Microsoft is building Windows 8 to handle a wide range of screen resolutions. But it's unclear whether hardware makers will take advantage.
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Microsoft said it is building support for multiple screen resolutions into its new Windows 8 operating system, including support for resolutions that will match the new iPad screen's sharpness and clarity.
"Windows 8 is designed to grow and improve as the display ecosystem grows and improves," said Microsoft Windows group president Steven Sinofsky, in a blog post. "Our goal is to support the broadest range of display technologies so PC makers can build PCs or you can use external displays that provide the best experience for your needs."
The new iPad has won rave reviews for the crispness of text and the vibrancy of photos and video on its "retina" display, which boasts a resolution of 2048 pixels by 1536 pixels, at 264 pixels per inch on a 9.7-inch screen. Microsoft said that Windows 8 will support a resolution of at least 2560 pixels by 1440 pixels, at 291 pixels per inch on a 10.1-inch tablet.
In other words, Windows 8 appears to be capable of matching or besting Apple's retina display in pixel density. "Windows will support just about any screen dimension so long as the graphics driver and hardware combination provide the correct information to Windows," said David Washington, senior program manager on the Windows 8 user experience team.
That, of course, is the catch. Windows 8 is inherently capable of displaying pixels at retina display-like resolutions, but there's no guarantee that hardware makers are going to produce devices that actually operate at that level. There also are other factors beyond pixels, such as brightness, contrast, and screen coating that go into making the new iPad's retina display the current state-of-the-art in tablets.
Apple also makes its own hardware, and is thus completely in control of the display quality that iOS needs to support. Washington noted that the new iPad screen has twice the pixel density of its predecessor. "Because iOS and developers only need to support the predefined resolutions, they only need to design for this one additional scaling factor," he said.
Microsoft is working in a more complex ecosystem, and is engineering Windows 8 to support numerous display resolutions on multiple types of platforms, from tablets to high-def TVs. Despite that diversity, the company is working to give users as consistent an experience as possible regardless of what type of device they're using, said Washington.
"Windows 8 has been designed to provide developers with the easiest way to reliably build software that works on the widest variety of hardware, and to provide consumers with the most consistently rich experience using that software," he said.
On Metro-style tablets, Windows 8 normally will support resolutions ranging from 1024 pixels by 768 pixels to the previously mentioned 2560 pixels by 1440 pixels. Support for apps below 1024 pixels by 768 pixels would make for a lousy visual experience, according to Microsoft. The company also said that its research shows that only 1.2% of Windows 7 users have systems with screens below that resolution.
Common screen resolutions for Windows 8 on PCs and laptops will range from 1366 pixels by 768 pixels on 14-inch screens, up to 1920 pixels by 1080 pixels on 17-inch screens. On larger systems that Microsoft refers to as media hubs, Windows 8 normally will support resolutions from 1920 pixels by 1080 pixels on 23-inch screens to 2560 pixels by 1440 pixels on 27-inch screens. It also can support screens of 30 inches and larger.
To run all the features of Windows 8, including multitasking with Snap, which enables the display of a Metro app alongside the traditional Windows desktop, users will need a system with a display resolution of at least 1366 pixels by 768 pixels. Windows 8 devices are expected to be available starting in October.
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