Compare and contrast.
If you regularly use YouTube as an internet procrastination device, then you probably noticed a big change yesterday: the display window for every single video suddenly expanded from a 4:3 aspect ratio to 16:9. There's been a lot of speculation as to why this has happened, but the general consensus appears to be that this is the first step towards having professionally-made, paid-for content posted regularly on the site. Movies and TV use the widescreen format almost exclusively nowadays, so it makes sense that YouTube should do the same.
Of course, there are people who don't see it that way: mainly YouTube's core constituency of spoilt whiny teenagers, whose webcam videos of them miming badly to Katy Perry will now have pillarbox black bars up the side to make them fit the 16:9 screen. There's currently a hilarious blog post just for them on the YouTube site, full of comments where they demand that YouTube put things back the way they were, out of respect for the people who pay their wages. Oh, no, wait a minute, they don't.
I refuse to believe that people find the mere presence of black bars up the sides of a screen annoying: and if they do, I refuse to believe that the bars can be anything like as annoying as the people themselves. (As someone has pointed out on the comments, if they were white bars nobody would notice...) There's a legitimate case to be made, however, for people who've created widescreen content and letterboxed it themselves prior to uploading. At the moment, videos like my original upload of Otaru Aquarium now end up bordered on all four sides in the new player. I suspect there isn't any easy way of getting the player to crop my widescreen bars off the top and bottom.
But aside from all the hoo-hah over screen size, a less-publicised change was made two months ago that I've only just heard about: the maximum size of an uploaded video was increased from 100MB to 1GB. That allows for much higher video quality, and gives people like me the incentive to re-upload videos in HQ widescreen without the home-made letterbox bars. So that's what I've done at the top of the page there, as an experiment. On the left, you have the old 4:3 letterboxed 23MB version of Otaru Aquarium: on the right, the new 16:9 widescreen 176MB version.
Side by side the larger version looks a bit fuzzier, though that might be a side effect of my reducing the screen size of both videos to fit on the same page. If you go to the original YouTube pages for the 4:3 and 16:9 versions, the latter looks a little better: and much more so if you click the link at the bottom right-hand corner of the display to 'view in high quality', which is when that additional 153MB starts making a difference.
I'd like to think that once people get used to the idea of pillarboxing all of YouTube's 4:3 content - or, perhaps, the Luddites are given the option of reverting to the old 4:3 player for everything - the new widescreen format will become an incentive for people to make better videos. Hopefully it'll be more successful than the last attempt at doing that.