Which home theater screen aspect ratio is for you – 2.40:1, 2.35:1 or 16:9?

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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, or “aspect ratio”, is really all about what you’re going to watch and should be the first thing you choose.

An aspect ratio 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 Ultra HDTV displays and most TV content these days. 1.85:1 is the aspect ratio of about 30% of the most popular movies. 2.39:1 is the aspect ratio of the most popular movies made after about 1970. 2.35:1 is the aspect ratio of many movies before that. Unfortunately “2.35:1” has stuck around for decades to describe most movies even though their actual aspect ratio is 2.39:1 (which is typically rounded up to 2.4:1). 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 UltraWide movies having aspect ratios from 2.35:1 to 2.4:1 fit most comfortably on a 2.4:1 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 made-for-HDTV programming or movies, and most movies are in the UltraWide format. So …

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If your theater is primarily for made-for-HDTV content: Use a 16:9 format screen. Almost all made-for-HDTV content such as news, sports, TV shows 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 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 that were originally made for commercial theaters are NOT made-for-HDTV programming.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. So with a 16:9 screen you’ll be watching most movies 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: Use a 2.4:1 format screen with a screen frame border at least 3.5” (90mm) wide. Over 70% of all major motion pictures are made with an UltraWide aspect ratio ranging from 2.35:1 to (mostly) 2.4:1. If your primary interest is in movies then it makes sense to match your screen to the most movies possible and, quite frankly, you really don’t want to see or waste performance on those black letterbox bars. The 2.4:1 projection screen aspect ratio with a 3.5″ border is quite simply the best recommendation to ideally frame this range of aspect ratios. Content with smaller aspect ratios including HDTV 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 UltraWide 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. However, most of the popular projectors these days have a feature to do all this at the push of a button.

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 content and movies somewhat equally. However, even though HDTV and smaller movies won’t naturally fit an UltraWide screen, at least they will fill the vertical dimension so there will never be huge black bars above and below the image. Also, if you happen to be using an anamorphic lens for maximum performance for your UltraWide movies then you automatically have some additional options to have even HDTV content to fill your UltraWide screen. 

… 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 UltraWide format. So if you don’t choose the UltraWide 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 UltraWide 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 to go anamorphic UltraWide using a Panamorph lens :).

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)
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