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Microsoft: Surface screen better than iPad Retina display

updated 12:50 am EDT, Wed October 17, 2012

Three-prong approach to quality display taken

According to Stevie Bathich, Microsoft's applied sciences department manager, the lower resolution display on the Surface Windows RT tablet is better to read on than the iPads Retina display. Bathich claims that a statistic known as "modulation transfer function" (MTF) is the primary metric that should be used when judging devices for readability, and that the Surface tablet scores higher than the current-generation iPad.

Bathich describes MTF as a derived specification, and a combination of contrast and resolution. The engineer goes on to say that "as resolution/DPI increases, the eye has becomes less sensitive. So as a result, the amount of light in a room and the reflections off the screen have a huge effect on the contrast of the display. In fact, a small amount of reflection can greatly reduce contrast and thus the perceived resolution of the display."

Microsoft claims to have taken a three-prong approach to display quality. The first prong, Microsoft's Windows-exclusive ClearType anti-aliasing technology is described by Bathich as "the best pixel rendering technology in the industry." The intent of the Retina display technology is to make the individual pixels in a curve such as found in type indistinguishable to the eye, and as such, not requiring anti-aliasing algorithms to blur adjacent pixels to mimic a higher resolution. Microsoft's claims that ClearType being part of what defines a more readable display seems to be a different approach to the problem of a lower resolution display and readability than the direction Apple has taken with a high-DPI display.

A custom 10.6-inch high-contrast display, optically bonded with the "thinnest optical stack anywhere on the market" is the second and third prong of the effort to increase the readability of the device. Microsoft claims that in side-by-side comparisons with the iPad in a consistently lit room, it has "had many people see more detail on Surface RT than on the Ipad with more resolution."

The Windows RT tablet has a 1366x768 resolution. The upcoming Windows 8 Pro Surface tablet has a 1920x1080 display, closer to that of the current generation iPad at 2048x1536 than the RT-based device. Microsoft has as of yet not compared the higher resolution display on the Windows 8 Pro Surface tablet to the current-generation iPad.



By Electronista Staff
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  1. coffeetime

    Mac Enthusiast

    Joined: 11-15-06

    With all the hi tech talk at the beginning, at the end it's only 1920x1080 vs. iPad's 2048x1536. Microsoft, you are really funny. I am sure the square shape interface from MS will look super crispy even on a 50dpi resolution.

  1. nowwhatareyoulookingat

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 07-13-09

    coffeetime, they aren't even comparing the 1920x1080 display, they are saying the 1366x768 display is better than the iPad's display.

    This is just Microsoft bait, to try to get people to post stuff about these convertible netbooks.

  1. Spheric Harlot

    Clinically Insane

    Joined: 11-07-99

    Don't get hung up on the resolution.

    As with cameras, resolution is only one of many variables that affect image quality.

    I'm not saying Microsoft has a leg to stand on, mind you, but it is conceivable that they might have a point.

  1. Durandalus

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 01-21-01

    ClearType, the destroyer of typography. No thanks.

  1. P

    Moderator

    Joined: 04-07-00

    Originally Posted by NewsPosterView Post


    The first prong, Microsoft's Windows-exclusive ClearType anti-aliasing technology is described by Bathich as "the best pixel rendering technology in the industry." The intent of the Retina display technology is to make the individual pixels in a curve such as found in type indistinguishable to the eye, and as such, not requiring anti-aliasing algorithms to blur adjacent pixels to mimic a higher resolution. Microsoft's claims that ClearType being part of what defines a more readable display seems to be a different approach to the problem of a lower resolution display and readability than the direction Apple has taken with a high-DPI display.


    Cleartype is nothing more than simple subpixel rendering, a technology patented by none other than Steve Wozniak in the seventies. Mac OS X has had it since 10.2. iOS could easily enable it but does not, because of the way an iPhone/iPad display is generally rotated all the time - subpixel rendering relies on the display being in a consistent direction.

    And in either case: subpixel rendering will increase the horisontal resolution by a factor three (for a normal LCD). That's pointless if the pixels are already too small to see. MS is basically saying that a) we don't like the way antialiased text looks, we like the MS-DOS look much better than printed type, so we didn't implement that, and b) our display resolution is so crappy that we had to cheat in a way that only works in one orientation, hope you don't notice.

    High contrast is important, however, MS has a point there.

  1. pairof9s

    Mac Enthusiast

    Joined: 01-03-08

    What a canny way to convince people to pay the same price for Surface's cheaper display...just classic Microsoft Spin™. It's like saying "Look, a beach is a beach...so my Everglades beach property is just as valuable as your Malibu beach"

  1. BigMac2

    Forum Regular

    Joined: 12-17-00

    Originally Posted by NewsPosterView Post

    Microsoft's Windows-exclusive ClearType anti-aliasing technology is described by Bathich as "the best pixel rendering technology in the industry."



    This sentence negate all credibility from this guy. Subpixel rendering is a cheap way to get around low resolution screen at the price of chroma artefacts. According to this guy with his metric, e-paper device like the Kindle are worst for reading than Surfaces display. What a non-sense.

    Before comparing the Surface display with anything else I'll wait for real analysis from DisplayMate.

  1. davidlfoster

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 12-06-05

    Can you say spin?

  1. panjandrum

    Junior Member

    Joined: 12-01-04

    Actually, the key here might be the testing conditions; they specifically say they are in a "consistently lit room." If they have a good anti-glare technology then Microsoft may well have a valid point. Unfortunately Apple has not moved away from extremely reflective screens in many of their products, despite the fact that poll after poll shows that people prefer non-glare (matte) over glossy screens. We've all seen the arguments before, so no need to re-hash them here. While I certainly agree that, in the correct conditions, the iPad 3's display is absolutely stunning - and I'm sure the test results would be different if Apple setup the test in a room arranged with lighting that didn't interfere with the picture on the iPad's screen. But in real-life use, such as a normally-lit room, I can definitely see how Microsoft got the results you see above because many people find glossy screens nearly unusable.

    For everyone who now says "I love glossy screens", that's fine - it is your right to prefer glossy screens. That puts you, however, in an overwhelming minority (you'll notice if you go look at computer monitors at a store, that nearly all of them have gone back to matte). You could be one of the lucky people who's eyes are not tricked into focusing on the wrong image. Here is a page that links to many polls on the subject:

    http://macmatte.wordpress.com/review-of-glossy-matte-poll-results/

    For those who legitimately don't have problems with glossy screens, this wikipedia page has an excellent example of what glossy screens look like to many people, so you can understand the magnitude of the problem.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glossy_display

  1. hayesk

    Professional Poster

    Joined: 09-17-99

    MTF may be applicable for distinguishing 1 pixel wide lines, but most text is wider than that. So super-light thin fonts might be harder to read on a retina screen if there is a lot of glare, than on a lower res screen, but that's a big if.

    Other than that, it's a huge load of BS.

  1. aristotles

    Grizzled Veteran

    Joined: 07-16-04

    Originally Posted by Spheric HarlotView Post

    Don't get hung up on the resolution.
    As with cameras, resolution is only one of many variables that affect image quality.
    I'm not saying Microsoft has a leg to stand on, mind you, but it is conceivable that they might have a point.


    Are you actually serious? We are talking about typography here, not photographs. They do not have a point. They are trying to suggest that a 768P display with cleartype smoothing for text is easier to read than a retina display. It is pure FUD. When your have a high DPI display, there is no need for font smoothing.

    As someone who has owned the original iPad and iPad 2 in the past, I can attest to the superior readability of the iPad 3 display. It is like night and day. I would even go as far as to say that it is more comfortable to read than an e-Ink display as most of them are really low resolution and low contrast making it a bit hard to read in many cases.

  1. winstef

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 02-12-06

    It's Balmerlicious!

  1. another_steve

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 08-27-03

    Originally Posted by Spheric HarlotView Post

    Don't get hung up on the resolution.
    As with cameras, resolution is only one of many variables that affect image quality.
    I'm not saying Microsoft has a leg to stand on, mind you, but it is conceivable that they might have a point.



    The camera resolution analogy doesn't really apply here. With cameras, if you add resolution and keep everything else the same, you end up with more noise which in turn can actually make the image worse. That's not the case here, so let's not pretend otherwise. Color would be another factor, but the latest iPad screen is pretty much top notch there as well.

    Subpixel anti-aliasing does help image text quality. However, what Microsoft isn't telling people is that there display will only work in landscape mode. Also, if you have enough resolution (hence the retina name), it's not needed. Further, I'm not sure what basis Microsoft is using for claiming their implementation is the best. From my experience, it's the worse. They distort text to fit a grid rather than be true to the shape of a font. Best? Not hardly.

    This is simply BS marketing on Microsoft's part that clearly doesn't provide the full picture. They are coming up with non-standard metrics in an attempt to sell their product. Consumers should ask, which screen costs more to produce (the low resolution Surface screen, or the high resolution iPad screen) if they have any doubts.

  1. mytdave

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 08-16-00

    M$ spin, plain and simple. There is no amount of anti-aliasing on a low res screen that will provide a better image than an actual real pixel on a super high res screen. What nonsense!

    There is only one valid point - contrast. You have to get it just right or the image looks awful. Glare affects contrast. A screen without glare wins every time. Does the M$ screen actually reduce glare compared to the iPad? By how much? Even if there is less glare, the image is still not better, it's just more comfortable on the eyes (no squinting, etc.).

    I cursed the day Apple adopted the glossy screen for their products, just like all the other hacks out there. Well, now the industry is turning away from glossy, and Apple better get their act together in this department. Apple should know that while I was once a purchaser of Apple monitors, I stopped when they went glossy, and now my display business goes to those who produce matte displays (mostly to HP these days).

    The glossy issue becomes more of a problem for touch-screen devices, due to the nature of the product (gotta touch the screen, which means glass). Fortunately Apple is making good progress in this area with the new bonding process of the screen/glass which is reducing glare. Now if they'll just add an anti-glare coating to it, like good old fashioned CRT monitors had, then the whole problem just might be solved.

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