The world of displays has gone flat and wide. HDTVs use a format that has a 16:9 aspect ratio, which means that for every 16 units of width, the screen is 9 units high. Due to the economies of making everything the same format, we now have 16:9 computer monitors, portable media players, and digital signage everywhere from airports to shopping malls.
But is 16:9 the best solution? Sure, it works well for high definition movies and television content, because they are created in this wide format. And it’s not too bad for computer screens, unless you’ve got a program that lets the lines of text get too long to read easily. But is a wide format display the best solution for everything? Does a clock face need to be 16:9? How about the readout on a digital home calendar?
The fact is that we have all sorts of electronic displays, and we’re likely to get more as time goes on. Refrigerators, countertops, car dashboards, telephone handsets, remote controls, and more are likely to get displays of different sorts in the near future. But how will we make the information fit on them if they’re not the “standard” 16:9 format?
If you’ve been to a sports arena or stadium lately, you’ll notice that just about every surface that isn’t covered with seating is covered with digital displays. Jumbo screens show replays and statistics. Smaller screens keep tabs on the scores of other games, or the situational statistics for the current contest. Fascia displays often encircle the playing area, with nearly-pyrotechnic graphics flying around. Clearly, these installations have lots of sources of information, and they get reformatted and directed as needed to the various displays.
The movie format is not always the best choice to convey information. The key to putting novel formats to use in our homes and elsewhere will be intelligent automation that can analyze the content that’s available (whether it’s TV listings or Caller ID data) and route it to the appropriate display in the right format. This supposes that there is some central distribution source for the information, but as more and more households gain broadband access to the Internet, this could be handled by a home server device or sent by a “cloud” application on the Internet.
So over the coming years, be prepared to find interactive devices that will convey information you want and need using a variety of displays. There’s more to displays than just 16:9.