Screen Resolution – 4:3 vs 16:9

In his new Alertbox Jakob Nielsen talks about his new findings about screen resolution and imporved productivity when using big screens. His recommendation is to use a basic layout optimized for 1024×768 and make it liquid so it will adopt 800×600 or 1280×1024. The most important thing in his alertbox for me was that there is a

need for a new paradigm in the future


The reason behind that is not only the screens getting bigger and bigger. There is another trend in screen resolution going on for a while that hardly gets noticed. Many screens do not fit onto the 4:3 layout of applications and web sites anymore. Since many laptops have been optimized for DVD playback or Apple sells the cinema displays designers have to think about different layouts even more – how to build for 16:9.

Offline we still use the portrait format for writing and sharing information. We have books in that format, newspapers and the plain paper are sold in portrait. On the screen we have been used to a landscape format. Since the early beginning of TV we have been accustomed to that format and now this goes on with computers. A few years ago first cinemas and then home TV moved to 16:9 format instead of using 4:3. That was because our eye’s viewing area is landscape instead of portrait and wider than high.

So how do we handle this situation? We have to accept that we no longer have controll over the screen size. Sure, we may write applications and design web sites that share the least common deliminator. But would you really like to have a web site 800×600? That’s where Jakob Nielson’s suggestion comes in place – make liquid layouts that will adopt to a lot of different sizes and proportions. You may not get every case but it should be able to be viewed in at least 5 to 6 different orientations and sizes.

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