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How to Choose the Right Viewing Format

Choosing the right viewing format makes a huge difference in the performance of your theater.

Introduction to Viewing Formats

Viewing formats (also called aspect ratios or screen ratios) can be tricky since there are at least three major factors to consider when talking about projection and formats:

  1. The viewing format of the projected content (the video – TV, movies, sports, etc.)
  2. The viewing format of the projector
  3. The viewing format of the viewing surface (the screen)

Ideally all three of these will be the same format in order to take full advantage of the viewing area of your screen.

Any time that at least one of these three viewing formats is different from the others there have to be some compromises made. The projected image will end up with black borders on either the top/bottom or sides of your projected image whenever you are watching content that doesn’t match the format of the projection screen.

What Can Be Done?

Due to the variety of different content produced (both old and new), most people who have ever done projection will run into this issue at some point in time.

Many customers have ordered 2.35:1 viewing format screens, which is the ideal format for most modern movies, and masked the sides with curtains. This allows a “constant height” screen where the left and right sides of the screen viewing area are masked while watching 16:9 content (most modern television and sports content). The masking curtains can be opened up when projecting 2.35:1 viewing format content to make full use of the screen for movies.

16:9 viewing format screens are ideal for watching most television, sports, and other HD and 4K HD content. 16:9 screens will experience black borders on the top and bottom of the viewing area when viewing 2.35:1 content (letterboxing). There are many horizontal masking solutions that can help compensate for “letterboxing”.

Another Note About 2.35:1

Unless you are planning to use an anamorphic lens we highly recommend choosing a screen that matches the native viewing format of your projector (most modern home theater projectors are 16:9). We have had a lot of people who have tried to use their projector’s “lens memory” feature to throw 2.35:1 content – many of these customers have found that this doesn’t work for them.


If you are still not sure about what to do, take a survey of what content you expect to watch on the projection screen the majority of the time. Then try to shop around for a projector that matches that format (either with or without an additional lens). Then choosing the screen should be fairly simple.