back to article Screen idols: higher resolution means better laptops

Intel’s latest Ivy Bridge chipset, currently being deployed by every laptop manufacturer on new machines, is capable of supporting resolutions of up to 4096 pixels horizontally, using integrated graphics. Known as 4K, these ultra-high resolutions are gaining support in professional video cameras. So why do Samsung, Sony, …


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  1. Ian K

    "More pixels means more light, which means more power, and that sucks battery life."

    *Do* more pixels mean more light? Shurely the light comes from the panel's back illumination, and for a given size of panel the same back illumination will do the job equally well irrespective of resolution?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "More pixels means more light, which means more power, and that sucks battery life."

      It's because of the "size of the holes" (the reg missed a few puns in this one!). You have the holes in the screen where the light shines through - they're the pixels. You also have the bits that go between the pixels to make them work.

      If you quadruple the number of pixels on the screen (like apple did with their retina displays), you quadruple the 'bits between pixels', basically blocking 4x more light (unless you shrink those bits). Then you need a brighter backlight for the same brightness (which eats more battery). You also push the GPU a lot harder if it's drawing 4x the pixels, so that eats more battery. Good luck driving a 4k display on that little intel thing for anything other than basic windows - apple put a big fat discrete GPU in the new MBP for a good reason ;)

      So yes, higher res screen means you need a bigger GPU and a bigger battery.

      1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

        @Chris19 re more pixels

        Good point and you may be right - I'm not enough of an expert on LCDs to argue the toss. But wouldn't it be fair to say that the pixel wireframe (wires between the pixels, blocking light) is much much thinner with a very high res screen, so the actual blocked area would remain roughly the same? Something like this:

        Standard pixel matrix:

        || XXX || XXX || XXX || XXX || XXX || XXX ||

        || XXX || XXX || XXX || XXX || XXX || XXX ||


        || XXX || XXX || XXX || XXX || XXX || XXX ||

        || XXX || XXX || XXX || XXX || XXX || XXX ||


        || XXX || XXX || XXX || XXX || XXX || XXX ||

        || XXX || XXX || XXX || XXX || XXX || XXX ||

        High-res matrix:

        | X | X | X | X | X | X | X | X | X | X | X | X | X |


        | X | X | X | X | X | X | X | X | X | X | X | X | X |


        | X | X | X | X | X | X | X | X | X | X | X | X | X |

        Agree on the GPU though - that needs to manage a lot more pixels so will eat battery.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: @Chris19 re more pixels

          You might be right, but I know one of the issues apple had with the new retina screens in the iPad 3 + mbp was getting the screen brighter - and they needed brighter backlights. So there's definitely some additional blockage there.

        2. Jerome 0

          Re: @Chris19 re more pixels

          @ Lord Elpuss - your diagram argues against your own point. Even with your thinner wires, there's still 10% more light blocked in the diagram of the high-res display. :)

  2. Torben Mogensen

    More pixels mean more light?

    For backlit screens, the amount of light needed is a function of screen area and not the number of pixels on said screen. So increasing pixel density will not affact power use for backlight. What it will affect, however, is the power required to show movies or pictures in full screen resolution, as more data needs to be moved and processed.

    Even with LED displays,the power needed to provide a certain brightness will not increase if you double the number of pixels while keeping the same total area, as the pixels will be smaller and each use less power. After all, the brightness is the combined energy output of the pixels. so unless there is a higher power loss by increasing density, the power needed to display a picture at a certain brightness should be the same.

  3. Michael H.F. Wilkinson
    Thumb Up

    Would dearly like one of those displays

    Both for general use and better 3D display of visualization of MRI/CT scans and the like. OK, so chugging out more pixels requires more processor grunt, and that does affect battery life, but I want a powerful nVidia card anyway to chug through the CUDA stuff we do, so I am used to having to charge the laptop more often.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Would dearly like one of those displays

      You never got a Pixar Image Computer?

  4. Pete 2 Silver badge

    Who needs it?

    Leaving aside the obvious marketing benefit of "Bigger, Better, Faster, More", let's step back for a second and consider.

    There seem to me to be two types of laptop user: those who primarily want to watch videos and everybody else. For the video-watchers, the 16:9 format is ideal but for everyone else it's terrible - especially for "business" users who deal mainly in A4-portrait format documents and people who surf a lot, as most websites are STILL designed for tall-thin, "page" form factor web content.

    So we have a whole generation of laptops that are optimised for watching TV and films - oh and playing games maybe, to the detriment of everyone else. Now unless those media consumers are watching their shiny, glossy screens in perfect darkness the quality of what they see is always going to be compromised: by glare and reflected light.

    So given all that, you have to ask: can yer average lappy user benefit from sooper-dooper screen technologies and resolutions that need an electron microscope to view adequately? Given that there's been no real drive to improve laptop screens since the early days (my 1996 vintage Olivetti sported a 1024x768 screen, I guess that would be "HD" by today's standards), I can only assume that the current crop of high resolutions is only being marketed on a "becauwe we can" basis as part of the BBFM principle.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Who needs it?

      Nobody "needs" it, but everyone would benefit. Keep in mind that the purpose of these new screens isn't to increase desktop space (or you get text too small to read and buttons too small to click on, and you get generally pissed off). It's to increase display quality. Text particularly is *massively* more legible, so anyone working with text or spreadsheets or using the web instantly benefits.

    2. Peter 48

      Re: Who needs it?

      Sorry pete2, but I heartily disagree with regards to screen ratio. Widescreen displays are actually very useful for business users as it allows you to display two pages side by side, it is also very useful for anyone working with a package that has info boxes and tool bars such as photoshop users, sketchup, CAD, video editing, desktop publishing, web design etc etc. Personally I think the sweeetspot lies at 16:10 not 16:9, but either is miles better than the old 4:3. Personally I would never want to go back. In that respect the only people who are possible being affected are people who only browse the web, and for them the tablet has entered the market, so they aren't really an issue either.

      1. /dev/null

        Re: Who needs it?

        But those two pages are going to be pretty short pages if you only have 768 pixels to play with. If you're going to have a 16:9 screen, 1080p would be much better for "productivity" applications.

        1. Pete 2 Silver badge

          Re: Who needs it?

          > But those two pages are going to be pretty short pages

          That's the problem. With my old 23 inch 4:3 CRT I got a vertical height of 13.8 inches (sorry for the archaic units). That was good enough to display an A4 document at full size, or a portrait-formatted web page, given the amount of screen space lost at the top of the page with toolbars, menus etc.

          To get the same height with a 16:9 screen, you'd need a stonkin' great 28 inch display - a 23 incher providing a paltry 11.3 inches. That 1½ inch loss is more significant as the applications overheads are constant (say an inch for all their clutter, usually more, irrespective of screen size or ratio) so the smaller height directly impacts the stuff you want to see most.

          1. Pete 2 Silver badge

            who can't subtract?

            should read: ".... that 2½ inch loss ..."

      2. Tom 38
        Thumb Down

        Re: Who needs it?

        On my shitty 720p work laptop, I can fit about half of two pages side by side - about as useful as a chocolate teapot for my work (software development). Our designers also agree, but have better managers who insisted on 1080p panels on their docking stations - we get 17" 1280x1024 panels on our docking stations :/

        I miss my old work laptop, which was specifically a business laptop, with a 1440x1050 4:3 screen. This was just about large enough to do useful things.

        I couldn't imagine, having actually done some real CAD driving and some video editing, using this laptop for either of those purposes. CAD requires a lot of screen real estate to be efficient, same as video editing and 1,032,696 pixels just doesn't cut it.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Who needs it?

        "In that respect the only people who are possible being affected are people who only browse the web..."

        If the aspect ratio really is a problem, could I suggest switching to Opera? By default it makes excellent use of the extra width by putting a decent mail client / news reader down one side of the screen. Just sayin', that's all.

      4. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Who needs it?

        Watching video: 16:10 could be better than 16:9 because the player controls can sit underneath the video.

        Browsing the web: Taller is usually better, so you can read more than on paragraph at a time. Many sites have big title bars at the top of their pages too, so you often have to scroll before reading a single word.

        CAD: so many toolbars and customisation of their locations that Screen Ratio doesn't make much difference IMHO. Screen Resolution is far more important - from wireframe sketches to full photorealistic visualisation.

        Office Documents: Yeah, two pages side by side is very useful, but doesn't work well at low resolutions. And if you have a flippin' Ribbon Interface eating into your vertical pixels, the situation doesn't improve (Why is it only specialist software like SolidWorks that lets you use a, normal menus, b, an optional Ribbon-Style context sensitive 'Command Manager' that can sit vertically or horizontally, c, lovely context-sensitive Pie Menus, d, customisable tool-bars?)

        However, there are also the folk whose spreadsheets have a lot of columns, or edit music, where wider displays might be much better for them. The point is that we would like to have the choice without buying a Mac or an expensive mobile workstation. Nothing wrong with Macs, either, but again we like choice.

  5. Hayden Clark Silver badge

    1200 pixels!

    I want my 1200 vertical pixels back!

    Even for desktop monitors, getting more than 1080 pixels is seriously difficult - not just expensive, but hard to find.

    1. Ru

      Re: 1200 pixels!

      It isn't all doom and gloom. We have e-IPS panels these days, and there are even a few 16:10 aspect ratio screens out there. The market has picked up a little in the last 9 months or so.

    2. Anonymous IV
      Thumb Up

      Re: 1200 pixels!

      Dell U2412M, 24" IPS panel, 1920 x 1200, height adjustable, about £220. Quite good.

  6. an it guy

    never understood current displays

    I've got a 5 year old dell with a 1440x1280 screen and so seeing something with a vertical resolution that's less than that is odd (even my work displays seem not tall enough at 1920x1080).

    Then going back to *older* screens (think 2001), I had a 15.4 " 1600x1400 screen on a laptop, which was fantastic. I don't want to buy a new laptop because it simply won't display enough vertical resolution. 768 is 'resolutely' bad (pardon the pun).

    I like the higher resolution displays so long as the height of a laptop's screen is actually increased from the poky 6-7 inches I keep seeing on them.

    1. Retne

      Re: never understood current displays

      I too had a old laptop (bought in 2001) that had a ~15" display and a wonderfully high number of pixels. I to didn't want to move on even when it was getting too slow for modern programs as I couldn't find a screen with anywhere near the resolution. In fact, the main thing I looked for when I replaced this a few years ago was just as a high a resolution I could find for the size (I wanted to drop from 15" to 13/14").

      This downward ppi drop is horrible. I now have three displays on my main machine - a 24" Dell (1900x1200) in the middle and two 1280 by 1024 LGs flanking that. My main monitor is failing (lines down it when I start) and the lack of choice of high res screens is annoying.

      (I also want, ideally, a card reader with CF which has proved useful, but most readers exclude this bulkier card, which I presume is for the same reason)

  7. Norphy


    Minor point, an IPS panel is not necessarily 8 bit. There are a few 6 bit IPS panels out there, especially in cheaper IPS monitors. I think that they call them e-IPS panels.

  8. Alan Denman

    Size matters!

    The is a consistent rule here and that is 'size of the screen matters'.

    At 15" 1440X900 works but 1080p is too fine so you have to switch the resolution down to a degraded non native. At 17" 1080p is fine though on non laptop monitors it is still too high where 1080p is best for 19"+.

    IPS + High resolution is heat generating high wattage.

    Impress your friends but it only really matters to the fanboys who like to pay dear.

    1. Kevin
      Thumb Down

      Re: Size matters!

      " you have to switch the resolution down..."

      YOU may have to, but can be sure that everyone else is the same as you?

      I would happily have 1920x1080 or 1920x1200 on a 13" screen. Other people may have different comfort levels but I'm not going to be so arrogant presume that my opinion is shared by everyone.

    2. Retne

      Re: Size matters!

      I don't agree. This is crazy-talk.

      Or talk from someone who should have gone to... an optician of your choice.

      For some tasks (photo editing) you simply don't want to see the pixels. If your eyesight is good you can see them at a comfortable viewing distance at the size and resolutions you mention.

      And for those folk whose eyesight isn't too good the OS should be able to scale the UI so worst case there's a very smooth picture in front of you.

    3. Rampant Spaniel

      Re: Size matters!

      Not really. I'm sure if you only use your laptop for watching low res youtube videos of badgers doing the horizontal hooplah then you may not appreciate the benefits of a higher resolution. However, not everyone shares your musteline fetish, some of us do use our laptops differently! Some of us even work (yes that is an o&r in the middle) on our laptops.

      Just because you personally would not see a benefit does not mean that nobody would and we must all be cash happy fools, easily parted from our money. I can get my head around the fact the some folks wouldn't benefit from a high res screen, or thunderbold, or a dvd drive etc. I think you'll find what's lacking is your ability to comprehend other peoples needs.

    4. Boothy

      Re: Size matters! @Alan

      Quote: 'is too fine so you have to switch the resolution down to a degraded non native'.

      Sorry but no such thing as too fine, how would you tell?

      I suspect your issue is scaling with a poorly written OS and apps, that work at a fixed pitch.

      Mobile apps expect different dpi on different devices, and so scale according to the physical size of the screen itself. i.e. an button, or text would be the same physical size (within margins) irrespective of the dpi or size of screen (phone/tablet). The app will scale to the screen, with more details being available, and in general being smoother on a better dpi.

      The problem with desktop OS and apps, is they don't usually scale. For example a task bar, buttons, desktop icons etc. will all be a set size in pixels and for the most part ignore dpi, and so the higher dpi you have, the smaller everything gets on screen. When all that should be happening is that the details should show up better, with more flexibility for zooming in and out etc.

  9. Simon Jones [MSDL]

    More pixels = more light = more power = bollocks

    Did someone not think about this?

    "Lager Area = More Light" I'd agree with but I don't believe that the gaps between pixels are going to make a huge difference to the power requirement. Also fitting more pixels into the same area will likely require that you shrink the gaps as well as the pixels.

    1. M Gale

      Re: More pixels = more light = more power = bollocks

      Is a "Lager Area" like a beer garden? Only I'm not surprised there's more light in that case.

  10. Rampant Spaniel

    Re more pixels = more light, the area blocked by the grid would increase as a percentage so yes potentially that is valid (depending how far they shrink the transistors), as is the need for more transistors which could use more power.

    Has some good pictures of TN screens which should illustrate the point.

    As regards who needs more pixels. Need might not be the best word for it. As a photog I would love a 4k 17 inch IPS panel laptop, assuming programs can scale menus etc, leaving content to be displayed at the higher resolution. Long gone are the days of looking at a 6x7cm viewfinder or higher (large format is rarely digital, in medium format the closest is the hassie v system) and whilst the rear lcd's are getting better they are more use for histograms. Shooting tethered in the field can be really useful, especially when your depth of field is in mm and you can't reshoot. A shaded high res laptop screen is the dogs for verifying you got the shot.

    Doing your post production with your feet up in the garden is pretty nice as well. Do I need a higher res screen? No. Would it be worth the money, offer some competitive advantage in a competitive industry and make life a but more fun, hell yeah :-) Obviously the same cannot be said for everyones situation. I would have thought dell or someone with a similar sales method would have put higher res screens in laptops as an option. The first one to do it would sell a lot.

    If you can get a decent 1080p quadcore ivybridge with 8gb ram, a kepler gpu (for adobes mercury video engine) and an ssd for maybe 1400 usd, you could charge 600 extra for a higher res screen, undercut apple, sell plenty and make money.

    Apple have moved first, if nobody else follows they get my money, plenty of others will be doing the same. Hell, a decent camera is 3-8k (you tend to buy 4 of them, 2 to use, 2 as spares), a really good one 40k, plus another 30-50k in lenses, and stills is cheap next to video, an extra few hundred on a laptop screen that will last maybe 3 years (that's pretty good next to a camera body which would have had its shutter replaced probably twice in that time), that's an easy choice. For a home user, it's probably a lot harder to justify to the mrs :-)

    1. Anonymous Coward

      @ Rampant Spaniel

      Couldn't agree more! (late reading this so I guess this thread is dead!)

      I can't wait for the day when I can edit work on a 4k screen. Any creative professional will spend tens of thousands more on other kit, so a reasonal premium for decent screen(s) is a drop in the ocean.

      Already have a HD7970 for photoshop GPUpower (and some gaming) which supports 4k over HDMI and Displayport. (I can use 3 of em!) I would guess with the 3GB GDDR5 on the card it would support 8k too when it comes out, if the HDMI/DP bus can cope.

      For portable devices, 1600x1200/1280x1024 -OR- 1920x1200, 1920x1080, 1680x1050 should really in this day and age be the bare minimum, for anything supporting 11" or higher 4:3/16:9|10 screens.

      1366x768 WTF is that about. The cost between a 1680x1050 and 1366x768 TN panel is negligable, so small that you would not gurmble about paying it. As I have said before in similar threads, someone somewhere has a few warhouses full of these old POS and laptop manufacturers seem to still be buying them.

      If all FAB's stopped producing these POS screens, the cost of the better ones would drop through simple ecomomics of volume sold. But that wont happen until the vendors stop selling, which means you lot need to refuse to use/buy anything with a POS screen/resolution.

      This is where for a rare instance I am delighted with crApple's new screen announcemnt, finally a stick to prod and the vendors in the right direction. Not that apple make the screens nor the technology behind them. Don't forget that, it aint their tech, they are buying it's use.

  11. Jon Massey
    Thumb Down


    "...Lenovo and the rest slap a relatively low-resolution, 15.6in, 1366 x 768 screen on a laptop that is maxed out in every other area"

    My maxed-out W520 has a 1920x1080 15.6in screen. Get your facts right.

  12. Azzy

    AMOLED laptop display?

    Now THAT's what I want. Anyone know what time scale we can expect to see those on the market?

    AMOLED screens look strikingly better, and solve the problem of viewing angles entirely.

  13. Bassey

    Quick Tip

    I always stick the windows toolbar up the right-hand edge of the screen on any machine with a widescreen display. It gives you more verticle pixels to play with AND has the advantage of being able to show several running apps on the Bar without the titles becoming unreadable. I've been doing this for 6 or 7 years now but am still surprised how few people follow suit - even though it appears to be blazingly obvious. It takes a couple of days to get used to.

    I've also taken to setting my vertically oriented toolbar to auto-hide and very wide - but that probably IS just me being a little weird.

  14. Neil Porter

    It's not difficult people

    Some of the comments here make out it's difficult to get a high res screen. It's not, use the filter on your shopping website of choice and there is a lot of choice, mostly for reasonable money. I'm on my third full-hd screened laptop and my monitors are all 1920x1200 and have been for years.

    I don't know how others cope with using Visual Studio on a low res screen.

    If there is to be an advancement to higher res screens, bring it on!

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