Will 4K Resolution Work Effectively in PCs and Laptops?

by on July 7, 2014

by Stephan Jukic – July 7th, 2014

4K technology (also called UHD), which gives massive 3,840 x 2,160 pixel resolution to any device its applied to, was originally designed with TVs, projectors and cameras in mind since all of these are mediums that display or create large format images and video.

But, as the technology has become more popular and more attention grabbing, the natural course of action for many manufacturers has been to try installing 4K on devices with ever smaller screen sizes. For now this consists of PC screens in the 28” to 40” inch range, but developments are already in the works to release tablets, whose screen sizes max out at 12.9” inches, with 4K resolution of their own.

These smaller screen sizes are where interesting issues around 4K arise. On the one hand, yes, the technology does indeed create a better resolution in every technical sense of the word, since 4K gives you a total of 8,924,400 pixels while 1080p HD creates only 2,073,600. Thus, if one were to blow up any one section of a 4K PC screen, the resulting graphical detail would be far superior to conventional HD.

Even the ultra-clear Retina display technology in Macbook Pro 15 machines, which gives up 5,184,000 pixels, is left in the dust by 4K screens, to the tune of more than 3 million pixels.

What this means for PC and laptop screens is that 4K creates an almost impossible looking level of clarity, as if one were looking through an open window at a scene outside, or as if fonts and other graphics were drawn into place with pencils and paint.

Given that the average PC or laptop screen sits about 2 to 3 feet away from a user’s face, the pixelation of details becomes invisible.

This of course is the technology’s biggest selling point, its ability to create crispness that simulates reality as we see it with our eyes.

However, this very same ultra-clear resolution through millions of pixels is creating problems in the PC and laptop market.  

Unlike TVs, which have internal upscaling engines that will turn any less than native resolution into something better in compensation for the difference in original pixel count, the overwhelming majority of PC machines don’t do this. Instead, they take the instructions of the programs operating on them and interpret them literally. Thus, if a certain object or menu bar is supposed to be 1000 pixels across, it will have that size in a 4K screen or a regular HD screen. What this means of course is that on a UHD 4K screen, a user will be looking at something that has suddenly shrunk 3 or 4 times from the original actual screen size it was supposed to have.

Now while this wouldn’t be a problem at all if PCs were upgraded to match the scale compensating abilities of TVs, Microsoft and other operating system and software manufacturers have been slow to respond. Thus, many of the PCs with 4K screens on display at CES  2014 had unusually small icons, in some cases, almost unusably small!

If 4K is going to work on PC and laptop screens, it will have to be adopted in a way that works at effectively scaling and rendering content and software display instructions that weren’t built with Ultra-high def in mind.

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