The Century Controversy of Internet Video: Landscape or Portrait?

Source: Internet Phantom Thieves

When Steve Jobs unveiled the first-generation iPhone in 2007, he probably didn’t know that one of the most important functions of a smartphone going forward would be to watch video. At that time, 3G and Wifi were not yet popular, the GC video platform was still in its infancy, and the concept of “short video” had not even been born. With the exception of Apple, none of the early smartphone makers seriously considered video viewing in the design process.

Therefore, from the day of its birth, smartphones have been mainly used in the vertical screen. A 2013 survey by design professional community UXmatters revealed that the vast majority of users are used to holding their phones vertically rather than horizontally. I believe that this ratio has not changed today, because for mainstream users, the benefits of holding the phone upright are obvious:

  • It is easier to hold upright. Especially in the case of one-handed operation, horizontal holding is almost impossible, so the applicable scenarios of vertical holding are far wider than horizontal holding.

  • Vertical holding is very suitable for traditional graphic information reading. For example, e-mails, long articles, information streaming media, all content forms that use list layout are naturally suitable for vertical screen.

  • Vertical holding allows users to attract as little attention as possible (especially suitable for fishing). I believe most people have experience: in offices, conference rooms and other occasions, holding a mobile phone horizontally will immediately remind people of “this person is playing a game”, while holding a mobile phone vertically looks more like doing business, which may lead to the possibility of scolding from superiors low sex.

The problem is that the limitations of holding a phone upright are equally obvious: it’s very unsuitable for playing games and watching videos of high production standards. For game makers, this problem can be solved – when users play heavy games, they often use a relatively long “block time” to prepare themselves for being immersed in it, so they are happy to hold their mobile phones sideways. In essence, this is a temporary sacrifice of convenience for the immersion of the game. In casual games that do not require high immersion and technical expression, the vertical screen interface is still relatively common.


In contrast, the problems faced by video producers are more serious, especially for those PUGC producers, and developers of “industrial entry-level” short content (such as short dramas, micro-movies), “horizontal vs vertical”. “screen” has become a problem that cannot be bypassed but is difficult to solve. In the past ten years, this problem has been plaguing the online video content industry, and to a certain extent, it has affected the further improvement of the penetration rate of video content. Let’s try to explain it as concisely as possible:

First, human eyes are naturally more accustomed to viewing horizontal screen content. Humans’ field of vision in the horizontal direction is much larger than that in the vertical direction, which is why the global film industry has been developing in the direction of “widescreen” in the past 100 years – the earliest is 1.33 to 1, then 1.85 to 1, and now the most popular of 2.35 to 1. And that’s not all, some professional monitor manufacturers have even introduced 32:9 (3.55:1) ultra-wide resolutions; perhaps we’ll see such ultra-wide content in movie theaters soon.

Secondly, the range of human activities is limited by gravity, and the ability to expand in the horizontal direction is much greater than that in the vertical direction. In any kind of drama, the main range of activities of the characters is their own height range, so most of the drama conflicts occur in the height range of ordinary people and the like. For most topical content, there is not much to do vertically.

Finally, before the birth of smartphones, the entire film and television industry system of mankind was built around the horizontal screen format. If you want to produce 1:85:1 or 2:35:1 industrial-grade video, then you have a set of standardized and powerful processes to use from the early stage to the post-production process; it is a lot of trouble to make a vertical screen video. Basically, it is trimmed on the basis of the horizontal screen format.


It is undeniable that vertical screen video does have a unique advantage: the perspective is focused on the protagonist, which can greatly enhance the personal appeal of the protagonist. Therefore, the vertical screen is especially suitable for conversation, talent and some daily video content. Most of the personal live content is also in vertical screen, because this allows the anchor himself to occupy as much space as possible, making his speech more persuasive, and making his body language more exaggerated and easier to impress.

However, the “advantage scene” of vertical screen live broadcast is actually very narrow. The more complex, dramatic, and professional the video content, the more obvious the disadvantage of the vertical screen compared to the horizontal screen. Take two simple examples:

  • “Vertical short drama” has a history of development for many years, and a number of small hits have been born. However, once the scale of investment in a vertical screen drama becomes larger and enters the era of industrialization and IP, it often must be converted to a horizontal screen. Vertical screen dramas with a single episode length of more than 10 minutes and meeting the standards of the film and television industry are very rare.

  • “Vertical-screen live broadcast of large-scale events” has also become commonplace. The most typical example is the live broadcast of the Spring Festival Gala on the WeChat video account in 2022. Although many people think that the vertical screen broadcast of the Spring Festival Gala is very novel, most people still complain that such a viewing angle is too narrow and too strange. It is even more unimaginable if a larger-scale event like the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games is to be broadcast live in vertical screen, and most of the content appeal will be lost.

You may think that it is very simple to solve the problem of “vertical screen VS horizontal screen”. You only need to choose horizontal screen for industrial-grade long videos (such as film and television dramas), and vertical screen for PUGC-grade short videos. Isn’t it over? That’s what most platforms and content creators think in the first place. However, with the continuous evolution of Internet video content, some more thorny problems have arisen:

  1. From the perspective of the platform side, almost all video platforms are now pursuing “full coverage” of various content – Douyin is developing horizontal screens, B Station is developing vertical screens, and YouTube is simultaneously entering professional films and short videos. How to seamlessly switch between landscape and portrait content within the same APP? Especially in the most popular single-page information flow interface, the user experience will be greatly degraded when users swipe to vertical screen content for a while and horizontal screen content for a while. In this case, landscape content tends to fall prey.

  2. From the perspective of the content side, the development of “long video” and “short video” is becoming inseparable, and the concept of “medium video” emerged a few years ago. So the question is, should the “medium video” be a horizontal screen or a vertical screen? Trailers, mixed cuts, second creations and other content derived from long video content, should it be a horizontal screen or a vertical screen? Anyway, no matter what you do, there will definitely be some users who are dissatisfied.

You may notice that some “medium video” content parties have adopted a compromise solution: adding borders to the top and bottom of the horizontal screen video to make it more in line with the viewing habits of vertical screen users. For example, the video below has a title bar above and a subtitle bar below the 1:85:1 original material, making it 1:33:1, barely able to cover both landscape and portrait users (but not very clever). ).

Some content parties go further, adding larger borders, and turning 1:85:1 (or even 2:35:1) horizontal screen material into a 3:4 or even 9:16 vertical screen. . This method is even less clever, because the large border does not provide information, but prevents users from turning to landscape viewing. Sadly, many corporate promotional videos, movie trailers, and short documentaries are currently broadcast vertically on short video platforms in such a “framed” format. The sacrifices made by this method of communication are too great.

The antagonistic relationship of “vertical screen VS horizontal screen” also hinders the flow of PUGC creators in the direction of industrialization and IP. As mentioned above, the human film and television industry is built on the horizontal screen system, and most professional-level content is also horizontal screen. However, since smartphone users are accustomed to watching short content in the vertical screen, most PUGC creators must start from the vertical screen, and obtain enough traffic with the vertical screen thinking mode and production habits, and then they can be upgraded to industrialization. ——At this point, “whether to turn the horizontal screen and how to turn the horizontal screen” became their nightmare again.

To sum up: horizontal video has an absolute advantage in professionalism and expressiveness, while vertical video is mainly advantageous in terms of user convenience (and personal appeal). We haven’t been able to find a unified framework to solve the problem of “what kind of video should be horizontal screen, what kind of video should be changed to vertical screen”, let alone “how to effectively spread horizontal screen content on vertical screen video platform” The problem. To really solve the above problems, I am afraid that only by relying on the maturity of VR glasses and even brain-computer interconnection, then the format of video content will no longer be constrained by the hardware platform of smartphones – but this is unlikely to happen within ten years.

In any case, based on the experience and common sense of the past years, I still believe that the development space of horizontal screen video will gradually expand, narrowing the gap with vertical screen video. If “China Video” can really become an independent video form, then it still has to be dominated by horizontal screens. Now the most popular knowledge video, the best way to implement it is also horizontal screen. In addition, I always think that the “vertical screen drama” is just a gimmick that is bigger than the actual vertical content, and its market space will be very narrow.

No one can deny that the vertical screen video is more suitable for smartphone users’ usage habits, especially the immersive “swipe video”; however, if someone promotes the application scenario of the vertical screen video too much, it is even concluded that the vertical screen will continue to replace the horizontal screen. screen’s conclusion, then he was terribly wrong. Serious content creators (especially industrial-grade ones) shouldn’t make such short-sighted mistakes.


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