Monitors and Resolutions

As people get new monitors there are often questions.  One of the most common is how in the world can I make everything on this new monitor look as big as it did on the old one.  I like the old one better….and to this I say, where is that old one ?

There are several things that determine how the screen looks on your monitor.

The overall resolution

  • Images are generally sharpest at the maximum resolution the monitor supports
  • Things like icons, which are a certain number of pixels in size look smaller as the resolution goes up

The ration of height to width

  • If the pixels on your monitor were square, the ratio of height to width wouldn’t be important.  However, the pixels are generally rectangular to make it’s maximum resolution look best.  For example a monitor that’s designed to display 800 x 600 resolution might have pixels that are shaped for that ratio of height to width to look good, but an image that has always looked good before will often look out of proportion if it was not in the ratio of 4:3.  This is why things often look stretched or distorted when we change the resolution.
  • To overcome this, we should chose resolutions with the same ration of height to width as our equipment.  In this case 4:3.  A resolution of 1024 x 768 has the same ratio as 800 x 600 for example

Consider this chart:

Every box on the chart represents a commonly available monitor resolution.  Boxes with the same colors are complementary, meaning they have the same ratio of height to width as other boxes that color.  There are a lot to consider.  I guess what I’m saying is don’t worry if your first choice isn’t perfect but try and pick on that’s the same ration as the monitor’s maximum.  Divide the larger number by the smaller on your monitor and see what the ration is.  Multiply this number by the lower number on some of your choices and see which ones match up.

After resolution, your operating system generally offers some options too.  For example, you might try using the maximum resolution your monitor is capable of and then letting your Windows or Mac OS do the rest for you.  Be aware that some funky things can happen if you ask for too much.  Some things are neat and tidy at their original size but get weird when you ask for something different.  Icons for programs for instance are generally a set size (yes, I hear you Mac people, but those are a range of predefined sizes too, it just looks like it’s infinitely variable) But I digress, when you ask for the letters of the font underneath that icon to get bigger sometimes they don’t fit under the icon like they used to and letters spill over to another line or disappear altogether, etc.  No harm done, but be aware it can look a little different than you expected.

One of the coolest things though is that most of the programs you use have their own size tools, so if you needed the text to be a little bigger in Word or in your Web Browser, you can change it easily without changing the whole system.

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