Business Today

Clarity beyond compare

Kushan Mitra | Print Edition: Apr 15, 2012

Steve Jobs may be no more, but that has not stopped Apple from continuing to redefine the way we use, or rather look at, computing devices. Apple's recently unveiled iPad 3 has an onscreen resolution of 2048 x 1536 pixels, packing in 246 pixels per inch, almost 10 pixels to a millimetre. Compare this to a high definition television (HD TV), which has a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels.

Kushan Mitra
Kushan Mitra
So a tablet with a 9.7-inch diagonal screen will display a sharper and better image than a 55-inch HD TV, right? Little wonder that Apple's marketing slogan calls the new iPad 'resolutionary'. The irony, however, is that the new iPad's display is made by, among others, Samsung, one of its main rivals in this space.

The display technology Apple uses is called the 'retina display' and was first showcased by Apple on the iPhone 4, which actually has denser pixel packing than the new iPad (326 pixels per inch). What these terms mean is that the displays are so sharp that humans with normal 20/20 vision will not be able to resolve individual pixels from an average viewing distance. Which is why even the image on your HD TV, despite the screen's lower resolution, looks just fine from 10 feet away. Amazingly, less than a decade ago, while there was talk of higher resolution, there were no products available with HD, let alone HD-compatible content. Today, manufacturers have left HD behind, and are pushing the barriers of visual perception.

It is fascinating to note how thin the displays are becoming. The 'Bezel' model on the new Samsung Series 8 LED TV is incredibly thin - and had it foregone inputs and speakers, it could have been thinner still. And have you seen the screens on the new ultrabook laptops?

What about the long-awaited 'bendable' screens? They are coming, and within a decade. Last year, I watched researchers at HP Labs in Palo Alto, California, working on advanced prototypes of these screens. Some had visual displays that looked like boxes, others the width of a few strands of hair. What is more, these displays are quite affordable. In fact, it is the easy availability and relatively modest cost of high-quality displays that have made smartphones and tablets possible rather than faster processors.

On the flip side, we are now spending more time than ever staring at backlit screens. So, many people, particularly children, are not sufficiently exposed to the real world outside. We are so used to lifelike representation on screens that a few freckles on a face seem out of place. A news anchor I know fears HD TV, because she says she will need to put on even more makeup before appearing on it. In the process of making life 'hyper real', we have forgotten to look outside our windows.

Display technologies will undoubtedly get even better. If the progress of the last decade is any indication, we will probably, by 2020, be living in a world where random surfaces could become screens and Star Wars-inspired holographic displays could become reality. But let us not forget that the best display is the one in front of us called life.

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