LCD Monitors and Native Resolution

May 4, 2008

Many users have moved from a traditional tube-based monitor to LCD monitors in the past couple of years. This can include desktop LCD monitors as well as laptops. There is also the move from monitors with a 4:3 aspect ratio to “widescreen” 16:9 monitors. From reading various questions posed in the support forums, there seems to be a misunderstanding of how an LCD monitor should be run. There are two major issues that I’ll discuss in this post. If you want the best results, make sure to have your monitor specifications handy as we’ll need them.

The first issue that users have is that they’ll draw a square in CorelDRAW and it will be stretched horizontally. This is a classic indication that the user has the aspect ratio set incorrectly on their display. I’ll use my laptop as an example. Its native resolution is 1920 x 1200 pixels, a “widescreen” aspect ratio. When I’m using the laptop for day-to-day work, I love all the extra resolution. Unfortunately most data projectors have a maximum native resolution of 1024 x 768, a non-widescreen. This means when I project, I have to set Windows to a resolution of 1024 x 768. When I draw squares, they look distorted on my laptop display. Since the people in my training are looking at the image created by the projector, they see a square.

Now let’s say that you went out and bought a new LCD for your desktop. It has a native resolution of 1680 x 1050 (a fairly common resolution). But you’ve always used Windows at 1024 x 768 (an extremely common resolution) so that is what you set on your computer. Everything you draw will appear distorted because you are using the wrong aspect ratio on your monitor. Something like 1280 x 720 would at least keep squares looking square.

The other issue is that people complain their display is “fuzzy”. This is a classic symptom of running an LCD at a non-native resolution. If you have a monitor whose native resolution is 1680 x 1050, the only way to get a clear image is to run that monitor at 1680 x 1050! That is because an LCD monitor has discrete pixels on it. So if you run at any other resolution, the monitor has to stretch your display resolution to fill the entire screen. If you’ve set it at 1024 x 768, each pixel in that resolution is stretched to fill 1.64 pixels horizontally and 1.37 pixels vertically. Oops, you can’t have anything but whole numbers and now the math gets really funny. Running the monitor at 1280 x 720 would be stretching 1.31 pixels horizontally and 1.46 vertically. Still funny math.

There are typically two reasons users give for not running their LCD at its native resolution. One excuse is that things are “too small” on screen for my eyes. You’ll just need to adjust your screen elements a bit. You can use different font sizes for menus and dialog boxes. Often your programs let you choose different icon sizes. Windows definitely allows you to choose bigger icons if you want. The other excuse is that the video card in the computer doesn’t support the needed resolution. In that case, you need to upgrade your video card. It will cost probably less than $100 to get a card to support the new resolution and it will also be faster than what you have.

Hopefully now you understand the issues you face when running an LCD monitor at the wrong resolution. When you are shopping for a new monitor, it is important to know what size (in inches or cm) you need as well as what resolution is required. This will tell you if the elements are going to be too small to be seen. Also check the resolutions your video card supports. If you don’t want to have to buy a new video card, make sure to buy an LCD monitor that is supported by your current card.

I will give one other suggestion. Think big! About a year ago my old monitor gave out. I gave out and purchased a 30″ LCD running at 2560 x 1600 pixels. The first day it arrived, it seemed huge. Even better, I could fit all kinds of running programs on the same screen. Now that a year has passed, I’m considering getting a second monitor so I have even more screen real estate. Now you won’t find monitors like this on sale for $199. But for less than $1500, you can have a big, beautiful monitor. Since you aren’t constantly re-arranging your programs, you can be a lot more productive. For a graphics professional, it is worth every single penny. Certainly it is an investment you should consider.

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Foster D. Coburn III

Foster D. Coburn III is author of 13 best-selling books on CorelDRAW and has been a contributor to numerous technology and graphics-related magazines. Foster has taken many projects, including this Web site, from the early design stage through to a finished piece. He has been a featured speaker at many graphics conferences. His first Web site was built in 1995 and he has been working exclusively in WordPress since 2013.

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