Many PowerPoint presentations are formatted at the default 4:3 aspect ratio, which is the display size used by older TV screens and projectors.

Widescreen shows, with a 16:9 aspect ratio, are becoming more and more common. Keynote conferences and other high-end events will likely be displayed in widescreen environments. For smaller venues, widescreen HD-capable DLP chip projectors are now very affordable. Some companies use widescreen Plasmas or LCDs instead of projectors, or display on monitors or laptops. Many newer monitors and laptops use a widescreen 16:10 aspect ratio.

PowerPoint makes it easy to specify 4:3, 16:9 or 16:10 aspect ratios. PowerPoint 2003 (File > Page Setup) provides 4:3 as default and you can enter custom dimensions for 16:9 and 16:10 layouts. PowerPoint 2007 (Design > Page Setup) offers 4:3, 16:9 and 16:10 from a drop-down list.

The illustration below shows common slide dimensions for each aspect ratio. You can also enter custom slide dimensions as long as the aspect ratio is maintained:

Determining the correct aspect ratio for your presentation should be top on your list before any slide development starts.

  • Will your presentation be projected at 4:3 or widescreen? If you change to another aspect ratio midstream, graphics will stretch or distort, type sizes may change, text boxes can move out of position, etc. Slides will need to be reformatted and all graphics resized and repositioned — a time-consuming job.
  • If widescreen, do the projectors display at 16:9 or 16:10? If your presentation is created with an aspect ratio different from that supported by the projectors, your graphics will either not fill the entire screen, resulting in black bars at the top, bottom and sides, or will be cropped.

You can probably get the quickest answers to these questions by consulting with your AV team or event site coordinators. Bluewave also has a lot of experience in this area, and we can help determine the optimum presentation settings.