What Is a Good Screen Resolution? When Quantity Stops Creating Quality.


By Mike Casper

Be honest. The last time you bought a TV, did you feel confident that you picked the right one?

With all the marketing around display type, quality, and resolution, it’s not easy to determine whether you’re really picking the right screen for your needs. And this is now a dilemma for consumers shopping for all types of devices: smartphones, tablets, laptops, and even refrigerators all promise to deliver a better screen than the competition.

But can you really tell the difference between 350 and 400 pixels per inch (PPI)? Or does the higher number just make you feel like you’re getting the best screen resolution available today?

The truth is that when it comes to screen resolution, quantity doesn’t always translate to quality. The human eye can’t tell a difference in resolution quality above 300 PPI, and odds are, if you’re buying a new television at 400 PPI, you’re likely being upsold (and overpaying).

Rather than focusing on resolution, focus on the other practical aspects of your next purchase.

Don’t Fall in the Marketing Trap: Know What Screen Resolution You Need

I’ve always felt there’s a great analogy for our current situation with display resolution in what Intel did with their microprocessors in the early 2000s.

Their main business kept promoting faster and bigger processors, year over year. Meanwhile, a little-known group was arguing for smaller and more energy-efficient versions for applications that don’t necessarily require as much processing power as what the main business was promoting. In short order, that little-known group became the heart of the mobile revolution in laptops and smartphones.

Rather than following the tide of marketing messages toward higher contrast ratios and higher resolution displays, it’s important to ground display design in quality and functionality. Why do we need such high resolution and contrast if our eyes can’t even tell the difference between the specs of displays today and the next level up? Can you even tell the difference between an OLED and an LCD screen?

Identify What Type of Display Will Most Benefit End Users

If you’re designing a device for use in an operating room, it’s sure to have different battery and brightness requirements than one intended for use in geological field research or one intended for watching Netflix.

Rather than asking “What is the best screen resolution available?” ask, “What is a good screen resolution for this product?”

To this point, it’s important to determine what type of display is appropriate for your device’s end user before choosing to upgrade your display to the next level of resolution or choose a display with higher contrast ratios.

Would the user of this device benefit from a version that has…

  • A longer battery life
  • A screen that’s easy to read in bright sunlight
  • A screen that’s visible in the dark
  • Less weight – or less in any other physical dimension
  • Excellent video quality
  • The ability to display a broader range of colors

Often, the standard backlit LCD we’re accustomed to can be improved upon by swapping it out for a different type of display altogether, and the most impactful ways you’ll see improvement for end users won’t likely have to do with the number of PPI.

Understand What Consumers Care About: It’s Not All About the Best Screen Resolution

Whether you’re concerned about eye health for children who rely on tablets in education settings or your goal is to extend battery life in survey tools that need to last all day in the field, it’s worth noting that these meaningful questions cannot be answered by increasing the PPI on your device display.

This concern with highly functional display design is part of what led us to create LCD 2.0, a frontlit reflective display that provides a lower power alternative to backlit LCD panels and superior visibility in bright light. Because the answer to how to make a better tablet for students to use in schools isn’t to boost the resolution or contrast ratio – it’s to improve the display’s ease of viewing in any lighting environment and to reduce the frequency with which the tablets need to be recharged.

This is just one example of why resolution is far from being the most meaningful gauge of the quality of a display. Step back to consider the shortcomings of the display on your smartphone, your smartwatch, and your car’s console, you may feel inspired to revisit which qualities you think could be improved upon in your next design for a product that requires a screen. It won’t likely be the contrast ratio of the screen.

Select the Right Display Type for Your Design

Half of the challenge in selecting the right display for your next design is knowing what display options are out there.

If you’re working on a project that requires a cost-effective display that can be used indoors and out, reach out to the team at Azumo to find out if LCD 2.0 might be the right kind of display for your end users’ needs.

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