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Leo Wattenberg

Not using 16:9

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Moin.

When making a video, 16:9 is the ideal aspect ratio.

Or is it?

16:9 certainly is the current web standard for video. Monitors, Smart phones, and web players all are primarily made with this aspect ratio in mind. Or rather, they were. Some smartphones and TVs now go more towards the ultra-wide side, with ratios like 2:1 (aka 18:9) or even wider. Some laptops and tablets started using 3:2 aspect ratios. And web players now, rather than having a fixed aspect ratio, will just fill whatever content you throw at them. 

In other words, until now, you basically were stuck creating videos in a format that was designed for TV, designed for an audience sitting at home, unmoving. But if your audience is different from that, 16:9 may not be the ideal format for you. 

Try it yourself:
I made a playlist with a couple different aspect ratios: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLYSYTk9mfzwIamYOr35d_7HTrszzK-kSn
Look at the videos from different devices and different modes (default, theater, full screen) and see what's happening. 

Some of my personal findings were:

  • ultrawide fills the theater mode completely
  • The squarer the format, the more towering it is on desktop. On ultrawide, there was so little video on my screen (16:9) that I could see 3 comments without scrolling down, whereas on 6:5, not even the description would show up in default view. 
  • The squarer the format, the more usable it is in default view on mobile. Ultrawide videos are unwatchable on mobile default view, but good in full screen, wheras for squares and almost-squares it doesn't really matter how you hold your phone
  • Square formats (1:1) and slimmer (vertical video) have their controls reaching out over the sides on desktop, adding whitespace instead of making the video larger.
  • Vertical video remains difficult to watch on desktop, but is surprisingly okay to watch even on mobile default view.

Note though that any of this benefits only apply if the video you upload is correctly trimmed. Simply adding black bars around your video will not achieve these results!

With that in mind, picking an aspect ratio different to 16:9 can benefit your video, depending on your use case:

  • ultrawide still is the format of choice if you want people to get immersed in your video. Cinema makers have known this for years, now you can join them! 
  • For old games and such, 4:3 is awesome now. Don't put fancy bars around your content to fit to 16:9, you don't need them anymore. 
  • For mobile audiences, vertical video is a good option, though be aware that the top and bottom of it won't show up until the user scrolls them into view or goes full screen.
  • Square video (1:1) is not the way to go on YouTube. Because of the vertical-horizontal illusion, it looks like it's a vertical video. That it's controls hang over the actual video just like a vertical video only adds to the illusion.
  • 6:5 and 5:4 video look like they're actually square videos, 4:3 looks pretty close to that, too. Because of their relatively larger display size, both on desktop and mobile, they're ideal for things in which the user is unlikely to switch to full screen. Tutorials being watched side-by-side with a different application come to mind in particular. 
  • 3:2 and 8:5 are on a good middle ground between immersiveness and default page screen usage. 

None of this is to say that 16:9 is bad and that you should move away from it now, immediately. At the end of the day, the aspect ratio is just a frame for the things you're filming, and while framing matters, it's possible to tell basically the same story using any aspect ratio. There is no ideal aspect ratio for everything, despite it being technically true that vertical videos show up larger on twitter and such.

But it can be handy to have a larger frame into one direction, for example, a large-scale Napoleonic battle may benefit from 4:1-Polyvision (or if you don't live in 1927: VR, probably), while a rocket launch may benefit from 9:16-vertical video, and a game of chess filmed from overhead may just be ideal for square video.

2018-11-20 10_25_06-(3) 6_5 pan - YouTube.png2018-11-20 10_25_21-16_9 pan - YouTube.png

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All that said, I absolutely love how towering 6:5 is in comparison to 16:9. 

 

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