The problem

Have you recently tried to buy a laptop computer, or maybe a desktop monitor?

In that case you may have noticed that computer screens today have a 16:9 aspect ratio rather than one of 16:10 or 5:4.

You may also have noticed that manufacturers tend to boast about things such “HD+” or “full HD” and claim that it is that much better than your old screen.

The aspect ratio refers to the ratio of horizontal space to vertical space:
–  a standard LCD with a 4:3 aspect ratio has a resolution of 1024×748 pixels
–  a standard LCD with a 5:4 aspect ratio (17inch or larger) has a resolution of 1280×1024 pixels
– a standard LCD with a 16:10 aspect ratio (17inch or larger) has a resolution of 1440×900 pixels
– a standard LCD with a 16:9 aspect ratio (17inch or larger) has a resolution of 1366×768 pixels

Do you believe it? – If you do, you have fallen for advertising and not taken a step back to weight each argument and make a rational decision.

So let us look at the companies’ argument:

They argue that 16:9 is “full HD” and that it allows you to watch movies “better”.

What is the argument here? In cinemas, where the screen spans several meters in width, peripheral vision is part of the experience – although this requires that the screen is neither too small nor too big and you are at the correct distance from the screen, however even if you are further away, the key part of the film generally takes place in the centre of the screen, and this is where most of your attention lies.

As a result of these factors, films are generally filmed in wide aspect ratios, great for the cinema, but bad for a 4:3 or 5:4 screen. This is because if you watch movies on such a screen you would “lose out” because you have black bars at the top and bottom of the screen, known as letterboxing (and stretching the film is generally not an option as distortion will occur). This is certainly true, however….

In this case the companies are not trying to sell you a computer but a DVD/Blu-ray/video player, assuming that you want to watch videos and all you ever do is watch videos.

Moreover, if you pay closer attention to the actual resolution that these new LCD screens have, you will find that they are not necessarily better for movie watching than previous models.

When the transition was made from 4:3 laptop LCD screens, which most had a resolution of 1024×768, to the new standard resolution for 16:10 screens the new resolution became 1280×800 pixels and thus a gain was made in both height and width with respect to the previous models. However, with the new 16:9 aspect ratio, the standard resolution has become 1366×768, this is certainly a gain in width, but a loss in terms of height over the 16:10 aspect ratio. Note that this only applies for laptops and LCDs which are smaller than 17 inches, for those that are at least 17 inch, the transition was 1280×1024 – > 1440×900 -> 1366×768, resulting in a net loss in both height and width.

However, what is important here is mainly the last statement: a loss in terms of height – a loss of something that is important if you want to do anything except watching movies. What is more, in the initial change from 4:3 to 16:10, the general customer gained resolution, only the very top end of the market lost resolution, now we are losing resolution with respect to height over all of our old screens.

Why is this important? In the digital as well as analog world we are used to work from top to bottom, we read texts from top to bottom, we code software programs from top to bottom, we edit word documents from top to bottom with the toolbars at the top because this is the place to reach them the quickest from anywhere on the screen.

Our lives revolve around working from top to bottom and thus HEIGHT MATTERS!

This means that the 32 pixels that we lose, are suddenly very important 32pixels – nearly 2 lines of text, leading to more scrolling, and in the case of programming or writing, a loss with respect to seeing the overall picture.

(And if you had a screen with a larger resolution, such as 1920*1200 pixels, the new 1920*1080 pixel screen would lose you 120 vertical pixels, around 6 lines of text.)

If you do not believe me, here is a simple experiment for you to do:

Take a long piece of text, print it on an A4 page in landscape and in portrait orientation, the same text, see which reads better. The portrait orientation will be easier to read – newspapers have known about this for a long time, this is why they are printed in columns rather than side to side text, this is why large books (large area covered by the page) are printed in columns too – it makes reading easier. Guess why pocketbooks are so popular, not because they fit into a pocket, but because they are a perfect format to read. The width of the page is easily covered just by eye movement – irrespective of the actual printing size.

But let us get back to screens…

What do you use your computer for? I am sure you read online newspapers, blogs, forums, write word documents – all of that takes place in a world of height rather than a world of width. And just be honest, what fills the margins on newspapers or blogs? Menus and advertisements…

So you might say “Buy a better screen” – but the question is, can you?

The old 16:10 resolutions are:
1280×800
1440×900
1680×1050
1920×1200

The new 16:9 resolutions are:
1366×768
1600×900
1920×1080

If you used to get a 1920×1200 screen you will now lose 10% of your screens height, i.e. your “full HD” screen actually has less resolution than your previous screen. Thus, rather than the famed and shouted upgrade you were looking for, you are actually getting a downgrade.

If you used a 1440×900 screen you are in luck, 1600×900 exists, you can live without a loss in height, or can you? The resolution 1600×900 exists but is used in very few computers, possibly because there is no “900p video”. However, in the past you could have also opted for a screen with a 1680×1050 resolution, so in reality your “upgrade” choice is actually less than what you could have gotten 1 or 2 years ago.

Yet, most computers use a resolution of 1366×768 for the screen as this has become the new standard, yes, you gain some horizontal resolution, but you lose vertical resolution that, as we discovered earlier is crucial.

So let us continue to look at a different use for a computer – photo editing, web design, the Adobe Suite:

The Adobe CS4 Suite contains software such as Dreamweaver and Photoshop, software that uses sidebars, i.e. profits to some extent from the horizontal expansion. At the same time though, controls at the side are harder to reach, especially on a very wide screen where you have to traverse most of the screen. And then, in Photoshop the sidebar contains for example the layers panel, which, you guessed it, requires height. I want to see all layers – not just a few. So even today’s software with sidebars will lose out with the new resolutions, rather than gain anything.

But let us persevere, we want to edit an image in landscape orientation – it fills the area assigned to the image perfectly on a 16:10 screen with no loss, i.e. you would not gain from a wider screen.

If you are shooting mainly in portrait orientation you will have found that 16:10 is too wide for your liking and would benefit from 4:3, thus with moving to less vertical resolution you again lose and gain nothing.

Dreamweaver will present you with pretty much the same situation – you do have sidebars, but these take only the space that isn’t in the area of the screen that your main focus resides on – the centre of the screen.

And if you code, every line of code counts – Eclipse has top and side toolbars – Visual Studio has toolbars at the top and side, a loss in vertical resolution (height) means less code, while a gain in horizontal resolution (width) gains you nothing at all.

As you can see, those that do professional work on their laptops or desktops have a lot to lose from the new standard. Even though they would prefer 16:10 screens, the market simply does not offer them the option, which is at least to say, peculiar. In contravenes with the market logic of offer and demand.

So why the change to 16:9?

The truth is, that 16:9 panels are slightly cheaper to make, thus by switching to 16:9 from 16:10 the manufacturers are able to make a higher profit. Some people claim that this lowers prices – but in reality it doesn’t, what lowers prices is the trend towards generally lower electronics prices – as well as the consumer demand for lower prices. No manufacturer will change the price of a laptop due to the aspect ratio change; at best the price will stay the same because of marketing reasons.

Maybe you don’t want to believe it – OK, it is your choice, feel free to rationally argue against it. However, even professionally orientate laptops have switched to 16:9, mobile workstations, products aimed at the corporate and productive world which will definitely not primarily watch videos on their laptops and thus will not have any benefit, but suffer a loss in productivity. Yet, despite requests from this important group of consumers for 4:3 or 16:10 LCD screens, producers continued to ignore them. Before we go on to speculate as to why this has happened, maybe one last attempt to bring this issue into the attention of LCD producers should be made… maybe we weren’t loud enough.

Thank you for reading, think this over and support the fight for the resurrection of the 16:10 aspect ratio. If you are interested, then we offer a model for a “Letter of complaint” which you can send to various LCD and laptop producers, for some of which we provide their contact details. Alternatively, you can try to hold on to your current LCD screen for a bit longer, you may find that newer models do not serve productive tasks just as well as your current screen.

For any other further information, we can be contacted using the comments section below.

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  1. Indrek
    April 10, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    FWIW, I’d rather watch 720p video on a WXGA (1280×800) screen, because 720p video is also 1280 pixels wide. Yes, you get black bars at the top and bottom, but the video is also shown at exactly original size. HD (1366×768), while having almost (but not exactly!) the correct aspect ratio, is also larger, so the video has to be upsampled to fill the entire screen, possibly leading to loss of quality.

  2. Golden Ratio
    April 11, 2011 at 4:09 am

    Great cause!

    One other benefit of the 16:10 ratio is that it is closest to the Golden ratio, approximately 1.6180339887. The Golden ratio, discovered over 2400 years ago, is the most aesthetically pleasing ratio to the eye and is widely used in the design of all types of products.

  3. The Lorax
    November 1, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    Also, with the black bar at the bottom, you can get the full picture on screen and still have room for the player controls at the bottom. 120 pixels is a lot of room for controls below the video area.

  4. Victor Ortega
    November 22, 2012 at 8:04 am

    I much prefer the 16:10 aspect ratio. I find it best for viewing PDFs (whether in landscape mode, or two side-by-side in portrait mode), browsing the web, viewing/editing photos, and word processing. If only I could purchase nowadays a 17″ laptop with a 1680×1050 screen!

  5. August 25, 2013 at 1:28 am

    I totally agreed that 16:10 aspect ratio is far more practical and useful to genuine laptop users.
    The 16:9 aspect ratio really sucks as an inch loss in screen height is a big deal to those who works on laptops. I will be holding on to my current laptop Compaq CQ41-205TU for as long as possible in the hope that someday, the manufacturers might revive the 16:10 aspect ratio display. 16:10 aspect ratio is just as good for watching wide screen movies, you tube … and do us justice when working with excel, power-point, words, photo-editing, facebook and web-browsing.

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  9. October 19, 2014 at 10:01 am

    The first company we need to focus on is the SMPTE (Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers). The primary reason why companies don’t hesitate to switch to 16:9 besides cost, is that movies are made in 16:9 anyway. We all know 16:9 is inferior to 16:10.

    Here’s how they came up with 16:9 in the first place:

    “Dr. Kerns Powers proposed the 16:9 aspect ratio to the SMPTE after overlaying equal area rectangles in the 1.33, 1.667, 1.85, Panavision/2.2 and CinemaScope/2.35 formats in the way illustrated here. The overlapped rectangles all fit within a 16:9 rectangle and all enclose a smaller, common 16:9 rectangle.”

    Of course, Dr. Kerns Powers didn’t foresee that his decision would cause for screens across all devices around the world to adhere to his 16:9 aspect ratio.

    If the SMPTE would change movie formats from 16:9 to 16:10, I am sure that we will see screens to revert to the 16:10 aspect ratio in no time.

    Or, if we could convince the SMPTE to simply promote 16:10 screens, with perhaps the “letterbox” to serve as space for subtitles, watermarks, HUD for sports games… it could be the cause for resurgence of 16:10 screens.

    16:10 is the closest we have ever gotten to the golden rectangle (1.618), and the golden rectangle is widely accepted as the most aesthetically pleasing aspect ratio (as well as the most productive one). It also works perfectly in portrait, unlike 16:9.

    If there is one ratio that deserves to be truly ubiquitous, it is 16:10, not 16:9. But we need more people in this boat if the SMPTE is to change their minds.

    We don’t have much time before 16:9 becomes truly ubiquitous. Then it will be far too late.

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  11. cataria
    July 20, 2016 at 11:00 am

    i ordered a 3 year old display yesterday!!! 3 year old just to have a 16:10 24 inch to upgrade cause of my 3 5:4 super old 19 and 17 inch or sth lcd died away 😦 rip u will be missed!
    i actually was crying about this madness not kidding.
    no 30 inch or 24 inch that is new and great? like really like what? i would even spent a higher amount of money for a quality 30 inch 2560 x 1600 display, which could be affordable in great quality now, if the industry didn’t go down the shit hole.
    i looked at 27 inch displays with at least 2560 x 1440 i think it is, just because at that point it is actually bigger than a 24 inch display, still ugly with a shit ratio, 16:10 =ish the golden ratio seen as beauti and proper by humans and found everywhere, as others already mentioned.
    but it gets better there weren’t that many new good 2560×1440 27 inch displays cause the ones are 4k!!! 16:9. i can’t even use 4k on my old gtx260 and i don’t want to.
    so stressed about all this shit i was done, i’m not gonna waste my money for either a resolution i don’t want! or extra space the left and right.
    so 3 year old 300 euro 16:10 it is! coming up tomorrow.
    its horrible when u think that 8 years ago we were at the same if not better point.
    displays were 16:10 ips panels with low reactiontime were just coming out.
    i know that cause i did a lot of research back then to find amazing alrounder 26 inch 16:10 displays for friends, the LG Flatron W2600HP.
    and u know how stupid it feels to not be able to buy sth better today? at least much much cheaper, but still.
    this is insanity.
    i laughed when 16:9 displays came out a bit more first time like no sane person will ever use them and now? RIP 😦
    think about all the beauti we could have with 30 inch displays all that real! display space on screen1, but noooo.
    i guess time to annoy display manufacturers a bit with given letters.
    and thx for creating this website i all i found before were threads about this issue.

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