Watching a beautiful high definition NFL broadcast this weekend, a little contrast jumped out at me in one of the commercial breaks. A company that spent a LOT of money to advertise in a prime time Sunday afternoon pro football broadcast during the holiday shopping season, threw a big-time commercial on my picturesque widescreen in STANDARD DEFINITION in a 4:3 aspect ratio! I was surprised to see a cropped, low quality commercial during an HD football broadcast. It jumped out at me because it was SO different from everything else, and not in a good way.
Those of us enjoying HD broadcast television have come to be comfortable with commercials and programs recorded in HD, and in the proper 16:9 HD aspect ratio. It's just the way things are done now. When was the last time you saw a 4:3 TV at a retail store? Years ago. It's rare to see a commercial nowadays in old, low technology. Anything made in the last few years has no excuse to be in proper contemporary formats. Are they still answering their rotary phones, too?
For anyone who isn't familiar with aspect ratios or video formats, here's the simple Cliff Notes version. 4:3 aspect ratio, commonly called "four-by-three" derives from 35mm film used in silent era cinema, as well as 35mm still camera film. Simply put, it's the length and the width of the screen in a ratio. We know it more as the squareish shape of the old console CRT television tubes. When television was birthed, the format was adapted from the movies at the time—a simple transition so that movies potentially viewed on TVs would all look the same as the theater. Makes plenty of sense.
This is a standard 4:3 proportion screen:
High definition TVs and current day movies are produced in what is known as 16:9 (sixteen-by-nine) aspect ratio, sometimes known as widescreen to movie junkies.
This is a typical look of a 16:9 widescreen format:
This has been a transition for broadcast television as well as computers for years, and makes the old 4:3 format from the 40s a relic. If you continue to use this format for your presentations, it makes YOU look like a relic, too.
By default, unintelligent programs like Powerpoint and Keynote blindly default to a historically standard 4:3 aspect ratio, usually a 1024 pixels x 768 pixels framed canvas. These work great on your 10 year old CRT monitor but not so great on any new laptop or widescreen HD television, which are the norm now, and not the exception.
Building your new presentation into the default settings from the second you open a program already puts you into 1940s video technology. Is that where you want to be? Is that the first impression you want your audience to have of you?
So here's a tip. The first thing you should do when you are preparing your presentation slide deck is find out what the final technology will be. If it is an old school 4:3 projection screen or an iPad, keep the proportions set to the default 4:3, and let 'er rip. If you are showing on a laptop, HD TV or monitor or any contemporary projection hardware, make sure that you head into your page or canvas setup and select the 16:9 options. We prefer 1280 x 720 sizes when putting together 16:9 presentations as a good balance of file size and image quality.
If you are using 4:3 slide proportions and showing them on 16:9 screens, you are not only losing out on valuable slide space and real estate, but those black bars down the sides make you look like an amateur and unprepared. When you want to look polished and professional in every way, make sure the slides behind you are up to the task, as well.