All things modern.
It would seem that not many people appreciate or indeed demand a good quality display on their laptop computers. Being in the market for a new laptop recently, I walked up and down Tottenham Court Road, which is the famous centre for electronics in London asking two simple questions; Do you have anything with a FHD (1920×1080) display or with an IPS display? The answer was inevitably a mix of utter confusion and an almost disgusted no.
Eventually I gave up defeated and went home, but this experience has led me to write this article to emphasise why we should all want a good display on our laptop.
First let’s compare resolution. Now almost any advertisement for a laptop will go on about how large physically the display is. There was a time a few years back when ‘the thing’ was to have as massive a laptop display as you possibly could with 17 inch displays being quite common. Thankfully that fad is over, now the standard consumer laptop screen ranges between 14 and 16 inches. One thing that does not change though is the resolution. It seems that no matter what size of display you buy, you end up with a 1366 x 768 resolution.
Why does it matter? Have a look at the diagram below.
The black rectangle represents what you get on your standard consumer display, 1366 x 720 compared to WXGA+ (1600 x 900) and Full HD (1920 x 1080). The benefits of having a higher resolution on the same size of display are twofold; sharper images of course but also more desktop area so you can have several windows open at once. For example you may need to refer to a web page (invariably Wikipedia) whilst writing up your report. With a FHD display, you can have both open side by side and not have to keep switching from one to another.
Note that this comparison has nothing to do with the size of the display in inches, the rectangles will always fill your entire screen. I would say that FHD displays are equally hard to get as 13 inch or 17 inch models, no consumer retail outlet will sell them so they will need to be ordered online. The good news is that all of the major brands have a model with a FHD display available. At the moment the Sony Vaio Z lets you have (at a price) a 13 inch display with FHD resolution.
Now lets discuss display quality. The second question I asked was whether or not they had anything with an IPS display. So what is an IPS display? IPS stands for In Plane Switching and is a way of switching the pixels on and off so that they do not scatter the backlight as much. It is this scattering that causes more common TN or Twisted Nematic display to look so washed out and have poor viewing angles. Wikipedia has a very good description here.
So, why is this important? Have a look at this comparison video:
The difference when placed side by side in this way is quite startling. I suppose if you were accustomed to the using cheap TN panelled consumer laptops you wouldn’t mind, like the assistant in the Comet store who said to me when I tried to show him why I didn’t like the display on a MacBook Air said ‘All displays are like that’. Well to be fair, all the displays on the 50+ laptops on display in his shop were like that.
One may argue that you sit directly in front of a laptop when using it, so why would viewing angles matter? Well, vertical viewing angles on TN displays are typically 15 degrees or even worse on cheaper panels. Bear in mind that this is the angle at which the image is really bad, the quality actually gets progressively worse from 0 degrees up to 15. Now sit directly in front of your display with hands on your keyboard, your face should be about 30 to 40 cm away from the display now. So, if you are using a 12 inch display as I am now, the angle to the top and bottom of the screen would be about 10 degrees which gives me an acceptable picture. Now if you are using a 15 inch display, this angle will be close to 15 degrees which means even if you are seated directly in front of your display, the top and bottom are already at different colours to the centre.
The other good reason to not have a TN display on your laptop is that laptops are meant to me carried around and used in different places. This means that you don’t always have control over the environmental lighting. In many cases I have found that the angle of the display required to give me a good picture is the exact angle that reflects that lamp or open doorway behind my back making it VERY uncomfortable to use.
So in conclusion, I don’t know about you but no matter what laptop I buy, it will be bought online and I will happily pay the extra £40 for a display that wouldn’t give me headaches or spoil my eyes.