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Posted
22 July 2007

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Nerd Factor X Provocation

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6 Comments

Towards a Resolution Resolution

And now, another definition deathmatch!

Attention English-speaking people of Earth. Your use of the word "resolution" in the context of display technology has been confusing and infuriating us for some time now.

There are at least two common meanings. One refers to the absolute number of pixels in both the horizontal and vertical dimensions. The other refers to the pixel density, and is expressed in number of pixels per unit length, usually inches.

Can we please decide once and for all which one it is? Does the iPhone have a low resolution display at 320x480, or a high resolution display at 160 PPI?

I'm going to suggest that the first definition (that is, the horizontal and vertical pixel count) is more commonly-used and also has no convenient alternatives. Hence this should be the official definition of resolution. On the other hand, the term "pixel density" is a mostly reasonable substitute for resolution when this meaning is intended.

So what is often talked about as "resolution independence" isn't really. Apart from various oddities in Windows, most graphical interfaces have been independent of the number of pixels on the screen for some time now. Instead what is meant is more accurately described by the slightly ungainly phrase pixel density independence.

And that is a topic for next time...

6 Comments

Posted by
Aristotle Pagaltzis
2007-07-22 06:26:41 -0500
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Sorry, no. “Resolution” has uses outside of devices reproducing digital images using luminous picture cells. In all of those cases, “resolution” refers to how fine the detail is that can be… resolved.

There used to be some overlap between the senses because the same monitor would do just 640×480, 800×600, or even 1024×1024 “back in the days” (early ’90s or so) depending on whether the graphics card was expensive, unaffordable or astronomically priced. In such a case a low total number of pixels also means low resolution. But that usage is applicable only in particular circumstances, and if someone says the iPhone has low resolution, they are mistaken. It has a small screen.


Posted by
Julian
2007-07-22 06:26:41 -0500
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Forgive my "me too" comment, but I am with Aristotle.

I agree the dual-use of the term is confusing and irritating. If it is time for a death match, then the winner must be resolution = pixel density, to be in line with the other sciences.

It is not exactly a proof, but compare the difference between the majority view of the relevant definitions for resolution versus screen resolution.


Posted by
bjkeefe
2007-07-22 06:26:41 -0500
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Me, too, too. The more I think about the original, optical definition of "resolution," the more I'm inclined to form a fringe party advocating banning its use with regard to computer monitors altogether. What's wrong with "pixel count" and "pixel density?"

I suppose it's marketing -- one wants to say "hi-res monitor," not "high pixel count monitor," since that would lead to inevitable abbreviation ("high-pc monitor"), which would likely further devolve into "high-pc PC."

Thanks also for the link to the Dan's Data post. I always forget how good that site's content is. Every one of the links therein to Chen's blog are well worth following, too.

If you like geek humor, I mean.


Posted by
Alastair
2007-07-22 06:26:41 -0500
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I agree that pixel density is a more logical definition of resolution. But since when did the definitions of words rely on logic?

To reiterate: the pixel width-and-height definition is by far the more commonly used. Despite some dissent on the talk page, Wikipedia backs me up. (Not exactly a proof either, but surely better than counting the number of hits returned from a google definition search!) As another data point, look at the technical specifications of any current model display, and see what it says under "resolution". Betyou it has x & y pixel counts.

As for the alternatives to resolution in the pixel width-and-height sense. "Screen Size?" Sorry, completely misleading. I saw a 105" plasma (yes 105") at a trade show last week. That was a large screen size. However it could only display "true HD" which I take to mean 1080 horizontal rows of pixels. Which apparently makes it a smaller "screen size" than my 24" desktop monitor with 1200 rows? That's just wrong.

Someone on the Wikipedia talk page suggests "image resolution" instead, which isn't really any help in my opinion. Also "frame size" is just as confusing. I'd rather live with the two definitions of resolution.


Posted by
Aristotle Pagaltzis
2007-07-22 06:26:41 -0500
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To reiterate: the pixel width-and-height definition is by far the more commonly used.

Um… is it?

If you remove the bias from your sample by adding printers, telescopes, microscopes, and so on, your perspective might change just a bit.

I doubt the rest of the world cares that the computer people decided to confuse themselves by overloading a word with preexisting meaning.


Posted by
Alastair
2007-07-22 06:26:41 -0500
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I doubt the rest of the world cares that the computer people decided to confuse themselves by overloading a word with preexisting meaning.

Absolutely. And that's kindof my point. "Resolution" has entered the common lexicon and we (scientist types) have to get over it. Kindof like the fact that the word "theory" has acquired a meaning completely outside of the scientific realm. I don't like it any more than you (probably) do, but it must be acknowledged.

The appropriation of meaning sometimes goes the other way. Can I suggest that your use of the word "overload" here is guided more by computer science jargon rather than its traditional, mildly pejorative, meaning?