Display and graphics nowadays is one of the important things to consider if you play video games — may it be on pc or gaming consoles. We’re all surrounded by screens, whether they’re in our pockets, on our desks or in our living rooms. You’ve probably heard phrases like 4K and Retina Display thrown around but how good do screens need to be? Surely everything has to be good enough at some point, right? The easiest way to compare screens is the resolution. Basically all modern displays are made of pixels which are individual dots than can be whatever color they need to be to make up an image. One pixel isn’t all that important but put a lot of them on screen and you get yourself a pretty convincing image.
When someone says something is 720p or 1080p what they’re talking about is the resolution, how many pixels it has. So take this video for example, if you’re watching it in full quality the resolution is 1920 by 1080 pixels. This is known as full HD and is what you’ll find on most TVs and even some phones these days. Most people are perfectly happy with HD. It’s nice and clear with plenty of detail so what’s the point of going beyond it? I mean, it’s not like you can see the difference with higher resolutions, except when you can. Let’s take the iPhone for example. When it was launched Apple made a huge deal about the fact that it had a Retina Display, a screen so pixel dense that your eyes just can’t make out the individual dots. Unfortunately it’s not quite that simple and there’s an easy way to see why. So grab your phone and hold it out at about arm’s length from your face. Now take a close look at the screen, can you make out the pixels? Probably not. Start pulling it closer and closer though and you’ll eventually be able to notice that things get a little pixelly. That’s because resolution is only part of the story.
The size of the screen makes a big difference in how detailed it needs to be. While we all basically take for granted that holding our phones at arm’s length means everything is nice and sharp if you look at a TV with the same resolution that close it’s going to be a pixelated mess. If you take a 60 inch TV with a resolution of 1080p it comes in at 36 pixels per inch where that same HD resolution on a 5 inch smartphone delivers over 440 PPI. There’s nothing too crazy here, of course if you take the same resolution and stretch it out over a bigger screen it’s going to be less detailed.
Carlton Bale has an excellent post on his site which breaks down how far away you have to sit from a TV to see the differences in resolution. For my 60 inch TV I sit about eight feet away which is just on the edge of where you can start to see the advantage of moving to a higher resolution like 4K. Most people won’t get the full advantage of 4K unless they have a very big TV that they’re sitting fairly close to. However the difference is much more noticeable on a computer. Coming back around to Apple they judge a Retina Display on a tablet or laptop as not being able to see pixels at 15 to 20 inches away. Move over to a desktop display though and typically you’ll be sitting less than two feet away. At these kinds of distances even a 4K monitor isn’t detailed enough to fool your eyes. Phones aren’t quite so simple however. We’ve had very high resolution screens for a while however since we keep our phones so close to our faces they kind of have to be. Even though the original Retina Display on the iPhone is mostly good enough there are definitely cases where you can take advantage of a higher resolution screen.
Put it side by side with the 1080p display on the HTC One M8 and 1440p panel on the LG G3 and up close I can make out a difference between all three. It’s subtle but with fine detail the One M8 is noticeably sharper where the G3 is so ridiculously pixel dense that even with the phone all the way up to my face I still can’t see the pixels. Personally I think 1080p is ideal for most phones, as a PPI of over 400 really does seem to be the sweet spot. Even Apple is rumored to be bumping up their Retina Display to this range for the next iPhone. So while most screens these days are pretty good, we’re still not quite there yet.