Video Editing Tips For Beginners – Aspect Ratio vs Resolution

In this video editing tips for beginners, you are going to learn the differences between aspect ratio, dimension, and resolution; and, which aspect ratio, dimension, and resolution should you use for your videos.
Learning Curve: Beginner

Dimension vs Resolution vs Aspect Ratio

Dimension

Dimension, in general, refers to the size of something such as length, width, height, or depth. In video production, when you talk about dimension, you talk about the width and the height of the video. Video dimension is not measured by inches or centimetres. Though a TV screen or computer monitor is measured by inches diagonally from one corner to its opposite corner, the video is measured by the number of pixels called resolution and aspect ratio.

Resolution

Resolution is the density or quality of an image or video. It is the number of pixels per unit of an area, for example 72 pixels per inch or 72 ppi. The lower the number, the lower the quality of an image. In graphic design, a 300 ppi is a good quality image best for magazine production. The web standard is 72 ppi. Resolution, therefore, refers aptly to the quality of the picture rather than to its width and height.

In video production, however, when you talk about resolution, you talk about 480p, 720p,  or 1080p; not ppi. The ‘p’ stands for progressive; in contrast with ‘i’ which means interlaced. Which one is better? Look at it this way: ‘i’ is old school, ‘p’ is today’s school. What about the numbers? The numbers in 480p, 720p, and 1080p refers to the height of the video in pixels. So, 480 means 480 pixels in height.

Which resolution is the best? 480p is the standard dimension for box type displays such as the square TV or computer monitor prior to the millennium; while 720p and 1080p refers to a widescreen display. In another context, VGA is to 480p; while 720p and 1080p are to HD (high definition). Therefore, the higher the number, the better the quality of the video.

TV monitors and screen displays of computers and mobile devices come in different dimensions. If you are producing a video for a specific device, then use a resolution that fits that device. However, if you want your video to be played on any TV monitor or screen display, use the standard ones. You can either use 720p or 1080p if you want high definition (HD) quality. This ensures viewing your video in good quality picture even in larger screens.

Aspect Ratio

The aspect ratio follows a certain width relative to its height, or vice-versa. The most common aspect ratios are 4:3, 16:10, and 16:9. The first number refers to the width; the second number refers to the height. For example, you can look at 4:3 like 4 inches wide and 3 inches in height.  However, in video production 4:3 may be at 640 x 480 dimension in pixels, or 800 x 600. The aspect ratio of 16:9 may be in 1280 x 720 dimension in pixels, or 1920 x 1080. The aspect ratio can be in any number of pixels. The higher the number, the better the quality. 

You have learned that the numbers in 480p, 720p, and 1080p refer to the height of the video. These figures are shorthands to mean that 480p refers to the 640 x 480 dimension in pixels; while 720p refers to the 1280 x 720 dimension; and 1080p refers to 1920 x 1080 dimension.  Therefore, the aspect ratio may be in any dimension or number of pixels so long as it follows the width-height aspect ratio. Some people call this width-by-height dimension as resolution rather than dimension.

What happens if you play a 480p video on a widescreen monitor?

If you play a 480p video on a widescreen, your video will still play but you are going to see pillar boxes (black bars or blank spaces) on the sides. On the other hand, playing a 1080p video on a standard 4:3 TV produces letter boxes (black horizontal bars or space) on top and bottom of the video. The same is true happens when you play a video, the aspect ratio of which is different from that of the mobile device.

Guide To Buying Screen Displays

The screen display of a MacBook Pro (mid 2012) is either 13-inch or 15-inch measured diagonally from one corner to its opposite corner.  You commonly refer to that physical dimension as the screen size. If the diagonal measure (or hypotenuse in Geometry) is 13 inches, its possible height and width is 5 x 12 inches.  In the case of a 13″ MacBook Pro, it is approximately 7 x 11.25 inches. In terms of pixels, the 13″ display is 1280 x 800; the diagonal measure is thus 1509 pixels. Divide 1509 pixels by 13 inches, you get 116 pixels per inch, i.e. a resolution of 116 ppi.

With that in mind, the next time you buy a computer laptop, or a computer widescreen display, ask for a resolution that is at least 116 ppi. If the resolution is 72 ppi, that’s good for browsing the Internet. For gaming, 96 ppi is good enough. For video editing, go for higher than 100 ppi. Current 13″ MacBook Pro displays a resolution of 227 ppi; while a 15″ displays a resolution of 220 ppi. iMacs have a resolution of 217 or 218 ppi. Professional editors would go for even much higher.

Further, therefore, a big screen does not mean better resolution.

The Best Aspect Ratio, Resolution, and Dimension For Your Video

Most screen displays today, whether TV displays or computer, fit the 16:9 aspect ratio. The old box type TVs and monitors, configured to the 4:3 aspect ratio, are already gone. Most TVs and computer displays available in the market today are widescreen. However, widescreen TVs and monitors that fit the 16:10 aspect ratio had a short life in the market. Therefore, when producing a video, you are safe with 16:9 aspect ratio.

In terms of resolution, choose the standard 1080p. This is to ensure that your video delivers good quality with any device. If you are going to upload your video on YouTube, YouTube automatically downgrades the quality of your video depending on the resolution of the device it is being viewed.

In A Nutshell

The most important thing is resolution (i.e. density), which delivers the quality of the video (and even photographs). A larger screen does not mean better resolution. You have to ask for the ppi (pixels per inch). If the pixels per inch is not given, ask for the dimension in pixels such as 1920 x 1080 pixels or higher. If the store cannot understand the meaning of dimension, call it resolution.

Most widescreen displays adhere to the 16:9 aspect ratio. So, you’re safe when buying a widescreen monitor if the aspect ratio is your concern.

Here’s your gauge. A 21-inch iMac has 4K display, which means 4000+ pixels wide at 200+ pixels per inch resolution. A 13-inch MacBook Pro has 2K display, which means 2000+ pixels wide at 200+ pixels per inch resolution. So when buying a laptop or display monitor, ask for a resolution that’s within this range. If budget is your constrain, go for around 116 ppi.

When producing a video, you’re safe with 16:9 aspect ratio and 1080p. Professionals would go for higher than 1080p or what is called ultra HD. YouTube currently accommodates only up to 1080p. iMovie creates video at 1080p.