All About Aspect Ratios

By Fred Cunha  | 

Television spot production can be a complex process. That’s why one of our goals here at Extreme Reach is to demystify the technical aspects of ad production, helping you harness these technical tools to create a great final product, and a win for your client. This week we’re investigating aspect ratios, which you may already know describe the proportional relationship between an image’s width and height. What do you need to know about aspect ratios to make sure your next campaign airs without a hitch? Read on for details.

You probably already know about the two most popular aspect ratios for broadcast and video, 4:3 SD (Standard Definition) and 16:9 HD (High Definition). On top of this is the growing popularity of the widescreen format 21:9 HD, which many advertisers use to lend TV spots a “cinematic” feel. But this range of options also creates more opportunities for formatting problems. How do you avoid this? Watch out for these common problems:

21:9 HD Spots May Be Flagged
21:9 HD is gaining popularity with advertisers, although the format is still far from widespread. In fact, it sometimes catches networks off guard. One of the main issues is that 21:9 HD essentially creates a “letterbox” effect even when watching on an HD TV, with black bars at the top and bottom of the screen. Be prepared for one or more networks to flag a 21:9 HD spot – they won’t reject it but some networks  may want to get an “air as-is” in writing from you.

Center-Cut Protect All HD Spots
Another common problem occurs when HD spots are downconverted and viewed on an SD TV or even on the SD feed on an HD TV. A significant proportion of consumers (between 37% and 64%) still watch TV in 4:3 SD. If an SD viewer is watching on an SD TV, an HD spot will either be missing the sides (“center cut”) or will have black bars at the top and bottom (“letterbox”). If an SD viewer is watching an SD feed on an HD TV, an HD spot will either be missing the sides and black bars on each side (“pillarboxed”) or will have black bars all around “postage stamp”. Either way, if the original HD spot was not center-cut protected, some viewers will miss critical information. (See our AFD blog post for another way to help avoid these issues.) Make sure to “center-cut protect” all relevant graphics and talent in your spot to avoid issues when spots are downconverted to SD.

Even though there are HD TVs in over 80% of U.S. households, millions are still watching in SD. Make sure you know all the options to keep your next production looking stellar.

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