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Couple watching tv

Could video turn vertical?

Couple watching tv

Could video turn vertical?

Ever since John Logie Baird gave his first demonstration of the television in 1925, we have become used to watching video footage in landscape form. It fits the shape of our televisions and desktop computers, and is well suited to the rooms we put these devices in, since they too are usually wider than they are high.

In fact, the move towards widescreen TV and computer monitors has led screens to become even more landscape, with most now 16 units wide and 9 units high, as opposed to the earlier preferred 4:3 aspect ratio.

At the same time as this, though, another movement has taken place that has placed significance on the height of videos. I’m talking about the mobile revolution, with statistics showing that more than half of video viewing now takes place on mobile devices, with phones being the most popular mobile device for doing this. This leaves video producers with a dilemma over how best to orientate their footage.

At last week’s SAScon event, Ben O’Sullivan from Facebook gave an interesting talk on the application of vertical video, and how well suited it is to mobile internet – particularly in the case of scrolling down a social media feed while using a mobile phone. O’Sullivan discussed the opportunities this could bring to advertisers, especially with Facebook hoping to introduce autoplaying sound to grab users’ attention as they scroll down their feeds.

Personally, I find any website that makes noise when I haven’t asked for it very annoying, and my reaction when it happens is to turn the volume down or leave the site altogether, but vertical video certainly interests me and got me thinking about what a complex era this is, where people have to find the right balance between the traditional and the emerging.

It also made me wonder whether in time, we will start to see portrait-orientated videos as the norm, and whether even desktop devices and TV screens could change shape to cater to this. I’ve heard people say that often, newsreaders and TV presenters only dress smartly from the waist up and are actually wearing jeans or shorts out of shot. Vertical video would certainly spell the end of that!

However, we need to remember that fixed and mobile electronic devices are designed with their location in mind. TV sets and desktop computers mirror the shape of our rooms, and it’s hard to imagine a living room arranged around a tall, thin television screen. Mobile phones, meanwhile, are ergonomically designed for use in our hands. The shape of our hands dictates this – if you imagine having hands that were wider than their length, with short stumpy fingers and much longer thumbs, it’s likely we would hold and view mobile phones in landscape a lot more readily.

It seems a compromise between horizontal and vertical will need to be found for the foreseeable future, so perhaps the best solution – as one woman in the audience for O’Sullivan’s talk suggested – is for videos to be square.

John Murray

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