Envisioning the Technology
As early as 2001, IBM sowed the seeds of the HDWeb when the company released, for limited distribution, the 204-ppi (pixels per inch), 22.2-inch T220 monitor, with a suggested retail price of $22,000. ViewSonic and IDTech subsequently licensed the technology, and by 2003, the cost of a 204-ppi display had come down to the somewhat less outrageous price of $8,500—making the monitors affordable for specialized corporate use, but still years away from arriving in the average home. At that time, IDTech Japan announced the arrival of the “Era of New Visualization,” saying “A monitor displaying huge amounts of digital data on one screen and near reality images is now realized….”
Usage in the Field of Medical Imaging
High-resolution monitors are already in wide use in the field of medical imaging. Both doctors and technicians use three- and four-megapixel grayscale monitors to evaluate x-rays and other monochromatic images. And remote evaluations using secured connections—across the country and even across the globe—are becoming a regular, if not commonplace, part of many hospitals’ workflows. According to “Medical Imaging” magazine, Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans, ultrasound, and 3D-imaging software are driving the demand for high-res color displays as well.
Back to Near Reality
There are some high-res options for those of us who lack the IT budget of a major hospital as well. The 23-inch, 2.3-megapixel (1920 x 1200) Cinema Display from Apple is $1299, and the price of the Planar 21-inch, nearly 2-megapixel (1600 x 1200) flat-screen monitor is under $900. Display resolutions are increasing, and the price of the high-res display technology is falling.
Designing for the Low-Res World
Digital designers have a love/hate relationship with 72-ppi screens. The visual requirements of low-resolution displays have both burdened and spoiled designers. The constraints of low-res displays can be frustrating—blurry font rendering, lack of sharpness in photographs, and disappearing detail in graphics. People viewing large volumes of financial data—and other applications in which detail is critical—must use multiple monitors or print out files. On the other hand, the low-resolution environment has been freeing for digital designers as well. Photos and other graphic elements—for example, a small JPEG file—that would be completely unsuitable for print media might serve very well on a Web site.
But high-res displays will soon take away these limitations. What does 9 megapixels of screen real estate look like? Rather than create user interfaces for 800 x 600 screens or even the increasingly popular 1600 x 1200, digital designers will face a whopping 3840 x 2400 screen. What will we do with over ten times the detail of our current displays?
What Digital Designers Can Learn from the HDTV Transition
The sweeping changes that high-definition technology is bringing to the medium of television can provide us with a basic understanding of how high-resolution displays will change the Web.
First, the transition will be brutal. To accommodate the different grades of equipment viewers have, television companies are currently delivering the same content over multiple channels, which is why we often see the phrase “Broadcast in HDTV, Where Available” on our TV screens. Over time, there has been a gradual increase in the number of shows broadcast in HD, starting with those that have the highest profile and the greatest popularity. However, with the Federal Communications Commission deadline for HDTV transition set in 2006, stations have applied for waivers by the hundreds. Industry observers project that it could take up to fifteen more years for a complete transition to HDTV.
For digital designers, a chaotic landscape with multiple standards is not unusual. The Web is in constant transition, with new technologies fighting for space. And accommodating audiences with varying screen sizes, connection speeds, and technical savvy is all in a day’s work. However, with a greater range of monitor resolutions and sizes, creating experiences that serve both low- and high-res requirements will challenge digital designers. For instance, designers and consumers may demand that the rudimentary image-scaling functions of today’s Web browsers become more robust, so users can cleanly scale down high-res images to the proper size for their screens. It’s more likely that Web sites and applications will—like television broadcasts and the current high-bandwidth and low-bandwidth versions of some Web sites—need to support two different formats.
The day of high-res displays isn’t far off. Even now, designers are discussing how their interface designs can use the expanded screen real estate—1600 x 1200 pixels and larger—that new flat-screen monitors offer over traditional monitors.