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Resolutions & Aspect Ratios Explained

Most of today's TV's consist of LCD or Plasma displays, these screens are made up of millions of cells called 'pixels', each pixel itself is made from 3 'sub-pixels' which are Red, Blue & Green (RBG), these combine in various levels of brightness with help from the backlight to create a pixel of a certain color and brightness, some displays may have a fourth sub-pixel such as yellow (RGBY).

Resolution refers to the amount of pixels in Width and Height (in that order), for example, 720p refers to a screen that is 1280 x 720 (1280 pixels wide and 720 pixels high) - although typically 720p refers to TV's with 768x1366 resolution aswell because these TV's 'support' 720p (a movie or program advertised as being 720p), higher resolutions such as 1920 x 1080 (1080p) are also common and most of todays LCD's and Plasma's are of this resolution.

Aspect Ratio (AR) refers to the shape of the screen, 4:3 is your typical standard 'non-widescreen' AR, this means its 4 parts wide and 3 parts high, 16:9 is your typical 'widescreen' AR and 21:9 is a typical 'anamorphic widescreen' AR used in cinemas, nearly all TV's these days are 16:9, the resolutions I mention above (1280x720 and 1920x1080) are both 16:9, that is too say those resolutions make a screen that is 16 parts wide as it is 9 high, you may see these in your picture settings on your TV.

Cinema's and DVD/Blu-Ray releases explain Aspect Ratio's slightly differently, you may see on the back of a DVD box that the AR is 1.78:1 , 1.85:1 or 2.39:1 ...or some variation, as with the AR's above this means they are 1.78 wide as they are 1 high, the difference here is the height always remains "1" and only the width is changed to suite the AR used, using this method one can simply state 1.78 and know what that AR is (1.78:1). When compared to TV Aspect Ratios the following is true, 16:9 = 1.78:1 - this means a DVD that is 1.78:1 will fill the entire screen if the screen is 16:9, if the DVD is 2.39:1 then it means it will have 'Letterboxing' on a 16:9 TV (black bars at top and bottom).

See the chart on the right (source: Wikimedia) it shows the various Aspect Ratio's.

aspect ratio graph
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