What Does the Letterboxing and Pillarboxing Effect Mean with Movie Screens & Projectors?

If you are a long-term reader of the Outdoor Movie Projectors website you will have heard me talking about letterbox or pillar box resolution when discussing screens, projectors, and aspect ratio.

But what does it mean and it is important?

Almost all of the outdoor movie projectors that I review, will have a ratio of 16:9. This is the standard that most modern movies are now shot-at, and is the widescreen format.

Why I Recommend 16:9 Widescreen for Outdoor Movies

Because of this, I always recommend that people buy, or build, an outdoor movie screen that is also at a 16:9 ratio. By doing so, you can fill the screen and watch the films as they were intended to be seen – in the widescreen format.

You can see some of the outdoor movie screens I recommend by clicking here.

But what happens if you have a different resolution or ratio? Either with your projector or with your screen?

What you will get is something either called the letterbox effect or the pillar box effect.

The diagram below should explain very simply what I mean.

letterbox and pillarbox
Pillarbox and Letterbox effect when projecting images onto a screen.

As you can see, if you 16:9 ratio movie screen, and a 4:3 ratio projector, you are going to get the pillar box effect with borders on either side of your image.

And if you have a 16:9 projector, playing movies onto a 4:3 screen you will get the letterbox effect with borders on the top and bottom.

Simple! Yes?

Widescreen Tip
Choose a widescreen 16:9 ratio when buying your outdoor movie set-up.

But it’s not the end of the world.

If you do have either of these effects, then all it means is that you might not enjoy the movie as much as you could or won’t be able to watch it to the full capacity of your equipment.

Many people hate the pillar box and letterbox resolution effect. Especially movie buffs!

But as I said, it’s not the end of the world and isn’t a deal-breaker as far as setting up your backyard movie night.

All I will say is that the information on my website is designed to make sure that you get the best experience when planning your backyard movie night.

And with most movies now being produced in the widescreen 16:9 format, that’s why I always recommend that if buying new, you look to buy a 16:9 projector, and a 16:9 screen.

By doing so, you will get the optimum viewing experience.

But is it important really?

Well, I guess it’s all down to personal preference.