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That's Not a Great Screen - THIS Is a Great Screen

Friday 2 July, 2004, 11:04 AM

Further to yesterday's rant about how Apple seem determined to stick with 100dpi screens, I noticed that Slashdot posted a link to a monitor that is much more to my liking.

TrustedReviews have this review of the ViewSonic VP2290b.

With a 22.2 inch diagonal, it's marginally smaller than the largest you can currently buy from Apple. (Their 30" screen has been announced, but I believe the largest shipping today is 23" screen, their previous flagship.) So when it comes to taking up space on your desk, it can't hope to compete with Apple's 30" display. However, it does have 2.25 as many pixels, despite being over 7 inches smaller. For those of you who haven't memorized Apple's display specs, the Apple 30" display has a native resolution of 2560x1600 pixels. This ViewSonic VP2290b has a native resolution of 3840x2400 pixels.

So while the Apple 30" screen has a resolution of around 98 ppi (pixels per inch), the ViewSonic's is about 199 ppi, i.e. pretty much double the resolution! (I calculated those based on the diagonals representing the full useable area of the display. Since both Apple and ViewSonic claim slightly higher resolutions - 100ppi and 204ppi respectively, I'm guessing that the usable area is slightly less than the quoted diagonal size in both cases. Or my calculations are off. But either way, the ViewSonic has about double the resolution of the Apple.)

Not only does it put the resolution of the Apple display in the shade, it also performs the wholly remarkable feat of making Apple's display look quite cheap by comparison...

It's clear we're going to need some kind of successor to DVI at some point if high-ppi displays are going to go mainstream. Feeding one monitor with 4 DVI channels seems like a hack at best, particularly when the resulting refresh rate is still only 41Hz. (Don't worry - that doesn't make it flickery. This is just the maximum speed at which new frames can be pushed out to the monitor. The screen itself will maintain a steady image like any LCD despite this low 'refresh' rate. It's not like a CRT, where a low refresh rate means a flickery display.) As it happens, the response time on this display is fairly poor anyway (50ms) - it seems to be designed mainly for static imagery. so a higher refresh rate wouldn't be useful. But in time, I would hope that high-ppi displays like this will gradually improve their response rates just like lower-resolution displays aready have.)

But while we wait for a better, faster DVI, the 4 channel solution works. Now all we need is an OS that can actually take advantage of such a screen. Sadly, if you use such a screen today with either Windows or Mac OS X, most of your applications are going to come out looking tiny, because neither can scale applications up. (Microsoft were showing a special build of Longhorn that was able to scale apps at the PDC last year - they had one of IBM's 200ppi monitors hooked up to it. However, this version isn't widely available.) So for now, it's mostly useful as a secondary monitor for specialised imaging applications. Until someone ships an OS which supports this kind of resolution properly, you're going to need a second monitor with a more conventional resolution to run the main screens of your apps on. So for the time being, this kind of monitor's main use will most likely be in specialized medical, scientific, and engineering applications.

Then again, I've used the near-identically-specced IBM T221 screen briefly, and I reckon I could live with it. I already run with Small Fonts on my 150ppi screen, and use 9pt for all my text editing. (That's about 21 characters per inch.) This usually elicits comments from people who see my screen about how incredibly small the text is. I happen to like it that way - I like to get lots of stuff on the screen. So I reckon I could probably just about cope with a 200dpi screen if anyone wants to send me one. :-)

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