Powerpoint - stick to 4:3 or go widescreen?
November 27, 2012 3:19 AM   Subscribe

How far along are we in moving from 4:3 to widescreen LCD projectors for (e.g.) PowerPoint presentations. Is my current 4:3 default still sensible?

I work on PowerPoint shows for my academic boss who presents them all over the world. At the moment pretty much everything is still 4:3. We only have 4:3 projectors at work. We can't afford to maintain two versions of every talk so it would be a big jump to go wide-screen. Obviously wide-screen will take over sooner or later (er, won't it?) but it feels to me as if we are not there yet, and it will take a while. So I should leave the talks in 4:3 for the moment and start off new talks in this aspect ratio too - I think ...

If I send him off with a 4:3 and it is displayed on a wide-screen projector it will look fine. But if he shows up with a wide-screen talk and it's displayed on a 4:3 projector then it'll all be a bit smaller than we intend. It is not always possible to check the venue in advance and, as I say, even if it were we can really only run one version of the talk.

But am I right? Or is the pace of the takeover fast enough that I should be looking over my shoulder at wide-screen? Am I likely to have to jump that way this week, or in a year, or in three years? Are venues who re-equip all going to wide-screen now? What do others do? I would love to know what you think.

Thanks and best wishes

posted by vogel to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Unless there is a strong aesthetic reason for wanting a more "movie like" experience for your audience then I would stick with a 4:3 ratio for your slides. If you move to 16:9 then you will get a small number of people who cannot project it properly - is this worth the hassle to you?

This 4:3 ratio is actually derived from that of early 35mm film in the silent era (modern 35mm slides have a 2:3 ratio) - that was then taken up by TV and finally by Powerpoint. There does not seem to be any compelling reason why this ratio is inherently better or worse for presentations - but your audience is primed to expect this shape for a presentation - and hence so are most of their projectors, screens and displays.

If you want to create a "widescreen" effect for a particular set of slides then you could just crop your 4:3 window at the top and bottom.
posted by rongorongo at 3:53 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm in sales; I have literally never seen anyone present a widescreen slide deck. I can't imagine anyone balking at a 4:3 presentation, but a broken attempt at 16:9 would be notable.
posted by ellF at 3:54 AM on November 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

I turn my presentations into YouTube videos. That has driven me to adopt 16:9, and I have not had any problems with video projectors or screens. That said, I usually present for smaller audiences (<100 people) and am in Asia, where most venues have HDMI capable projectors.
posted by quidividi at 4:17 AM on November 27, 2012

The standard art history classroom setup used two slide projectors, and I think that would be my choice before going widescreen. Not two mirrored projectors, which you sometimes see in auditoriums, but two independent streams. I find that format much more engaging, because the viewer is being asked to discover the connections, if any. Two panels in a single projection wouldn't have the same effect, because the connection feels prepackaged.
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:39 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

What comes out of the box by default in PowerPoint is what is going to dictate the standard, not anything else.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:02 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Obviously wide-screen will take over sooner or later (er, won't it?) but it feels to me as if we are not there yet, and it will take a while.

We (in academia) have projectors / screen setups that support widescreen, and I suspect most newer projectors do. But I've never seen anybody giving a talk use that ability, not even the very beginnings of a trend. It's actually a little annoying in our newest classroom as the screen is wider and the extra width just ends up cutting down on my usable whiteboard space (so I end up projecting without a screen sometimes). In our other classroom where the projector is moveable, people usually just adjust it so that the 4:3 image is as tall as possible.

Also, I think most people who have to design their own slides are inherently very conservative about their technical setup, which will keep things like this from changing rapidly. That is, we plan for the lowest common denominator, which remains a vga connector to a cheap 10-yo projector, or having to put your slides on a USB key for who-knows-what computer. I'd be surprised if a different aspect ratio became standard even in 3 years (though other, more radical changes in presentations might not surprise me at all).
posted by advil at 7:12 AM on November 27, 2012

I'm in sales; I have literally never seen anyone present a widescreen slide deck. I can't imagine anyone balking at a 4:3 presentation, but a broken attempt at 16:9 would be notable.

I agree. It will be a long time before there are enough 16:9 projectors out there to make it worth the effort.

One thing you could start to do is to make slides that will work no matter what aspect is available. For example, create as a 16:9 native format, but use fonts and graphics that don't look silly when compressed.

Or create the content at 4:3, but put a background on it that will fill a 16:9 screen. If you set it up right, it will expand and contract to fill whatever space remains on the screen.
posted by gjc at 7:18 AM on November 27, 2012

4:3 and don't worry.

Even if you get stuck in a room with a wide projector and a wide screen, the slides will fill the vertical height of the screen, which is as tall as they'd be on a 4:3 screen. Your content will look fine.

Please do not devote any more thought to this issue unless you know you must deliver a rock-star calibre presentation solely at venues with widescreen capability. Otherwise, no one will give a shit.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:36 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Many thanks, all, for the extremely helpful and informative replies. It's obviously even less developed than I thought, so I'm grateful for the steer. I've bitten the bullet and committed to 4:3 something which was causing me anxiety, and which will be used many times over the next few years.

Cheers! V.
posted by vogel at 8:54 AM on December 7, 2012

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