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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.

Nearly 40 percent of all North American machines tracked by StatCounter have either a 1024 by 768 or 1366 by 768 display, with the former accounting for a hefty 22.64 percent of all displays.

The Lenovo ThinkPad Twist, part of the first wave of Windows 8 hybrids, sports one of those laptop-standard 1366 by 768 displays. Across its 12.5-inch screen, that resolution equates to just 125 ppi. And for laptops with a similar resolution on a larger 13.3- or 15.6-inch display--far more common notebook sizes--the pixel-density number plummets even lower.

Even when you take into consideration that laptop screens need fewer pixels than phones to achieve Retina-level quality (since you hold them farther away from you than mobile devices), the ThinkPad Twist's pixel density fails to impress. Its 125 ppi is barely half the pixel density of the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display's 227 ppi--and as I said, the Twist's screen is smaller (read: denser) than most laptop screens. Another model, the IdeaPad Yoga 13, packs a higher 1600 by 900 resolution into its larger 13-inch display, and still offers only 138 ppi.

That doesn't cut it, folks.

Who should shoulder the blame for the PC's eye-straining status quo? Manufacturers who pump out computers at the lowest cost possible, or people who treat PCs as commodity appliances? It matters not. Regardless of the industry's general recalcitrance toward Retina-level displays, the death of the pixel marches ever closer, even on Windows computers.

Peering into the future

High-resolution displays aren't the norm even on premium Windows laptops quite yet, but they are becoming more popular as economies of scale drive the cost of displays down--and as the economy in general forces manufacturers to tinker with bold new designs to spark lagging consumer interest.

Behold: the recently announced Toshiba Kirabook, the first Windows laptop to bear an ultrahigh-resolution display with 221 ppi. Starting at $1600, it also sports a matching ultrahigh price tag, unfortunately.

But higher resolutions are starting to work their way into slightly less expensive Windows devices, too. Many early Windows hybrids and touchscreen laptops rock a full 1080p HD resolution, including the $1100 Dell XPS 12 and Microsoft's own $899 Surface Pro slate. On the Dell's 12.5-inch display, that's good for a far-better-than average 176 ppi, while the Surface Pro's 10.6-inch screen boasts a peeper-pleasing 208 ppi.

That's not quite pixel-less, but it's close.

"In comparing Surface Pro to my third-generation iPad, I really had to search for visible pixels and differences in display quality, and any deficits exhibited by Surface Pro melted away when the tablet was farther away from my face, and propped on a desk," PCWorld editor Jon Phillips wrote in his Surface Pro review.


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