Another Potential iPad Dealbreaker: the Aspect Ratio


Excitement and discussion over the iPad’s potential as a media consumption device is fierce, but one element that’s not really debateable is how, exactly, video will be displayed on the device. The Unofficial Apple Blog yesterday posted a graphic laying out how various aspect ratios of films will play out on the new Apple (s AAPL) device. And it turns out that unless you’re watching a classic film or a pre-2000s TV show shot in a 4:3 aspect ratio, you’re not going to be making full use of that 9.7″ screen.

via The Unofficial Apple Weblog

The aspect ratio issue might be a small one, but it’s been a key issue for hardcore media consumers ever since film and TV began to move digitally. It’s something I started observing over a decade ago, in fact — in the late 90s, when the DVD was just beginning to inch its way into the American home, I was working part-time in an independent video store that was one of the first to rent and sell the new format. (They’re one of the last few mom-and-pop stores still in business, by the way — if you’re ever in Mountain View, stop by Videoscope and say hi to Nona for me.)

As a budding cinephile, I often found myself in the position of explaining to customers that were used to VHS why DVD and laserdiscs were a superior format. And a key part of my argument was the fact that unlike on tape, most films on DVD were released in the original aspect ratio — which, for the average consumer watching TV on their 4:3 CRTs, was bewildering. At that time, most people had no idea that when they watched a VHS tape of a film shot in a 1.85:1 or 2.35:1 aspect ratio, they were literally watching only a percentage of the original image, because those versions were formatted to fit traditional 4:3 screens.

Some understood what this meant and chose to upgrade — others, though, didn’t care because they didn’t like “all that black space” on the screen. Of course, that was the late ’90s. Since then, 16:9 HD TVs have gotten a foothold in the market and most consumers have gotten used to the black bars — even the films of Stanley Kubrick, who was a legendary widescreen holdout, are getting released in their theatrical aspect ratio.

Which video services are available for the iPad will definitely be a key issue for those considering purchasing the device. However, the question to raise is this — will a consumer’s tolerance of “the black space” be different on the iPad? On a very basic level, after all, the device is designed to be held intimately — a much different user experience than watching a TV across the room. Up close, it could be that people grow frustrated with only some of their screen in use.


mac iPad converter

yeah, I completely agree with your views, as is known to everyone, with the growing number of ipad owners, ipad is becoming more and more popular all over the world! it is already a trend!

handy kaufen

The Ipad looks like fun to play with, but I doubt if you can really work with it? But many people will buy it because of it look.

Adam Wright

I totally agree with this. The only way for the black space to make sense on screen is if they were to enable some ACTUAL multi-tasking. Think of the possiblities of that black space pulling in email, social media, aim, wikipedia–to actually make the video experience something beyond just a “portable” screen into something interactive. Apple really dropped the ball in this release.


That would have been a neat feature and great move by Apple. In fact, any new feature would have been a great move. I’m waiting for v2.


I think this is also a great opportunity to push video consumption to the next level

Comments are closed.