Don’t let aspect ratios ruin your conference

They say size doesn’t matter, but that’s not always true. When it comes to images and videos, size matters a lot. So much so, in fact, that the wrong decision can have a significant impact on the way your visitors experience your conference.

At ACS, we take great pride in our attention to detail. It’s what allows us to help our clients create uniquely memorable events, but it’s also the foundation for our AV consultancy services. We know what it takes to leave a lasting impression on visitors and participants alike, and we don’t want you to miss out on vital information that could improve your conference or business event.

That’s why we’d like to take a moment to look at aspect ratios and the problems they cause when they’re not managed properly.


Competing paradigms

Most people rarely give any thought to aspect ratios. And why would they? More often than not, aspect ratios are tied to specific media that are rarely seen side-by-side.

Take, for example, the 4:3 aspect ratio. Also known as 12:9, it is predominantly used as a television standard. Many people grew up with it and it wouldn’t seem out of place in most living rooms. The same can be said for the 16:9 widescreen standard, which has become ubiquitous due to its use in widescreen television broadcasts, DVDs and high definition video.

But even though most images and videos you see on a daily basis conform to these aspect ratios, they are far from interchangeable. This is due to the fact that screens and displays can’t be designed to display both formats optimally. There’s always a trade-off, and that’s where it gets annoying.


You can’t have it both ways

Each aspect ratio has its own unique look and feel. While a 4:3 screen looks vaguely square, being only slightly wider than it is tall, a 16:9 screen clearly looks rectangular. This creates a frustrating problem: content that looks great on one screen might look horrible on another. There are three ways to display 4:3 content on a 16:9 screen – pillars (placing black vertical lines at either side of the image), stretching (stretching the content horizontally) and zooming (zooming in on the center of the image until the content fills the frame). This means you have to choose between adding unnecessary borders, cropping out important information or distorting the image.

The same goes for converting 16:9 content to a 4:3 screen. Here, you can either use letterboxing (adding black bands above and below the image) or pan and scan (cropping out the sides of the image to fit the screen). Again, you either lose information or add distracting black bars.


The solution? Make a choice and stick with it

If you’re hosting a conference, it stands to reason that you want your visual presentation to look as good as possible. After all, the visuals and the information they convey are your centerpiece. It would be a tremendous waste of effort to set up everything you need for a great show, only to plaster your screens with ill-fitting content.

Fortunately, the solution is simple.

  1. Choose your aspect ratio before you start setting up the conference.
  2. Make sure every screen and projector you use is designed for the aspect ratio you’ve chosen.
  3. Enforce this aspect ratio ruthlessly.

If you want to create the most seamless video experience possible, everything from the opening video to the presentation materials your speakers use should match the aspect ratio you’ve chosen. So make your decision and stand firm. Your visitors will thank you for it.

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