to use it. In the past, most TV and computer programming was done in a 4:3 aspect ratio. Therefore, most displays used this aspect ratio. But technology has evolved over the years, and 4:3 is no longer the preferred aspect ratio by content developers. Most TV and computer programming is now done in a 16:9 aspect ratio.

Also known as widescreen, 16:9 is the most common aspect ratio for modern-day TV and computer programming. It’s been around for several decades. In 2009, though, 16:9 surpassed 4:3 to become the most common aspect ratio. Most content developers now use the 16:9 aspect ratio for their programming. As a result, display manufacturers have since shifted their focus to producing TVs, computer monitors and other types of displays in this same widescreen aspect ratio.

In addition to 16:9, there’s the 21:9 aspect ratio. It’s also known as ultra-widescreen. It’s even wider than its 16:9 counterpart. The problem with the 21:9 aspect ratio, however, is its limited programming. There isn’t much programming created in the 21:9 aspect ratio. You can still view content in a non-native aspect ratio, but it may result in the content being stretched out, or the content may be affixed with black lines (letterboxing).

In Conclusion

Different displays feature different aspect ratios. The most common aspect ratio is 16:9, which supports widescreen programming. But you can still find displays in the older 4:3 aspect ratio as well as the ultra-wide 21:9 aspect ratio.