June 13, 2007
In a recent post, Dave Shea documented his love/hate relationship with the pixel grid:
Here's the caveat though -- high resolution displays. At 100dpi, ClearType wins out, but we're not going to be stuck here much longer. Give it a few years, let's do this comparison again when 200dpi is standard. I suspect the pixel grid won't matter nearly so much then.
I was somewhat curious about Dave's claim that in "a few years" displays with 200 DPI will be standard fare. So I did some research to document how far we've come in display resolution over the last twenty years.
I used the Tag studios Monitor DPI calculator to arrive at the DPI numbers in the above table. I couldn't quite figure out what the actual displayable area of those early CRT monitors were, so I estimated about 5% non-displayable area based on the diagonal measurement.
Regardless, it's sobering to consider that the resolution of computer displays has increased by less than a factor of two over the last twenty years. Sure, displays have gotten larger-- much larger-- but actual display resolution in terms of pixels per inch has only gone up by a factor of about 1.6.
I can't think of any other piece of computer hardware that has improved so little since 1984.
Some manufacturers do make high resolution displays, but they're far from common, and very few get anywhere close to 200 DPI. Here's one model ViewSonic was demonstrating in 2002:
This 22.2-inch LCD panel being sold by Viewsonic uses the same panel developed and marketed by IBM last year (T220/T221). The difference is that IBM charged nearly $20,000 for its version; Viewsonic plans on selling this one for around $8,000. That's still pretty pricey -- what makes this panel so special?
Try 9.2 million pixels, for one thing. This 16x9 aspect panel has a native resolution of 3840x2400 pixels. That translates to roughly 200 dots per inch. In fact, you have to put your nose up to the screen to really notice the pixels. Scanned topographical maps could be easily read, even down to the smallest typeface. The monitor is targeted towards specialized image processing and CAD applications, and offers a 400:1 contrast ratio. Driving 9.2 megapixels requires a graphics card with twin TMDS transmitters.
High pixel density monitors are far outside the mainstream. The large versions are prohibitively expensive; the small versions can't justify their price premium over the lower-resolution competition with larger physical size. It's telling that today, in 2007, the Apple store doesn't even sell a single standalone LCD offering over 100 DPI. Nor can I find a single high resolution LCD of any type on newegg. I have no doubt that if I had $10,000 burning a hole in my pocket, I could buy a 200 DPI display somewhere, but at consumer prices and through consumer outlets, high resolution displays simply don't exist.
Most of the time, you see high resolution display options on laptops, where the notebook form factor physically precludes the display from getting any larger. Manufacturers are forced to pack more and more pixels into a LCD panel of a fixed size:
When I purchased my notebook I had a choice of three monitor resolutions - the standard 1200 x 800, 1680 x 1050, and 1920 x 1200. The diagonal screen size is 15.4" giving me the three corresponding pixel densities of 98, 129, and a whopping 147 ppi!
It's hard to see this choice of display resolutions as anything other than a side-effect of laptop size restrictions. If notebook vendors could somehow fit a folding 30" LCD panel into a laptop, they absolutely would. But even at 147 DPI, we're only halfway to our goal. To reach 200 DPI, that same 15.4" laptop display would have to pack in 2560 x 1600 pixels. Imagine a 30" Apple Cinema HD display shrunken by half, and you'll get the idea.
Short of some kind of miraculous technological breakthrough, I can't see computer displays reaching 200 DPI in "a few years". It's unlikely we'll even get there in ten years. I'd love to be proven wrong, but all the evidence of history-- not to mention typical consumer "bigger is better" behavior-- is overwhelming.
Posted by Jeff Atwood
I just searched through Dell and NewEgg and here's an blob of info for anyone interested in high DPI LCD monitors:
Winner: 10", 1024x768 with 123 DPI
2nd Place: 21", 1920x1200 with 105 DPI
3rd Place: 23", 2048x1152 with 103 DPI
Note that there are often multiple screens with such configurations. However, please take a look at the date; today is July 12, 2009. In 2007, we more or less had 100 DPI screens. In 1994, we had 80 DPI screens.
If I were truly desperate to cobble together a high resolution setup without begging at LG's/Samsung's feet, I would do better ripping apart old ThinkPads for their LCD panels than shopping at Dell. My T400's 14" screen is 129 DPI. At this moment, it would cost $779*4=$3,116 to build a 28" screen with 129 DPI, or, if you want to get an idea of how it'll slow down your FPS-hungry games....a screen resolution of 2880 x 1800.
A dual monitor setup would cost approximately $6K, with a combined resolution of 5760 x 3600. Now that has got to make a graphics card or two keel over. It would take 2 ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2 cards (or, in monetary terms...$732.26 from NewEgg...and you'd have to have a :D
Now, let's try moving beyond bog-standard T-series...the W500 line has a 15", 1920x1200, 150.94 DPI, almost exactly half of print quality, though human vision follows a parabola shape directly proportional to one's distance from the screen. A W500 with that screen costs $1,329. A 30" LCD monitor built out of W500s would cost $1329*4=$5316 and give us a screen with a resolution of 3840x2400. Double that and you get 2 30" screens, at half print quality. The combined screen resolution would be 7680x4800.
Anyway...the point is...
Even with hackery and the continuing price drops in LCD panels (+ high DPI necessitated by the form factor limitations for laptops), it still costs over $1000 to get a screen that's half as easy to read as a book (actually, less than half but I don't want to calculate just how bad it is). This is actually rather disappointing because everything else in computers is progressively cheaper. Consider the parts required to build a system with 2 28" 129 DPI screens:
8 ThinkPad T400's (OK, so this is a bit of a stretch...one could probably arrange a deal to get the screens from dead T400's)
2 Sapphire 100251SR Radeon HD 4870 X2 2 GB video cards
1 Intel BOXDP45SG LGA 775 Intel Motherboard ($114.99)
1 Antec TPQ-1000 Power Supply ($181.49)
1 Antec Twelve Hundred case ($172.99)
1 Intel Core 2 Quad Q8400 ($184.99)
3 GB RAM from Crucial ($40.99)
4 Western Digital VelociRaptors (150 GB each, $179.99 each) in a RAID 10 configuration, yielding 300 GB of working space with a speed that hopefully won't be too much of a bottleneck.
And, to round things out:
1 Microsoft Natural Keyboard
1 Microsoft Mouse
Windows Vista Ultimate
Microsoft Office 2007
And of course, a game to use the screen with. :)
openBVE: Free :P
$2,782.67 excluding the cost of the display
$9,014.67 including 8 brand new T400's
Let's say that each screen actually costs only half of the price of a T400. Then each display's cost is about $1,558 instead of $3,116. Even so, it's clear that is very expensive. We have a long way to go before our eyeballs stop hurting on the computer. :(
DPI isn't the HALF of the problem there is a whole litany of things wrong with high resolution displays
30"+ displays require dual DVI. this eliminates most currently deployed PC hardware.
scaling. scaling. scaling. I have one of those 30" Dell LCD on my desk. most icons shrink out of existance at that resolution. yes I can make the icons bigger, but what good is stretching that 32x32 or 64x64 icon to create blocky icon on that high resolution. display. The tool bar in office is good awfully tiny that I cant see what I am clicking.
for fun, change to large fonts in windowsand see all the software that doesnt adjust correctly. Data entry forms are hilarioius. usually the label is clipped or they overlap with the text above. VS 2005 is just abysmal when you work in this mode.
The web is even worse. look at this site in high res and maximize your browser to full screen. whats with all the white space on either side??? www.news.com and sites using that design layout are just awful.
One other rant. 16:9 is totally setting back progress in high res displays. 1920x1200 doesnt really help me see more code - really not any better thant the 1600x1200 of most 4:3 19 or 20" displays. developers need more vertical for editing code. even those outside the industry, watching 16:9 content is only a small portion of the tasks people do with their pc's.
I am sure this is to keep things in sync with HD displays. There is probably some economy of scale in using chips to drive 16:9 displays where when you make a lot of these things having a common set of chips drive the LCD means the difference between profit and loss.
"One other rant. 16:9 is totally setting back progress in high res displays"
Actually, I have to disagree here (and agree with R). I just moved from 1600x1200 to 1920x1200, while arguably I've gained nothing in height I have gained one important aspect - my lines of code are MUCH easier to read now. Now, instead of cramping my text into a small window between the sidebars (or hiding them and being frustrated when needing them); I get to see code a lot clearer without compromising on tools.
That to me is not setting the progress bar backwards at all.
The Nokia N800's display is about 227 pixels per inch, and it is gorgeous. Pity there's only 4.1" of it...
This is being driven by a "bigger is better" mindset only in the sense that given the *same number of pixels*, people would rather have a larger display.
I suspect that LCD cost is driven more by pixel count than by either pixel density on one end or display size on the other. So, given that a 1920x1200 display will cost them same whether it is 12" or 24", which would you choose?
WHAT ABOUT ASPECT RATIO?
It's become ASSUMED that screens should be wider than they are tall (long), yet a LOT of the applications that we use display the information in a "tall" manner.
PDF Documents (anything that is 8.5" x 11" or A4 standard)
probably most programming is longer than it is wide.
(for MOST people, the leisure stuff)
Hi-Res Pictures (shot in landscape orientation)
Therefore, a better desktop monitor would be 3x4 aspect ratio! Otherwise you are wrestling with scroll bars and zooming and you might not be able to see a full page on a screen. An ideal monitor would be one that can PIVOT between Portrait and landscape modes. (swivel means is side to side rotation).
While this does not improve image quality, it does improve the user experience (though it is not what we're used to).
GET OUT OF YOUR 4x3, 16x9, 16x10 BOXES, think about what you use your computer for most. If you use a ton of both modes, then get a monitor with PIVOT.
Viewsonic VP2030p is a 20", 1600x1200, that pivots. You don't need bigger widescreen monitors for web browsing or work, you need a monitor that can pivot to portrait mode. (I'm not associated with Viewsonic, just done a bunch of reading and fired up, and had good experience with Viewsonic in the past).
HD DVD? You mean ... Blue Ray son!
iPhone 4 has 326 pixels per inch.
That would make a nice 28-inch Ultra HDTV screen!
There are numerous reasons for the lack of ultra high resolution-full size computer displays. One, the electronic characteristics of updating such a large matrix of pixels. Flicker and refresh rates push the driving circuitry to heat up. Another problem is the high cost of research and development; the lack of investor companies since the finacial melt down have scuttled many budding technologies. Companies that are not willing to take any risk no matter what the reward. Then there are production issues, rare earth metal commodity prices.
Somebody mentioned the Concorde above, it had many cost overruns during development. But eventually became a symbol of modern society. The social concept of low-hanging fruit and easy money, must be overcome for any technical progress to be made in the future. As for ultra super XGA monitors it seems to be another sad case of technology lost...