Articles: Monitors

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Aspect Ratio of 16:9

Although TV-sets and computer monitors have long gone widescreen, they have had different aspect ratios. An aspect ratio of 16:9 became standard for television whereas monitors used to be 16:10. This discrepancy could provoke some problems for users of gaming consoles and video players that did not support that format (and most monitors did not recognize the 16:9 format and would stretch such visual content to full screen). When used together with a computer, there were no problems with either office applications or video playback, though.

TV-sets and monitors arrived to one and the same format in the last year as monitors transitioned to 16:9. Why? And what should users do about that?

First, it is more profitable for the manufacturers. Each manufacturer operates with two parameters, namely the size of the screen (the smaller the screen, the cheaper its LCD matrix) and the number of matrixes fitting into a single factory wafer. The diagonal being the same, the wider the screen, the smaller its area is. A screen with an aspect ratio of 1:1, i.e. a square one, is going to have the largest area for the given diagonal. However, it looks like prior to the introduction of the new generation of production facilities, cutting a wafer up into matrixes with an aspect ratio of 16:10 would leave less waste. But now the situation has changed and it has become profitable to produce 16:9 matrixes. The manufacturers are likely to stay with this format for long now because a frame in HD video formats is exactly the same aspect ratio. It is logical to use this aspect ratio to avoid the customer’s asking questions about any discrepancies.

So, what should users do about that? Nothing! The transition to 16:9 has brought about even more shopping options. The model range used to be 19-20-22-24 inches before. But now it is 18.5-20-21.5-23-23.6-24 inches. What is especially good, there have appeared inexpensive 23-inch Full-HD monitors with a resolution of 1920x1080 pixels. Clearly, there is no problem now finding a monitor that would suit you in terms of price, size and resolution. When it comes to professional applications, there is nearly no difference between the 16:10 and 16:9 formats.

There are two objections often voiced at web-forums. The first one goes like this: “your 20-inch (or even larger, depending on the actual dimensions as well as on the poster’s imagination) monitor is comparable to my 19-incher because they have the same height!” It is, however, unclear why we are asked to compare the height of the screen rather than its width, total area or native resolution. Perhaps just because this way the old and nearly square (5:4) 19-inch monitor with a resolution of 1280x1024 and a huge pixel pitch is going to have a large advantage? The natural field of vision of our eyes is stretched out horizontally. It is also easier for our eye muscles to move the eyes sideways rather than up and down. Moreover, ergonomics demands that the display be placed on the same level with the eyes for them not to dry out, and the lower monitor helps to achieve that. Thus, widescreen monitors are overall more suitable to the peculiarities of human physiology than monitors with an aspect ratio of 4:3 or 5:4, which is almost square. Widescreen monitors are obviously better for movies and games – again as they match the field of vision of our eyes better and thus deliver more realism. That’s why the widescreen format is long a de-facto standard in cinema, by the way. When it comes to professional applications, this is largely a matter of habit. In most applications menus, palettes, toolboxes, etc, are historically placed in horizontal rows but can also be placed to a side of the work area. In some applications where the palettes and tools take up a lot of space (image-editing software, rapid application development tools, etc), they are placed at the side by default, and a widescreen monitor allows to open up a lot of tools simultaneously and leave a lot of space for the work area.

The second objection is that the screen area has become smaller, the diagonal being the same. This is indeed so, but I must note that the manufacturing cost of LCD panels has lowered, too. And monitors themselves have become cheaper. If you compare similar monitors with different screen aspect ratios, you’ll have a commonsensical picture: for example, 20-inch monitors with a 16:9 screen and a resolution of 1600x900 pixels are but slightly more expensive than 19-inchers with 16:10 and 1440x900 and they also have a slightly larger display area. Besides, the 16:9 format has brought about 23-inch monitors with their lucky combination of properties such as a large screen, Full-HD resolution, optimal pixel pitch, and an appealing price. Today, you can buy a monitor with a resolution higher than 1680x1050 for less than $300 (by the way, 21.5-inch monitors are even cheaper while having the same resolution, but some people won’t like them due to their small pixel pitch).

Thus, there are no real reasons to shun widescreen monitors. On the contrary, the broad choice of screen diagonals in the most popular market sector (20 to 24 inches) and the rapidly declining prices of monitors with a Full HD resolution of 1920x1080 are very good news for the end-user.

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