Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Vertical Pixels are Disappearing

The quality of monitors for PCs is going backwards. A few years ago, noticing the rise of the widescreen monitor and fearful that all reasonably proportioned monitors would soon disappear, I bought a Samsung Syncmaster 204B (20.1" screen, 1600x1200 pixels). Last night it popped and stopped working. When I went online to research a replacement monitor, the full gravity of the situation became obvious.

Not only is it virtually impossible to find a monitor that is not widescreen, almost all monitors that you can buy, whatever the size of their screen, are 1920x1080 pixels. In the years since I bought the 204B, the number of pixels that we get in the vertical direction has shrunk from 1200 to 1080! Funnily enough, there is a post on Slashdot this morning titled "Why are we losing our vertical pixels" about this topic. The post has drawn many more that the usual number of comments.

For me, the vertical height of the screen is important. I use my computer for reading, writing, programming, editing media and some juggling with numbers. For each activity, having a good height to the screen helps, and width after a certain point does not add much. A Television uses a 1920x1080 pixels for a full 1080p display. The monitor manufacturers are just giving us monitors made from cheap LCD panels designed for televisions. When I watch TV, I have a much larger screen in another room with more comfortable chairs and more room between me and the screen. Thus, I do not need or want a computer monitor that is expressly designed for watching TV.

The real problem is that 1920x1080 monitors are so ubiquitous that it is difficult to find anything else. After a lot of searching I only found a couple of alternatives. Apple has a 27" widescreen monitor that is 2560x1440 pixels at a cost of ~$1000, and only works well with some recent Apple systems. Dell has a 20" monitor in their small business section that is 1600x1200 and costs ~$400. However, Dell seems to vary the type of LCD panel that they use between production runs and one type of panel is a lot better than the other. Unfortunately, you do not know which type of panel you are going to get until it arrives at your door. Neither alternative gets me really excited. One thing is certain, technology is supposed to be about progress, and I am not going backwards and accepting less pixels in any dimension for my next monitor.

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