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Trial Graphics and the New Widescreen Format in Powerpoint: A Review

If you’ve opened PowerPoint 2013 and tried to start a new presentation for your trial graphics, you may have noticed something different about the default templates:


They are all “widescreen” format (16:9), which simply means they have an aspect ratio 16 units wide and 9 units tall, versus the traditional PowerPoint default of 4:3.


Where did the 4:3 aspect ratio come from?
The 4:3 aspect ratio dates back to the dawn of the motion picture and a Thomas Edison invention called the Kinetoscope. There are various theories about why Edison and his assistant William Dickson landed at 4:3. Some have suggested it had to do with similarity to the golden ratio of antiquity; others believe that it mimicked the approximate field of view of the human eye; and still others theorize that it was a coincidence of cutting the most readily available film of the day to create the sprocket holes necessary for use in the Kinetoscope. Nevertheless 4:3 was adopted as the standard aspect ratio during the silent film area and has persisted for many years.

Where did the 16:9 aspect ratio come from?
Early computers started off relying on conventional, bulky cathode ray tube (CRT) displays that used a similar manufacturing process as televisions of the era. As technology changed and evolved, it became possible to manufacture thinner LCD displays and, with that, laptop and desktop displays have grown wider

In an effort to present content as large and legible as possible, it was only a matter of time before presentation software would have to respond to the sea change in display format. PowerPoint has allowed different aspect ratios for many versions, but 2013 is the first version to have all the default “new” templates in 16:9 format.

What happens to my old (4:3) PowerPoints?
Luckily for most users, you can just keep using the 4:3 aspect ratios of your current presentations. The most important thing to keep in mind is how your target audience will ultimately be viewing the presentation. For our purposes, this typically comes down to flat screen TV vs. projector screen.

Typically, your goal is to enlarge what’s onscreen as much as possible. You want the artwork (including negative space) and information you’ve carefully put together to take up as much of the screen as possible. In most cases, the final output will probably look something like this:

Flat Panel TV, Desktop Monitor, Laptop Monitor (16:9):


As you can see, Microsoft’s new default PowerPoint templates will maximize use of screen area for many modern screens.

Projector Screens, iPad Screens, Older Computer Monitors (4:3):


Here we can see that a 16:9 presentation, though it may look beautiful on your laptop screen, sacrifices nearly a third of the screen area when shrunk horizontally to fit on the projector screen.

It’s important to keep in mind, though – especially in a courtroom presentation of your trial graphics – that wider doesn’t necessarily trump larger.

Typical Projector Screen vs. Typical Flat Panel:


If you have a really enormous flat panel, which is really close to your jury, the text and images on your PowerPoint may approach the size of a typical projector screen. Odds are good, however, that a projector screen will allow for an overall larger image to be displayed. If you know that you have a projector screen as the main viewing option for your PowerPoint in the courtroom, you are better off sticking with a standard 4:3 aspect ratio.

Of course, many courtrooms have a variety of small monitors as well as larger flat panels and projectors. In those situations, my advice would be to let the aspect ratio of the largest screen witnesses and counsel will be referring to set the standard. The smaller screens will typically be close to the court and jurors and will not be as compromised by the aspect ratio decision.

Can you have multiple aspect ratios in one presentation?
No, PowerPoint does not currently allow this.

Can you convert slides from one aspect ratio to another?
Yes, and Microsoft has made it much easier to do in PowerPoint 2013. We’ll go into detail about how it’s done in another blog.

When you begin to develop trial graphics concepts, it will be important to plan ahead for the courtroom presentation set-up and equipment available. Once you figure out how jurors and the judge will be viewing your trial graphics, you can decide which aspect ratio (widescreen 16:9 or the standard 4:3 format) to use to put your best case forward.


Adam-WirtzfieldBy:  Adam WirtzFeld, Director – Visual Communications



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