12 Aug 2003 raph   » (Master)


Life is good. I just got back from a week with the family at the Quaker Yearly Meeting in San Diego, and am feeling refreshed and re-energized. The kids, in particular, had a great time running around with their PYM buddies.

Remarkable stupidity

From Dan Gillmor: Rebecca Mercuri, an extremely knowledgeable critic of electronic voting systems, was kicked out of a conference of election officials in Denver. Their excuse, that she lacked credentials (a professor at Bryn Mawr, fer cryin' out loud), would have been a lot more credible if they kicked out all the shills for the voting machine companies as well.

This kind of thing is merely illustrative of something that's gone deeply wrong with America. Money and power are what's really important in the decision-making process; truth is an annoyance that gets in the way.

High resolution displays

I've been using the term "high resolution" in talking about computer displays with, uhm, higher resolution than the 96 dpi or so that's standard on desktops these days, but I'm not happy with the term, as just about all displays are "high resolution" compared to something.

Thus, I propose the following general terms for classifying display resolutions: "dot matrix" = less than 144 dpi, "near letter quality" is 144 to 195.9 dpi, and "letter quality" is 196 to 383.9 dpi, and "Star Trek quality" is 384 dpi and above.

I've been saying for a long time that "near letter quality" and "letter quality" displays will become important. Now, I think we're really just around the corner, as these displays are becoming available in consumer-priced gadgets.

Sadly, desktop computer users are stuck with dot-matrix resolution for the near future. I did a survey of available LCD's and found that nearly all new panels are in the range of 85-100 dpi. In some ways, this is good news - lower resolution panels (such as 1024x768 17" -> 75 dpi) used to be available. However, there is little or no movement on the upper end of the range (I'm not counting specialty-priced panels such as the IBM T210, T220, and friends).

The laptop situation is a little better; resolutions on high-end models are inching up steadily, and we've just now seen near-letter-quality models (such as the Dell D800 with a 1920x1200 15.4" -> 147 dpi screen) available in the US market at commodity prices (specialty priced laptops such as the NEC Versa P700 have been available in Japan for about a year).

But where higher resolution displays have been really taking off is in smaller portable gadgets. In fact, Sony's current $100 grayscale and $180 color Palms (the SJ20 and SJ22) have 320x320 2.8" -> 160 dpi screens. In the Japanese market, we see even higher resolution devices, such as the Sony U101, with a 1024x768 7.1" -> 180 dpi screen, and the Sharp Zaurus C7xx line with 640x480 3.7" -> 216 dpi (and running a Linux kernel, no less).

There are some good reasons for the popularity of higher res screens. In many cases, the actual angular resolution of these displays is not all that much higher than desktops, because people view them at a much closer distance. Comfortable viewing distances are particuarly small in the red-hot youth market, because young people typically have much better accommodation than oldsters such as myself. Of course, the Japanese are also going to be more into small gadgets with higher resolution (as needed for adequate Kanji display) compared with their SUV-driving American counterparts.

It'll take a few years, but dot-matrix quality LCD's are going to be as obsolete as dot-matrix printers. I hope that a GNU/Linux environment will be able to use near letter quality and letter quality screens effectively, but I yet haven't seen many encouraging developments.

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