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The pixel is all but dead--no thanks to the PC

Brad Chacos | May 8, 2013
Be sad, fellow geeks, for we are witnessing the slow death of a staunch companion.

Be sad, fellow geeks, for we are witnessing the slow death of a staunch companion.

Between the proliferation of Retina displays, ultrahigh-resolution smartphone screens, überexpensive 4K televisions, and the ironically named Chromebook Pixel, eye candy has never been so abundantly available, nor so abundantly delicious. Screens are saturated with millions--millions--of tiny little squares, rendering images and text alike in buttery-smooth fidelity.

The jagged edges of yesteryear are bleeding away. On-screen images are looking more and more like continuous-tone photographs. The pixel as we know it is all but dead.

Children of the future will look back at games like E.T. and Doom, and rather than waxing nostalgic, they'll shake their heads at how utterly bad we used to have it. (Dot-matrix printers? Please.) Resolution specs will eventually fade into the annals of history, as all screens will look equally splendid. And you'll never, ever find a dead pixel on a new display--because even if it's there, you won't be able to notice it.

It's enough to make your eyes water, but it won't happen today. For although the pixel's final gasp is indeed on the horizon, it isn't quite here yet. And you can thank the PC for that.

It was the best of times...

Pixel-packed consumer electronics displays may be only a couple of years old, but they're already far from rare. Retina-sporting iPads sell by the gajillions. Every premium smartphone released in the past year and a half has boasted at least a 720p display, while newer entries such as the HTC One rock full-blown 1080p resolutions.

More important than the total resolution numbers is the fact that those small mobile screens are veritably crammed with pixels. Sky-high pixel densities are giving displays a pixel-less quality.

Stuffed into a 4.7-inch screen, the One's 1080p resolution is good for an eye-popping 468 pixels per inch. Sitting slightly farther away from your peepers, Retina iPads rock 264 ppi. Even the $200 Nexus 7 boasts a display with 216 ppi.

Meanwhile, Sharp--a major component supplier for Apple and other parties--is working on new IGZO display technology designed to pack the pixels in even more tightly. Last year, the company showed off a 6-inch IGZO LCD panel with a whopping 2560 by 1600 resolution, for an impressive pixel density of 498 ppi. Few 30-inch desktop monitors have that many pixels.

On such stacked screens, text is as sharp as it is in a book, if not sharper. Yes, they're that good.

It was the worst of times...

Compare those ever-increasing mobile resolutions with the status quo on the PC side of things. While the stunning screens on the Chromebook Pixel and higher-end MacBook Pros may snatch all the headlines, everyday reality is much more ho-hum for most folks.


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