The Computer Monitor/Display Resolution Disaster


If One Can’t Read It, What Good Is It?


WYSIWYG Isn’t This!

 ©2007 Mark B. Anstendig

Before anyone can understand what this paper is about, it is important to explain the term WYSIWYG, which comes from the very beginnings of commercial word-processing typewriters and from computers in the early 1980s. It is important enough to define here, even though the definition repeats within the body of the paper.

WYSIWYG stands for “What You See IS What You Get”. What that meant when this very important computing term originated is that, if you are able to see a complete document or photo on the monitor screen, when you print out that document or photo, the printout will look like and be exactly the same size as what you saw on the screen. That term started when computer graphics were rare and computers produced mostly text documents.

With regard to text, WYSIWYG was first applied to monitors that could display a full letter- sized document with the actual chosen font shapes at exactly the same size they would be when printed out. The term became everyday computer terminology with the advent, in the early 1980s, of 21” monitors, with 20” viewable screen sizes, because those were the first monitors that could not only show a full letter-sized page vertically, but could also simultaneously show two facing letter-sized pages in the same size they would be when printed, allowing desktop publishing software to show the facing pages of a book.



Today, most flat-panel monitors use such ridiculously high resolutions that everything one sees on one’s monitor appears just slightly more than half its printed size. Text that would print out a normal, readable size appears so small on the monitor that it is hard to read without the help of a magnifier. Photos appear a fraction of the size they would be when printed. And computing has become a nightmarish chore for all but those with superb eyesight or better. And even such people find many things on their screens, such as the non-enlargeable URL address line in their Internet browsers, difficult to see. Small flat-panel screens, like those on portables with screen sizes of 15 inches or smaller, are a morass of tiny, hard-to-see details.

Regarding monitor resolutions, WYSIWYG became every day computer terminology in the early 1980s when so-called 21 inch monitors, which had a 20 inch viewable screen size and a native resolution of 1152 x 870 (1152 pixels per inch horizontally and 870 pixels per inch vertically), could display a full letter-sized page from top to bottom and could also simultaneously show two facing letter-sized pages in the same size they would be when printed out. In other words, what you looked at on the screen was exactly the same size and shape, etc., as the whole page when it was printed. With the 20” viewable monitors, it was the vertical resolution of 870 PPI that allowed the monitor to display a whole full-sized letter page vertically. Until the advent of those monitors, smaller monitors with lower horizontal and vertical resolution could only display part of the height and width of a letter-sized page in the same size as the printed page, and the viewer had to scroll up and down and right and left in order to read the whole page, when viewing the image at the same size as it would appear when printed out. The 1152 horizontal resolution, which allowed the viewing of two full pages next to each other, allowed the user to see what facing pages in a published document would look like, which is important in planning the layout of the entire document or book.

When computers first came out, the monitors were so small and their screen resolutions so low that no one even tried to show a printed page exactly as it would appear when printed. The computers simply had a text-entry mode that ordered text as best it could on the small screens and what one viewed had nothing to do with the final appearance of the printed page. On the screen, the displayed font characters (the actual shapes/style of the letters) did not look like the actual font that would be printed, and the computer did not have the capabilities to display accurately all the different font styles that could be used in the printed document.

For a long while, the 20” viewable CRT monitor (full-sized tube monitors, not flat-screen thin LCD) was the norm for better monitors and viewing was extremely easy on them, because one could always enlarge all detail by changing the resolution lower, and even gain more desktop space if ever necessary by increasing the resolution, and those changes in resolution caused little or no change in image quality.

With the advent of LCD monitors, the monitor became locked into the original resolution, for which it was designed, called the “Native” resolution. The user is locked into that single resolution because changing the resolution on those monitors causes the image to deteriorate substantially, becoming fuzzy and unsharp.
But the native resolutions are too high, which means that what one sees appears too small. In other words, monitor manufacturers chose to be able to cram more into the same size screen, and in order to do that everything had to be smaller. Presently, the resolutions that are currently used makes everything slightly larger than half the size it would be when printed out, i.e., approximately half the size it will ultimately be in the document, photo, etc., that you are producing. To get an idea of this is easy: simply think of type. The characters used to type things are called “fonts”. The usual type size used in letters and printed material is 12 point. That size is about the smallest one can make the type in a letter, magazine, book, or such and still have it readable for most people. But on the computer screen, you will see that 12 point type as only approximately 7 point, or just a tad larger than half its actual size in the document. And no one can read that small a type size comfortably.

Try reading 7 point type when it is printed out in a letter. That is not pleasant to do.

This whole computer resolution mess is a horror for anyone with less than perfect vision, and not easy even for those who have perfect vision. It is, for example, idiotic to buy one of the new, huge 30” monitors and have to look at tiny type and tiny details, all of which are smaller than life-size, i.e., smaller than they will be when printed out. Such a large monitor could easily display everything at nearly twice the present size that is dictated by the monitor’s native resolution. And the viewer will still have plenty of room to see facing pages and more on the monitor.

To add to the problem, computers used to have most of the image scalable, meaning one was able to enlarge type, images, scroll bars, etc., pretty much at will. But lately, the Mac no longer has such features. Desktop fonts, hard-drive-content fonts, dialog box fonts, etc., can only be enlarged up to 16pt, which means they still are about 9pt large. Windows has more flexibility in choosing the size of desktop components, but even Windows seems to have lost some of its size options with the latest operating systems.

Most applications allow enlarging of the fonts in the body of what is being produced. While dedicated text-displaying applications like “Word” can also enlarge the whole document size until the text is fully WYSIWYG, the document is then usually too large for the full height to be completely displayed on the screen, especially with wide-screen monitors. And pull down menus, fixed menus, tool-bar labels, help menus and texts, URL entry bars in browsers, and such, remain at the small size contingent upon the too-high overall native resolution of the monitor. If one only enlarges the font, without enlarging the whole document (enlarging the whole document is impossible in Apple “Mail” application, for example), one must then downsize the fonts in order to print them out at their normal size. Then, when one is finished, one must resize the fonts back to their larger, readable size. And all that can only be done in the preferences, not in handy menus (a huge nuisance). And the fonts in pull-down menus, toolbars, and such remain tiny, not enlargeable, and all but unreadable. Browsers and e-mail programs allow font enlarging in the body of the windows, but URL bars, and such remain small and hard to read.

Worst of all, images, photos, designs and such are not enlargeable at all, except within dedicated design or photo applications, and are displayed smaller than they actually were made to be. And within dedicated applications like Adobe Photoshop and such, even when enlarged, the images still are displayed at approximately 7/12th their full size.

Old style CRT monitors, which allow changing their resolutions without becoming noticeably unsharp, are disappearing and not being developed any further, in favor of LCD monitors. So the person who wants to see and read things easily on his/her computer has only messy, unpleasant options to choose from.

At the expense of comfortable easy viewing, the industry has chosen to put more on the screen, making it all smaller in the process and making it harder to see. An enormous mistake, as we have explained.


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