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iPad Aspect Ratio

Yep... the iPad is cool, the software seems to be brilliant as ever and $500 bucks (if you can live with 16GB is a great price... BUT. Since so many people have been asking me what I thought, I'll share my first concern. Granted, I haven't actually held one in my hands so we'll see.

I was shocked to see that the screen on the iPad was a 4x3 aspect ratio. If you don't know what that means let me explain.

Your old television is 4x3, it is 4 units wide by 3 units high. Your new flat screen HD TV is 16x9, or 16 units wide by 9 units high. Essentially its a different shape, its wider. HDTV is generally in the 16x9 aspect ratio and fills your screen but if you try to watch HD programming on a Standard Definition TV two things COULD happen. The Broadcaster could choose to "letterbox" the image or they could do what is a commonly referred to as a "center cut" in other words, they'll just lop off the sides of the image.

Take a look at the evening news or the late night talk shows, they often frame the shot so that if the sides are cut off in Standard Definition there will be no critical information lost. In actuallity it means those of us with HD TVs get really loosely framed shots in our living room. One day they will stop "protecting", or compensating, for the Standard Def world and things will look better.

So is the iPad considered a dedicated media player? Not really, there is the whole ebook thing, and of course photos and web browsing and all but as a movie player, it falls REALLY short. Take a look at the image below and compare it to the image above. Above you see a frame from "The Hangover" available on the iTunes store. This is a classic implementation of "center cut" with information from the movie lost because the aspect ratio of the screen can not show the full width of the image. When you compare to the image below you can see just HOW MUCH of the image is lost.

There is a solution to this that Apple has implemented. The Apple Operating System or OS, has superior scaling capabilities and because of that they can scale down a movie to fit the screen horizontally, essentially letter boxing the image.  The problem with this is that when you letter box a motion picture, which is OFTEN shot in an even WIDER aspect ratio than even 16x9, you can get a severe letter boxing effect.

One last image for you to look at.  Below you can see the same frame from "The Hangover" but it is squeezed down so you can see the whole thing. Take a look at just how much black is in the frame on the top and the bottom of the movie. So yea, you CAN see the whole frame but you get a lot of black on the screen as well.

Personally, I would be interested in hearing WHY Apple didn't make the screen 16x9 or even the same aspect ratio as the iPhone and iPod Touch.

Oh well, that's my two cents.

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Reader Comments (2)

I'm holding out for the iOblong.

January 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJeff Regan

Because if it was 16:9, when you held it vertically (how you'll use it most of the time) it'd be 9:16. That's one tall, skinny device.

It's meant to be 1,000 things. This aspect ratio is comfortable to hold in either direction and works for all "things". It's a compromise, which is what you'll always get when making a product that is more than just a single use device.

I, like everyone else that will buy it, will expect it to do a ton of stuff. If all you want is a dedicated video player, I'm sure you can buy one—at 16:9.

And besides… you know full well most movies are actually wider than 16:9. So even on a 16:9 screen you'd still get letterboxing!

January 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJoseph Linaschke

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