Which Home Theater Screen Aspect Ratio is Best – 2.40:1, 2.35:1 or 16:9?

Certainly one of the most important things to decide for your home theater is the size, shape, surface type and location of your projection screen. Your screen needs to perform best for your setup and also fit into your theater for the best experience. But the shape, commonly called the “aspect ratio” or “format”, is really all about WHAT you’re going to watch and should be the first thing you choose.

An aspect ratio or format is simply the ratio of width to height of a rectangle. Your display (including projectors), your screen and even the content itself can have different aspect ratios. For example, 16:9 (or “1.78” if you divide 16 by 9) is the width-to-height ratio of HDTV and 4K / Ultra HDTV displays and it also the produced ratio of most TV sports, news and talk shows these days. 1.85:1 is the aspect ratio of about 20% of the most popular movies. 2.4:1 (rounded up from a more precise 2.393:1), is the aspect ratio of the most popular movies made after about 1972 and increasingly the aspect ratio of streaming content. 2.35:1 is the aspect ratio of many movies before 1972. Unfortunately “2.35:1” has stuck around for decades to describe most movies even though their actual aspect ratio is 2.4. However …

Don’t be concerned about all the different display, projection and movie aspect ratios out there. This can all be simplified for two reasons. First, all the content having aspect ratios from 2.4:1 to 2.35:1 and even somewhat lower fit most comfortably on the current industry standard 2.4:1 cinema format screen with a standard screen border width of about 3.5″ (90mm). This applies whether or not you use an anamorphic lens. Second, what you watch is really going to boil down to whether it’s primarily typical TV content or if it’s primarily movies and streaming content. Movies and today’s streaming content are mostly in the cinema format. So …

 

If your theater is primarily for news, sports and similar TV content other than streaming shows: Use a 16:9 format screen. Almost all such content and even some special HDTV movies are delivered in the 16:9 aspect ratio. So naturally if your primary content is 16:9 then a matching 16:9 screen aspect ratio only makes sense. Important: Movies watched from cable, satellite, Netflix, Amazon, etc. that were originally made for commercial theaters are NOT made-for-HDTV programming. Just because a movie is delivered over an “HD” channel doesn’t mean it has an HDTV aspect ratio. With a 16:9 screen you’ll be watching most movies and today’s popular streaming content with black letterbox bars at the top and bottom, but at least your made-for-HDTV content will be perfectly framed.

If your theater is primarily for movies and streaming content: Use a 2.4:1 cinema format screen with a screen frame border at least 3.5” (90mm) wide. Over 80% of all major motion pictures are made in the 2.4:1 cinema format and the average aspect ratio for new streaming content is about 2.2:1 (and migrating to 2.4:1). If your primary interest is in this wider content then it makes sense to match your screen to what you are watching and, quite frankly, you really don’t want to see or waste performance on those black letterbox bars used to squeeze that content down to fit on a smaller display format.  Actual content with smaller aspect ratios including HDTV news and sports will still fill the height of your screen, just not the full width. This is a similar effect to larger commercial movie theaters where the height is the same for all movies while side curtains adjust for the different widths. Note that with an anamorphic projection system there are even some ways to have smaller movies and HDTV content fill your entire 2.4:1 screen as well, so you can actually get rid of black areas for just about everything you watch. If you don’t use an anamorphic lens then you will need to zoom and shift the image down when watching smaller movies and HDTV programming. 

If you are still undecided, use a 2.4:1 format screen with a screen frame border at least 3.5” (90mm) wide. If you are still undecided then it means you value both HDTV sports, news and similar content in its original aspect ratio and cinema-format content such as movies and streaming programs somewhat equally. However, even though HDTV and smaller movies won’t naturally fit a cinema format screen, at least they will fill the vertical dimension of that screen so there will never be huge black bars above and below the image. And again, if you happen to be using an anamorphic lens for maximum performance for your cinema format content then you automatically have some additional options to have even HDTV content fill your cinema format screen (see the “How can I Watch 16:9 Content” article).

… and if you are still undecided – Use a 2.4:1 format screen with a screen frame border at least 3.5” (90mm) wide. Are you still on the edge? Then realize this: The movies listed below represent 208 of the top 300 movies of all time ranked by world wide box office gross receipts (as of summer, 2015). Every one of these movies was filmed in the cinema 2.4:1 format. So if you don’t choose the cinema format for your screen, these often epic-class movies will be shown smaller than anything else you watch in your theater. Of course, if you DO choose the cinema format then these movies will now be the largest, most immersive content you watch in your theater, just like in commercial cinemas. And if you want to take the final step for the ultimate performance including 30%+ higher brightness and resolution for these titles, that’s the time for anamorphic projection.

Titanic  –  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2  –  Frozen  –  Iron Man 3  –  Transformers: Dark of the Moon  –  The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King  –  Skyfall  –  Transformers: Age of Extinction  –  The Dark Knight Rises  –  Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest  –  Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides  –  Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace  –  The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey  –  The Dark Knight  –  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone  –  Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End  –  The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug  –  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1  –  The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies  –  Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix  –  Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince  –  The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers  –  Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire  –  Spider-Man 3  –  Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets  –  Ice Age: Continental Drift  –  The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring  –  The Hunger Games: Catching Fire  –  Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith  –  Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen  –  The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2  –  Inception  –  Independence Day  –  Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban  –  Fast & Furious 6  –  Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull  –  Spider-Man 2  –  Star Wars  –  Guardians of the Galaxy  –  Maleficent  –  The Da Vinci Code  –  The Amazing Spider-Man  –  Shrek Forever After  –  The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1  –  X-Men: Days of Future Past  –  The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe  –  The Matrix Reloaded  –  Gravity  –  Captain America: The Winter Soldier  –  The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1  –  The Twilight Saga: New Moon  –  Transformers  –  The Amazing Spider-Man 2  –  The Twilight Saga: Eclipse  –  Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol  –  The Hunger Games  –  Forrest Gump  –  Interstellar  –  Man of Steel  –  Kung Fu Panda 2  –  Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl  –  Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones  –  Thor: The Dark World  –  Kung Fu Panda  –  The Incredibles  –  Fast Five  –  Hancock  –  Iron Man 2  –  Ratatouille  –  How to Train Your Dragon 2  –  The Passion of the Christ  –  Mamma Mia!  –  Big Hero 6  –  Casino Royale  –  The Croods  –  The Hangover Part II  –  Quantum of Solace  –  I Am Legend  –  Iron Man  –  Cars 2  –  Puss in Boots  –  Armageddon  –  King Kong  –  Mission: Impossible II  –  Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows  –  The Day After Tomorrow  –  World War Z  –  Brave  –  The Empire Strikes Back  –  Godzilla (2014)  –  Fifty Shades of Grey  –  The Simpsons Movie  –  WALL-E  –  Terminator 2: Judgment Day  –  American Sniper  –  Rio 2  –  Troy  –  How to Train Your Dragon  –  Twister  –  Oz The Great and Powerful  –  Clash of the Titans (2010)  –  Angels & Demons  –  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)  –  Rio  –  Rise of the Planet of the Apes  –  Mr. & Mrs. Smith  –  Return of the Jedi  –  Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade  –  Wreck-It Ralph  –  Jaws  –  The LEGO Movie  –  The Hangover  –  Star Trek Into Darkness  –  The Matrix  –  Cars  –  X-Men: The Last Stand  –  Lucy  –  Mission: Impossible  –  Gladiator  –  National Treasure: Book of Secrets  –  The Last Samurai  –  300  –  Ocean’s Eleven  –  Thor  –  Pearl Harbor  –  The Bourne Ultimatum  –  Mrs. Doubtfire  –  Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines  –  The Mummy Returns  –  Die Another Day  –  The Matrix Revolutions  –  The Intouchables (U.S.-only)  –  Django Unchained  –  Dances with Wolves  –  The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian  –  The Mummy  –  The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader  –  The Wolverine  –  Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian  –  X2: X-Men United  –  Prometheus  –  The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor  –  Tron Legacy  –  Mission: Impossible III  –  Snow White and the Huntsman  –  Grease  –  Twilight  –  The Wolf of Wall Street  –  Superman Returns  –  Raiders of the Lost Ark  –  Star Trek  –  Happy Feet  –  Live Free or Die Hard  –  Ice Age  –  Monsters Vs. Aliens  –  Godzilla  –  True Lies  –  Slumdog Millionaire  –  Taken 2  –  G.I. Joe: Retaliation  –  Batman Begins  –  The Adventures of Tintin  –  X-Men Origins: Wolverine  –  The Golden Compass  –  Terminator Salvation  –  Captain America: The First Avenger  –  Edge of Tomorrow  –  Hitch  –  Gone Girl  –  Die Hard: With A Vengeance  –  Notting Hill  –  A Bug’s Life  –  Fast and Furious  –  Ocean’s Twelve  –  Planet of the Apes (2001)  –  The Hangover Part III  –  The World Is Not Enough  –  Minority Report  –  Top Gun  –  American Beauty  –  Apollo 13  –  X-Men: First Class  –  Basic Instinct  –  GoldenEye  –  Now You See Me  –  The Great Gatsby (2013)  –  Speed  –  Deep Impact  –  National Treasure  –  Rush Hour 2  –  I, Robot  –  Wanted  –  The Maze Runner  –  Enchanted  –  300: Rise of An Empire  –  Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time  –  The Rock  –  The Curious Case of Benjamin Button  –  Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom  –  Tomorrow Never Dies  –  22 Jump Street  –  Fantastic Four (2005)  –  Black Swan  –  The Perfect Storm  –  Crocodile Dundee  –  Seven  –  The Devil Wears Prada  –  A Christmas Carol (2009)