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Opinion: Screen Res – How much is too much?

Published by on Jul 2nd, 2013, 6 Comments

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Technology trends changes extremely quickly – we’ve always known that – and nowhere is this truer than in the smartphone world. But what was at the beginning a race to perfect a concept, has now become a spec sheet war (especially among Android manufacturers). And the question that has been on my mind for some time now has been: “How much is too much?” How much of the spec sheet hardware really deliver a better experience to the end user?

At the top of this list for me is screen resolution. The norm for the previous generation of smartphones (which was just over a year ago, mind you) was a screen resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels. This was what we called HD resolution or 720p, and this was already – depending on the size of your screen – over 300 ppi, or pixels per inch. However, according to studies the human eye (if you have very good eyesight) can only see around 300 ppi at a distance of about 25cm. So unless you stare at your screen from extremely close by or under a microscope, you won’t see the difference. So what’s the point of having the current generation of screens that come in at over 400 ppi?

Apple’s retina display comes in at 326 ppi, but we now have Samsung, Sony and other flagships that have screen resolutions of over 400 ppi – and 468 ppi in the case of the HTC One. The screens have a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels, or Full HD. The scary thing is this doesn’t even seem to be the end of the pixels battles. Propaganda is an amazing thing, isn’t it? Most people do seem to believe bigger is better. While in many cases it is, in this circumstance I tend to disagree. And for one very good reason: cost.

We have seen reports that manufacturers in Japan and Korea are putting the finishing touches on their WQXGA panels, with a whopping 2560 x 1600 resolution on screens less than 6 inches large. Just imagine the cost that will incur on the end consumer, and for what, a nice spec sheet? It will have over 500 pixels per inch. I say no! Give me a properly built smartphone with top notch internals and a 720p screen! I think 300 ppi is more than enough for me. Rather improve viewing angles and colours in sunshine. It will cost us a couple of thousand rand less, I can tell you that much.

Comments

  • Craig

    You can clearly see a difference in the middle picture. The branch is clearer. Whereas the left one is slightly blurry and the right side is more so.

  • Theunis Jansen van Rensburg

    Yes, but the one on the left is SD. It’s impossible to notice the difference between HD and Full HD on such a small screen in regular use.

  • The Spark

    I have a two 24″ 1080p LED displays in my home office that I sit about 40cm away from. I can watch 720p movies on that without any noticeable quality difference from 1080p.

    I have a 50″ Plasma TV in my TV room. For me to get the same size perspective as sitting 40cm from my monitor in my office, I would have to sit about 85cm away from the TV (basic Pythagoras)

    In reality I typically sit 2 or 3 metres away from my TV. As a result of being further away, I can also forgo an extra bit of quality i.e.less than 720p and it will still be unnoticeable.

    The noticeable quality loss comes from lossy compression where the compression ratios are set too high and so colour range and banding are noticeable as a result, as well as blocking and artifacts on far lower
    quality.

    DSTV takes lossy compression to a very high level in many cases because on all their channels (their supposed “HD” at 720 included) with the exception of live broadcasts, banding is visible. Even if there is no compression, just by reducing colour reproduction from 24bit to 16bit will cause banding because you don’t have the colour range to show subtle gradients without dithering.

    Sure on many of the latest TVs that will be less noticeable but that would be because the TV is employing its own algorithms to smooth the picture and hide lower quality images BUT then it is in any case not even 720p in quality and the colour would be unnaturally strong (shops love to advertise TVs on max colour and brightness settings which strangely enough seems to sell).

    When downloading, I would always go for the 720p download to have faster downloads and less data usage because nobody I have met as yet has been able to tell me which programs I show are on 1080p or 720p.

    That said, on very large TVs e.g. 100″ and above, the higher resolution would be useful to combat the issue of reducing the pixel-per-inch (ppi) density but other than that, only fools will buy top range TVs in South Africa.

  • Mossel

    You shouldve left the resolution specs out of the three pictures and then asked us to comment which one is the best, that wouldve made for some interesting comments.

  • http://www.bandwidthblog.com Minnaar Pieters

    My biggest issue with these massive resolution small screen phones are not necessarily cost (after all these things come down in price over time). Instead I just think about all the extra pixels that needs to processed by the graphics hardware.

    Try running Real Racing 3 on either the HTC One or Galaxy S4 – those high end processors cannot keep up.

    But perhaps the biggest issue is battery life. I would much prefer a longer lasting battery than a screen I cant even see the pixels of.

  • Theunis Jansen van Rensburg

    I completely agree, there are many advantages of having a slightly lower quality screen. Just imagine what the S4 or HTC would have cost, though, if it had a 720p screen?

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