YOU ARE OBSOLETE (where YOU := digital video aspect ratios)

I applaud you, @OtherMichael, for taking this on so vigorously. I’m with you completely. The format/aspect ratio is really dependant on the subject; while most long shots are better served with a wide angle, 16:9 format, many more intimate shots are better 9:16 (the human head, it should be noted, is pretty close to 9:16), and certainly anything that has more vertical action is better served in portrait mode. I think most people take issue with vertical video because, as @ratel points out, the black bands make it look like some thing is missing. I’ve been using this app called Bokeh which is a kind of photoblogging service (great for new parents, btw) and what’s interesting is that it does a great job of displaying both horizontal and vertical video - it doesn’t ever make it look like something’s missing, or that it was shot “wrong”. It’s a great example of how to do playback right.


Insisting the digital video be horizontal “because live theater” is like saying “all type must have serifs because we’re replicating the experience of pressing chisels into wet clay.” Modern designers (in the last, what, 150 years?) don’t go by that anymore - they’ve used new technologies, be they wood, lead or digital type (in some cases, plastic Dymo type, even seen in the close-credit for The LEGO Movie).

With digital video we aren’t replicating the live theater experience any more than moving images are replicating live theater. CNN is not replicating live theater. HSN is not replicating live theater. is not replicating live theater. is not replicating live theater. is not replicating live theater.

So why are digital video embed-software so confined to arbitrary aspect ratios implied by physical technologies?

Conceptual? So what.

Nam June Paik, the Ant Farm, Wolf Vostell, Bill Viola, Bruce Nauman, Andy Warhol - none of this has anything to do with narrative or live theater. There is no chorus at center stage hectoring us about our duty to the gods (and vice versa); the aspect ration is not a deus ex machina that will save us from our predicament - THERE IS NO PREDICAMENT, this is all artificial, there are no digital barriers to allowing this to happen.

some more links - because there really are some fascination aspect ratios in there, like the 12.00:1 (Disney’s wrap-around).


btw, I put this thread into WRATH for a reason; I feel like responding heatedly.

It’s not a particularly important topic, but if you can’t scream, fling poo, and call @SteampunkBanana “a [n allegedly] brown pile of old-fashioned carbs surrounded by the flies of modernity-denial” whilst discussing aspect ratios, what good is life?


awwww, it’s horizontal! But what an aspect ratio!

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I’ve raised my voice a handful of times to defend the vertical video, and otherMichael has my axe on this one too.

I don’t put a ton of stock in the “it’s how we’re accustomed to seeing things, it makes us comfortable” arguments for horizontal being the “better” way to shoot/view things. It would be difficult, at this point in time, to say that that is anything beyond conditioning. And “that’s not what I’m used to seeing…” isn’t very useful in art, not to mention life…

Vertical video hasn’t had great representation. Most of it has been hastily-shot video by someone whipping out a smartphone, without considering framing very carefully. The shots are often too close, as a person leans in to get that oh-so-cute goat’s face, cutting off too much context, or they haven’t selected a scene or angle that lends itself to the technique, so to judge on the sample is to give unfair shrift.

The effect of the black bars cannot be understated. Youtube, in it’s dominance, foolishly treats vertical video as a nuisance. I find it negligent that in their immense talent pool, they can’t think of a way to make vertical video feel native on an application built to accomodate the widest variety of home-shot video. The images are undercut by being shrunken, actually occupying fewer pixels on the screen, and do feel “cut off.” Before letterboxing became popular, you would have the “squares” complaining to the film buffs that the letterboxed movie they rented looked “squished” for the same reason.

There is so much great and popular vertically-oriented visual art, like Chinese and Japanese nature prints, movie posters, tall windows, pokemon cards, vintage full-page illustration. The precedents are out there.

Phones are really going to change this perception. they are such a dominant medium, I think they will slowly break down the weirdness around vertically-oriented images. Video games on phones cannot be understated either in their creative usage of a vertical display. Rather that taking advantage of our natural desire to see a horizon, they, with 3D graphics, take advantage of our ability and desire to see depth, especially when in fast, overland motion. a third-person, over-the-shoulder view like in maze-running games screams for a vertical aspect ration, as do all the 1942 and River Raid clones you see. With drones creating an inexpensive offspring of crane and tracking shots, we could actually see some cool over-the-shoulder or distance-drinking long shots that would be silly to waster on a wide shot.


At an arcade this summer (instead of hanging out there myself with a sweaty fistfull of precious few quarters I’m now taking my kids to win tickets) I saw a large, vertical “Doodle Jump.” My 2.5-year-old daughter loved it, and I marvelled at the display being so much better than “Boot Hill” or the nightmare-inducing “Space Invaders” (to be fair, the nightmare featured the creatures on the side-panels).

Screenshot taken from PDF via the doodle-jump link @

That’s about what, 5:7? I come up with 16:21 (from 32:42, if those dimensions are a reflective of the screen).


But it is all based on live theatre. It’s based on the idea of shared experience. Gathered people going through moments of catharsis, rage, anger, joy, whatever. Watching movies in the movie theatre is a terrible experience. The other patrons are rude, cell phones go off, the snacks are expensive, you can’t stop it for a moment to step out to the bathroom, and the floors are sticky. But yet people go, and they go in droves.

Television, the great stay-at-home medium brings people together to watch it. Either at Super Bowl parties, having people over to watch the finale of Breaking Bad, or gathering in Times Square to watch the World Cup, all of these experiences have their roots in live theatre’s shared watching experience.

So yes, these things are replicating live theatre. Performer + Audience = Theatre. Warhol may have changed who the audience was and who the performers were with his works, but it’s still based on someone watching and someone performing, even just as themselves.

I think it’s great that you can get heated about it. I guess I can’t get that worked up about it because horizontal has won. I start movies vertically on my phone and the OS tells me to turn it sideways. Every laptop monitor is horizontal. Everyone’s TV is horizontal. Movie theatres are horizontal. VR goggles are horizontal. You made the earlier comment about buggy whips, but I’m arguing for the car. You’re metaphorically arguing for the personal jetpack, which, due to it’s innate failings (exhaust, fuel capacity, flight control, speed, east of use) will never have any traction or mass appeal.

You can keep at it, and I encourage you to do so. I said in my first post that I wasn’t going to make any more and I’ve responded more than I planned. So please, continue, fight against the dying of the light, sweep back the tide, I’ll be elsewhere arguing against Toblerone or wondering when the final roll of the Thunderdome is going to happen. Best of luck to you on the matter.



We’re 2500+ years into the age of writing, and the medium is still exploding with possibilities. 200 years into the moving image [discounting shadow plays, and possible 100BCE Chinese zoetropes] and I doubt we’re any further fixed in stone.

What about Instagram/Vine square videos?

Next time you’re in L.A., gimme a holler and I’ll drag your plantainy butt out to the Arclight Cinema, where the other patrons are generally cinephiles who know to keep their phones off, the upholstery is comfy and unstained, the floor is kept quite clean, and the snacks are still expensive but what do you care since I’m buyin’. It costs a buck or three more than your basic AMC or Pacific or Mann Theaters joint, which keeps out the riffraff and the noisier kids. And they don’t show ads; just two or three trailers and then your feature. Plus: reserved seating. Quite civilized. And for movies I care about, I’ll always prefer a genuinely large screen with big-ass speakers over any setup anyone’s home can contain. “Shared experience,” shmared experience. I don’t care if the joint is empty. Here’s an exception: the first movie I ever worked on was Stephen King’s Sleepwalkers back in 1992. At the time I lived in a tiny apartment in Hollywood on Orchid, directly behind the Chinese Theater. One evening I walked by and there was a preview screening sponsored by Power 106, an L.A. hiphop radio station. Since I worked on the movie, I managed to talk my way inside, and it was the first time I watched a movie in a crowded theater with an almost entirely African-American audience. Man, that was fun. The movie felt almost like a Rocky Horror experience, the audience participation was so high. But otherwise, I don’t have much use for the rest of the audience in a movie theater. I just like the immersiveness of the experience.

That just bugs me. If I’m gonna use my smartphone as my main camera (and I suppose I might as well, since like most rank amateurs I have no urge to spend more money on a real camera that takes better pictures/video than my phone does), then I’m gonna insist it have a swivel-down handle for videography. I’ve yet to hold a smartphone that had anything close to ergonomic one-handed video controls when held sideways. They’re always a pain in the ass, and generally less so when held vertically.

Let the camera shoot horizontally while I’m holding it vertically, and show me a letterboxed image on the screen while I shoot, if it must. I suppose I prefer landscape videos to portrait ones, but not enough to really convince myself I care. And I work in TV post production, where aspect ratios are part of my job. I found it pretty silly when Warner Bros retransferred every episode of Friends in hi-def. The last six years of that show coincided with when I was working on the first six years of Will & Grace, but though we shot and transferred W&G in 16x9 beginning in Season 3 (and protected for 16x9 beginning in Season 1), Friends never bothered to do either, so there was plenty of VFX work involved in cleaning up shots that were off the edges of the set when they retransferred Friends in hi-def. Sounded like more trouble than it was worth (how much funnier can the show be in a crisper rectangle than it was in a fuzzier square?), but WB didn’t think so. I’d be curious to find out how those Friends Blu-rays have been selling.

What I find interesting is the live theatre connection. (Lest anyone notice my inconsistency, I spell it “theater” when I refer to the building, and “theatre” when I refer to the live artform. Color me pretentious; I was a Theatre Arts major.) It’s true that early cinema in particular employed a lot of theatrical conventions, such as a fairly fixed viewpoint in dramatic scenes (a heavy and cumbersome camera taking the place of the assigned seat of an audience member, for example) and fade-ins and fade-outs corresponding to lighting cues at the beginnings and ends of scenes and acts. Cinema was a handy way for a wide audience to see a performance without the performers having to stage hundreds (or thousands) of performances worldwide to reach the same audience, and film editing allowed the performance to be perfected and made consistent for every single showing.

But I think we made some big strides away from the “shared experience” thing with TV.

There are indeed some “event” programs wherein people will gather 'round the flickering screen to share the moment. Super Bowl parties, well, since there are only some 80,000-odd overpriced and unobtainable tickets to the actual Super Bowl (and the weather is likely to be rotten in any event), TV is really the only way to watch the damned thing. But outside these exceptions you list, the vast majority of TV watching is done as a solitary pastime, or in the company of a family member or two. It’s hardly the shared experience that live theatre is and was.

But there are exceptions. Variety talk shows, sketch comedies, stand-up comedy acts, and indeed most things shot before a live audience are intended to evoke that shared experience vibe. And multicamera sitcoms in particular are designed to feel as much as possible like live theatre. We never see the audience, but we hear it all around us in the surround speakers. The actors hold for laughs. The sets are built as if for a proscenium stage. There’s a poignant sense that even if you’re watching Seinfeld all by yourself, you’re never actually alone with all those other voices laughing their asses off with you at Kramer and George and Elaine and Jerry.

I think, with those deliberate exceptions noted, most cinema and photography has migrated away from the shared experience aspect of live theatre. I think the aspect ratio is usually just a convention that is only noticed when directors decide to play with or upend that convention. Otherwise, they just use what came before. TVs were 1.33:1 because full-frame 35mm film was 1.33:1. Movies were mostly in the neighborhood of 1.33:1 until the early 1950s, when widescreen anamorphic formats like CinemaScope’s 2.35:1 or 2.66:1 were developed, largely to attract audiences to a more eye-filling spectacle than what they could get on TV at home. And Cinerama bumped the ratio all the way up to 2.89:1. For sixty years now, we’ve retained the assumption that a wider field of view is “better.” But yeah, I too think that that really depends on what we’re looking at. I’m comfortable with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio since that’s what I stare at all day at work and again at home. 2.35 seems excessive to me, even when projected on the Cinerama Dome’s 86-foot screen. Feels like I’m squinting. And 4x3 has never bothered me, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to enjoy so very many old classic movies. Handheld phone-shot portrait videos don’t bug me at all, though it would be nice if YouTube could handle them without making them so wee.


Since we’re going this way, I’ll give a shout out here to a few cinemas I really like (never go anymore, since the arrival of Daneel Jr we’ve managed a frankly pathetic three cinema visits (Pacific Rim, X-Men : Days of Future Past and Planes - Fire and Rescue (with Jr) - babysitting’s just too expensive to justify going any more than that).

In Seattle - the Harvard Exit (walking distance from my old place), and the newly reopened Egyptian Theatre (oddly, also walking distance from my old place) - it used to show cult movies at midnight on Fri/Sat, not sure if it still does since the reopening. Also, really like the (shhh, don’t tell @funruly, he thinks I dislike the city) Living Room in Portland (any cinema that sells booze gets my vote), and a very old stomping ground, the Electric Cinema in Birmingham back in Blighty (not coincidentally, also licenced premises…).

I guess I really should give a shout out to my really oldest stomping ground, what used to be the lovely old art deco Curzon cinema back in Loogaborooga. Depressingly, now a bloody Odeon. Ah, memories of queuing around the block for matinee showings, and lying through my teeth about how I was definitely 15 to get in to Terminator 2 and The Pope Must Die(t).

We’ll get you spelling things proper-like eventually.

I don’t have the slightest idea why they don’t autodetect and rearrange the display as required.


Forgot to mention, since I myself don’t indulge, the Arclight also serves hooch in selected 21+ screenings. The one place most of the Arclight cinemas fail is in the soft-drinks selection, where they’re limited to Coke / Diet Coke / Sprite / Lemonade / Barq’s / bad iced tea. The one exception of which I’m aware is, fortuitously enough, the Pasadena Arclight nearest my home, which was converted from a regular slightly-upscale multiplex with self-serve drinks dispensers that allowed for more flavors, so they also offer orange soda, Coke Zero, and (huge win for me) Mr Pibb.

I feel your pain with the babysitting. In my neighborhood, the going rate is $10 to $15 per hour, so a movie date is expensive indeed. We’ve recently seen Gone Girl and Chef but I can’t think of any other movies we’ve seen in the theater this year.

Hear, hear. How hard could it be?


You squint at a screen that’s 40 feet tall?

Those complaining about the small screen on a phone should try this little experiment; next time you are watching TV while sitting on your couch or in a bar take out your phone and see how far away you have to hold it to make the image the same size in your field of view as the TV. Unless you sit very close you will find yourself holding the phone as far away as you can. Is that how you watch video on your phone? No, it isn’t. If you hold it any closer then your phone’s image is bigger than the TV and has just as many pixels and might be a sharper image to boot because of the intense competition in phone tech. It is only your lazy brain telling you this is a problem. The phone is fine for video and getting better.


That doesn’t work for me.
By the time my phone screen eclipses my TV screen, the phone is blurry and out of focus, steamed up from my breath and appx 3cm from my nose.

Notwithstanding, it’s an interesting point, totally works for my tablet and makes sense as I often watch telly on my tablet.

A distinction needs to be made. I think Other Michael did above, but it has gotten lost in the noise here. Theater and TV may be a communal experience, but fine art is not. you are alone in front of the screen quite frequently and the art experience is based on a one to one relationship between the artist and viewer. So all that “reason” goes right out the proscenium with fine art and we are left with a new decision or a different tradition.

Off hand I can think of two video artists that use horizontal monitors or projection and no one thinks anything about it. Bill Viola has done work with enormous projections with the projector “sideways.” Why? Because he is dealing with images of the body and the body is vertical when standing, for example. The other is Mike Kelley, who used monitors mounted vertically to show (very) short animations of the sculptures in the other room. Why? Probably because he was a trouble-maker and wanted to make things look different from your living room. A good enough reason for me since art is experimental since about 1910 and things should be tried and experienced without reference to our expectations. I have never heard anyone mention this display as weird or wrong. Next step is arbitrary size and shape. Who cares how it is accomplished. I am getting ready by trying stuff out and looking at it on my big computer monitor surrounded by black or gray. A better look, in my opinion, than the image butting uncomfortably up against the bezel of the monitor like we are used to now. In a few years these concerns will seem quaint. Like the idea that a human could not survive traveling at 55 miles an hour. People really believed that at one time.


I guess you have a giant TV. It is a great thing to point out at a sports bar though, where everyone is watching a regular TV across the room. It makes people go, “Oh, huh” which is just the reaction hoped for.

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It’s more a combination of an older phone, bad eyes and a smallish room. But the telly is on the larger side, yes. Medium sized, by today’s standards, colossal by those of 10 years ago.

I’m going to totally try that next time I’m watching the footy down the pub. Sounds like a great idea. Beer, company and a decent view of the action. Win all round. :smiley: