The Wide Screen Rip-Off
By James Grahame
I love my widescreen TV. Modern movies fit better, and I love the almost-cinematic aspect ratio. It makes sense when viewing films and HD TV programs.
That said, widescreen displays don't make any sense at all on portable computers.
Few of us write wide but short emails or view web pages that are wider than they are tall. Online newspapers are still presented in columnar format because its easier to read that way. Blogs like this one are presented vertically. Even computer code is rarely written as a long line of horizontal text, unless you're entering an obfuscation contest.
Computer companies justify their new 16:9 widescreen displays with marketing buzzwords such as "HD" or "cinema ready." It's as if they imagine a world in which we gormlessly watch endless widescreen movies on our notebooks. I don't know about you, but streaming video isn't the main reason I own a computer. It isn't even in the top ten. I'm more likely to write code or edit a book -- stuff that works best on a taller monitor.
So why are companies constantly trying to push skinny screens on us? It's all about profit. Notebook screens are measured diagonally and a 16:9 screen has less surface area than a traditional 4:3 display. Twelve percent less, in fact. And twelve percent less surface area translates into significantly lower manufacturing costs, since less raw material is required.
The unfortunate side effect is that many modern screens offer much the same vertical resolution as machines sold 5 years ago -- around 768 pixels or so. Our quest for the latest fashion is to blame as well. When standing in the computer aisle of our local electronics and white goods purveyor we're going to choose a computer or tablet with a wide aspect screen because "it's HD." It'll probably have an impractically glossy finish, too.
It doesn't have to be this way. The iPad is a very successful case in point, with a 1024x768 display that retains the classic 4:3 aspect ratio. The traditional shape gives it an advantage over many skinnier tablets that feel a cramped when you flip the screen horizontally, and you get 12% more screen real estate for your hard earned dollar.
So there you have it - my tech peve of the week. What's yours?