Since High Definition video came out on all the online sites it has changed the default aspect ratio of the player from 4:3 to 16:9. This means that for people posting SD video you have to resize some of your videos to get them to fit right.

For example, NTSC DVD quality (aka 480i/p) is 720x480 pixels (width x height). However, low-end High Definition (720i/p) is 1280x720.

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Anyway, now that the video players are built for HD you will find that uploading standard quality videos will result in videos that are "letter boxed" which means they have extra black bars on the top and bottom (or sides).

Correct me if I'm wrong, but in order to get a 720x480 video to fit a box that is designed for HD the best practice would be to crop some of it off so that it fits as 720x404 since:

16/9 = 1.78 (1.7777777777778) 

720/405 = 1.78 

405x1.78 = 720.9 

The same would stand for 640x480 (old TV quality) video that would need to be 640x360 correct?

I'm asking because I'm not sure about all this and whether this is the proper way to fix these letter-boxing/display problems.

  • I know this is an old question, but for reference, 720 * (9/16) = 405, so assuming you want to use 720px width, the perfect height would be 405px. However, H.264 (and most other video encoding standards) require the dimensions to be divisible by 2 due to compression efficiency, so it's often approximated to 720x404. (720x406 is a bit closer, but 404 is more efficient, because 404 is divisible by 4 and 406 only by 2.) – nyuszika7h Apr 15 '17 at 8:09

This is more up to the content creator than a definitive answer. Letter-boxing, in my opinion or the correct way to deal with this issue. Viewers do not lose any of the content and the impact is minimal for the content creator.

If you go the resizing route to fill the full width of the screen you would have to film each of your videos with this in mind making sure you don't put any valuable content on the top or bottom edges of the screen.

As a viewer, I don't mind seeing letter-boxed video. We've had to watch it ever since wide-screen DVDs were released and we will continue to see it until wide-screen TVs and content are ubiquitous.

  • 1
    Agreed. Also there's the fact that aspect ratios probably won't stay 16:9 forever. Eventually once everyone has an HDTV and a Blueray to keep the buy it again and upgrade sales coming hollywood will have to come up with a successor tech. Increasing the aspect ratio from 16:9 (1.77:1) to 2.35:1 (the wider widescreen used in cinemas) is an obvious option since the average consumer doesn't have enough room for the 80 or 100 inch screen needed to make doubling the resolution worthwhile. – Dan Neely Mar 1 '10 at 18:19

The real answer should be on youtube's part. Their player should switch between standard and widescreen automatically based on the video being played so that letterboxing only occurs in full screen mode if your video and screen are different sizes. Encoding letter boxing into a video stream to turn 4:3 into 16:9 will result in double letterboxing on a 4:3 screen. Meanwhile cropping it will result in letterboxing and loss of data on a 4:3. Neither is a good solution.

What happens now if you upload a 4:3 video? If youtube applies letterboxing automatically when it's being viewed in 16:9 but shows it without in 4:3 you should just upload the video as is.

If you're creating something from scratch 16:9 is probably a better choice than 4:3; but that doesn't mean you should degrade something shot with an older 4:3 camera just to make it fit today's resolution du jure better.


Use Windows Media Encoder and set your values to 1280x720 (or half). Then, render your videos through Windows Movie Maker and use that preset from WME.

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