4:3 Vs 16:9


When purchasing a projector you will need to consider what aspect ratio projector to buy, 4:3 or 16:9. What you decide may depend on your intended purpose for the projector. For example, will you be using it for a home theater setup or for data presentations? Intuitively you may think 16:9 is for home theater and 4:3 is for data presentations. This is not the case! 4:3 can be used for great home theater setups too! This article first introduces the concept of aspect ratio and then discusses the two most common aspect ratios, 16:9 and 4:3.

What is an aspect ratio?

Definition: The width-to-height ratio of a film or television image.

Examples: 16:9 or 1.78 (16/9) format of HDTV, 4:3 or 1.33 format for regular TV or computer data screens, and many many more 1.85, 2.00, 2.35, 2.4, 2.5.

DVDs can come in any of the aspect ratios listed above! This means that a 16:9 projector is not always perfect rectangular fir for home theater, neither is 4:3! But do not worry. This just means that you don't really need to be buying a 16:9 projector for home theater. The good news is that you have a greater selection of projectors to chose from.

In summary, your choice will be reduced to a projector with an aspect ratio of 4:3 or 16:9, with a matching screen of the same aspect ratio. Projector screens are an important part of projection technology. You SHOULD buy one if you want a quality picture. For more information on projection screens, click "Projection Screens" on the right menu.

Below are some points about choosing a 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratio projector.

16:9 Projector

If you purchase a 16:9 or 1.78 aspect projector and you display, say, a DVD with an aspect ratio higher than 1.78, say 2.25, you will get the following image on a 16:9 projector with a 16:9 screen.

2.25 aspect on 1.78 aspect screen
Figure 1: 2.25 aspect projection on a 1.77 aspect screen.

The above picture is to scale. Grey is where the picture will be projected. Note how there are white bars on the top and bottom. In the real projection these will be projected as black bars. If you have a projector with a good contrast ratio, you should get a nice black. If you have a not so good contrast ratio on your projector, your black bars will be brighter. In this instance or otherwise if you are a perfectionist, you may consider buying an electronic masking device. These are not cheap. Other alternatives to removing black bars include using high contrast projection screen (i.e a gray screen).

The next picture shows what a 4:3 image will look like on 16:9 projector with a 16:9 screen. Again the picture is to scale.

1.33 aspect on 1.78 aspect screen
Figure 2: 1.33 aspect projection on a 1.77 aspect screen.

If watching DVDs and HDTV is your primary motive for purchasing a projector, then a 16:9 projector will be the closest fit for DVDs in most cases and an exact fit for HDTV (16:9). By closest fit, I mean closest to the native resolution of the projector and the aspect of the projection screen. This still does not mean that a 16:9 projector should be purchased over a 4:3 projector! There are many fantastic home theater 4:3 projectors that you will be missing out on, such as the NEC HT1100.

4:3 Projector

If you a buying a projector only for data presentations, then your choice is simple, a 4:3 projector with a 4:3 screen. If you require a projector for a home theater setup, then you should consider if you will be watching free to air 4:3 TV, old movies, music videos and playing video games. These will play best on a 4:3 projector.

If you display a 16:9 picture using a 4:3 projector on a 4:3 screen, you get the following result:

1.78 aspect on 1.33 aspect screen
Figure 2: 1.78 aspect projection on a 1.33 aspect screen.

Note that the bars on the top an bottom do increase in size if you project an aspect ratio bigger than 1.78 on a 4:3 screen. For example, if you play a DVD with an aspect ratio of 2.25, the bars to the top and bottom of the projection will be larger. Note that if you have a large projection your image will still be large even if you have bars on the top and bottom.

Electronic masking will hide the bars if they are too painful. With electronic masking, you can perform some neat tricks. For example, if you have a 16:9 projection on 4:3 projector and screen, you try the following. First project a large enough image to make the 16:9 portion of the screen look big to your liking. Secondly, electronically mask the top and bottom bars! If there was a 2.25 aspect ratio DVD, perform the same trick to mask out the top and bottom bars. A similar trick can be played on a 16:9 projector to show 4:3 material. Electronic masking may be expensive however.

Some Points

  • Buy a projector with an aspect ratio (or resolution) which closest matches what you will be mostly displaying. You will be utilising the number of pixels (or resolution of the projector) as much as possible.
  • If buying a 16:9 projector, consider buying a large 4:3 projection screen. This way you can have large 4:3 projections with the side bars masked out.
  • If buying a 4:3 projector, consider buying a screen that is wide enough to project a decent sized 16:9 image (if you will be using it for home theater). This way you can both view large 16:9 material and 4:3 material.


When buying a projector, there is a wide variety of choices a consumer needs to make as there is a large selection of projectors, with different specifications, to choose from. To make a wise choice, the consumer needs to determine the primary use of the projector. Will it be for HDTV, DVD, standard 4:3 television, playing video games or for data presentations? This will influence what native aspect ratio projector to purchase. Watching 16:9 material may not mean buying a 16:9 projector. A 4:3 projector can be set up to display great 16:9 (or wider format) material. The consumer should consider 4:3 projectors that are geared for home theater (i.e NEC HT1100).

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