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Andrew Cunningham


The Galaxy S 4's display is a sizable step forward for PenTile AMOLED, according to DisplayMate's Raymond Soneira.

Florence Ion

We've already given you our subjective impressions of Samsung's Galaxy S 4 and its 1080p AMOLED display, but for those of you who hunger for quantitative data, Dr. Raymond Soneira of DisplayMate has given the phone an in-depth shakedown. Soneira compares the screen's brightness, contrast, color gamut, and power consumption to both the Galaxy S III (which also uses an AMOLED display) and the IPS panel in the iPhone 5. What he found was that Samsung's AMOLED technology is still fighting against some of its inherent weaknesses, but it has made great strides forward even since the Galaxy S III was released last year.

To recap: both the S III and S 4 use PenTile AMOLED screens, which use a slightly different pixel arrangement than traditional LCD screens. A pixel in a standard LCD panel has one red, one green, and one blue stripe; PenTile uses alternating red-green-blue-green subpixels, taking advantage of the eye's sensitivity to green to display the same image using fewer total subpixels. These screens cost less to manufacture but can have issues with color accuracy and text crispness. The backlight for each type of display is also different—white LEDs behind the iPhone's display shine through the red, green, and blue subpixels to create an image, while the AMOLED subpixels are self-lit. This has implications for brightness, contrast, and power consumption.


A close-up shot of PenTile AMOLED in the Nexus One, when the tech was much less mature. Luke Hutchinson

We'll try to boil Soneira's findings down to their essence. One of the S 4's benefits over its predecessor is (obviously) its pixel density, which at 441 ppi is considerably higher than either its predecessor or the iPhone 5. Soneira says that this helps it to overcome the imbalance between PenTile's green subpixels and its less numerous red and blue ones, which all but banishes PenTile's "fuzzy text" issues:

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adeelarshad82 writes "Oculus VR Rift is a one of the seventeen kickstarter projects to raise more than a million dollars in 2012 and a recently published hands-on shows exactly why it was so successful. Using Oculus VR Rift with the upcoming Infinity Blade and a modified version of Unreal Tournament 3, the analyst found that the 3D effect and head tracking provided a great sense of immersion. At one point while playing Infinity Blade, the analyst describes walking around the guards and watching their swords shift as he stepped, seeming like they were inches from cutting him. While he felt that the demo was impressive, he found that the software limitations made the whole experience a bit unrealistic. Needless to say that Oculus Rift is a long way from hitting stores but Oculus VR is getting ready to ship developer kits."

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When I wrote about TN LCD panels 5 years ago, I considered them acceptable, despite their overall mediocrity, mostly due to the massive price difference.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of LCDs on the market now are TN. You can opt to pay a little bit more for one of the few models with *VA – if there are any available in the size you want. *-IPS is widely considered the best all around LCD display technology, but it is rapidly being pushed into the vertical "pro" graphics designer market due to the big jump in price. It's usually not an option, unless you're willing to pay more than twice as much for a monitor.

But when the $499 iPad 3 delivers an amazingly high resolution IPS panel that's almost reference quality, I found myself a whole lot less satisfied with the 27" TN LCDs on my desktop. And on my laptop. And everywhere else in my life.

I'll spare you all the exposition and jump to the punchline. I am now the proud owner of three awesome high resolution (2560x1440) 27" IPS LCDs, and I paid less than a thousand dollars for all three of them.

Three Korean LCDs

(If you're curious about the setup, I use Ergotron monitor arms to fit everything in there.)

I won't deny that it is a little weird, because everything is in Korean. I replaced the Korean 3 prong power cord in the power brick with a regular US power cord I had laying around. But a monitor is a monitor, and the IPS panel is stunning. The difference between TN and IPS is vast in every measurable dimension. No bad pixels on these three panels, either. Although, as my friend Scott Wasson of Tech Report fame says, "every pixel on a TN panel is a bad pixel".

How is this possible? You can thank Korea. All three of these monitors were ordered from Korean eBay vendors, where a great 27" IPS LCD goes for the equivalent of around $250 in local currency. They tack on $100 for profit and shipping to the USA, then they're in business. It's definitely a grey market, but something is clearly out of whack, because no domestic monitor of similar quality and size can be had for anything under $700.

I wanted to get this out there, because I'm not sure how long this grey market will last, and these monitors are truly incredible deals. Heck, it's worth it just to get out of the awful TN display ghetto most of us are stuck in. Scott Wasson got the exact same model of Korean LCD I did, and his thorough review concludes:

Even with those last couple of quirks uncovered, I still feel like I won this thing in a drawing or something. $337 for a display of this quality is absolutely worth it, in my view. You just need to keep your eyes open to the risks going into the transaction, risks I hope I've illustrated in the preceding paragraphs. In many ways, grabbing a monitor like this one on the cheap from eBay is the ultimate tinkerer's gambit. It's risky, but the payoff is huge: a combination of rainbow-driven eye-socket ecstasy and the satisfying knowledge that you paid less than half what you might pay elsewhere for the same experience.

There are literally dozens of variants of these Korean 27" LCDs, but the model I got is the FSM-270YG. Before you go rushing off to type ebay.com in your browser address bar, remember that these are bare-bones monitors being shipped from Korea. They work great, don't get me wrong, but they are the definition of no-frills:

  • Build quality is acceptable, but it's hardly Jony Ive Approved™.
  • These are glossy panels. Some other variants offer matte, if that's your bag.
  • They only support basic dual-link DVI inputs, and nothing, I mean nothing else.
  • There is no on-screen display. The only functional controls are power and brightness (this one caught me out; you must hold down the brightness adjustment for many, many seconds before you see a change.)

Although the noise-to-signal ratio is off the charts, it might be worth visiting the original overclock.net thread on these inexpensive Korean monitors. There's some great info buried in there, if you can manage to extract it from the chaos. And if you're looking for a teardown of this particular FSM-270YG model (minus the OSD, though), check out the TFT Central review.

In the past, I favored my wallet over my eyes, and chose TN. I now deeply regret that decision. But the tide is turning, and high quality IPS displays are no longer extortionately expensive, particularly if you buy them directly from Korea. Is it a little risky? Sure, but all signs point to the risk being fairly low.

In the end, I decided my eyes deserve better than TN. Maybe yours do too.

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last day monitors

Screens with a 1024×768 resolution are a bit like Windows XP: there have long been better options, but they still remained the most often used screens on the web. That is, until now. According to the latest data from StatCounter, 1366×768 screens just surpassed 1024×768 as the most popular screen resolution used by the visitors to StatCounter’s global network of sites. Three years ago, 1024×768 still accounted for almost 42% of all visitors to the roughly three million sites that use StatCounter. Today, that number has fallen to 18.6% and 1366×768 screens now account for 19.28%, up from just 0.68% in May 2009.

It’s worth noting that these are global numbers. In Europe, the higher-resolution screens already overtook their predecessors late last year and in the U.S., 1024×768 still holds on to the top spot (but just barely).

Another resolution that is slowly declining in usage is 1280×800. This used to be an especially popular resolution on laptops, but most modern machines now offer higher resolutions.

For the most part, though, what sadly hasn’t changed much in recent years is the pixel density of these displays. This may change once Apple brings its Retina displays to its MacBook line, but right now, it’s almost as hard to find a small display with a very high resolution in a mainstream machine as it is to find a screen that isn’t widescreen.


Among those who will be happy to hear these numbers is surely Microsoft, which long ago decided that it would target 1366×768 as the standard resolution for Windows 8. To effectively use Windows 8′s Metro user interface, for example, 1366×768 is the minimum resolution, though it will run on 1024×768 screens as well. According to Microsoft’s own statistics, only 1.2% of active Windows 7 users currently have screens with resolutions of less than 1024×768 and just under 5% still use 1024×768 screens.

[image credit: Flickr user Vladimir Morozov]

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Prismatica” is a new piece by Kit Webster. He attached pyramid-shaped crystals to an LCD screen and made a programmed geometric animation precisely mapped to the vertices of the crystals, illuminating them individually and in formation. The animations are further refracted through the geometry of the crystals in accordance with the shifting perspective of the observer, which in turn alters the way the illuminations appear and interact with reflections of surrounding lights within the space.

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After posting my Screensaver Culture presentation yesterday it was blogged on Creative Applications by Greg Smith and I’ve gotten quite a few responses on Twitter. Some of the comments are on point and some are just funny.

Below is a more or less complete list. In summary, the arguments are roughly as follows:

  • “Screensavers are outdated / unnecessary.” Well, yes. But that has never meant much in terms of deciding whether a cultural phenomenom succeeds or is banished to the Wasteland of Forgotten Memes. Tamagotchis or animated GIFs, anyone? 90% of all iPhone / Android apps are unnecessary for everyday living, yet the smartphone app culture is a runaway train.
  • “Developing screensavers is currently way too hard.” I share this sentiment and suspect it to the main culprit along with its corollary: “Installing screensavers is too hard / scary / likely to mess with the rest of my computer.”
  • “It’s impossible to improve on flying toasters.” This terrifying thought is exactly why I would suggest screensavers need revisiting.

In conclusion: Between being tricky to develop and just as tricky to install and successfully use, screensavers stand no chance of recovering ground as a cultural phenomenom. Despite their close link to the app culture that is currently dominating our lives, screensavers (aka “ambient software”) will get no love.

This might not seem like such a terrible loss, but I still posit that ambient data gadgets with possible integration to web / mobile apps would’ve been a great usage scenario. There are some ways this could still happen:

  • Microsoft and Apple realize the lost potential and relaunch their screensaver frameworks complete with app stores for screensavers. (Unlikely.)
  • Google develops a screensaver mode for Chrome as part of their Chrome apps initiative and allows sales of screensavers through the Chrome app store. (Entirely possible if a little optimistic. My favorite option by far, though. Google, are you listening?)
  • In both these scenarios, new screensavers would be based on HTML5 with WebGL, allowing them to be cross-platform and based on open standards. Because you all understand that proprietary is stupid, right?

A sad footnote: I had to uninstall the brilliant Briblo screensaver after realizing it was interfering with the taskbar on Windows 7. So I’m back to the ever popular blank screen, like so much of the world population.

The Tweets

@mariuswatz Screensavers tie us to nuclear power!

— Dragan Espenschied (@despens) January 16, 2012

@mariuswatz I thought screensavers were obsolete. I guess that makes them a good platform for art.

— Jesse L Rosenberg (@nervous_jesse) January 16, 2012

@mariuswatz computers are no longer unused long enough to trigger the screen saver

— noisia (@noisia) January 16, 2012

@mariuswatz who has screensavers these days? LCD screens just go to black on powersave.

— Danny Birchall (@dannybirchall) January 16, 2012

@mariuswatz I’m not sure it’s possible to improve on flying toasters…

— Rob Myers (@robmyers) January 16, 2012

@mariuswatz would love to make screensavers. But they are really hard to create on the Mac using Cinder or openFrameworks.

— Jan Vantomme (@vormplus) January 16, 2012

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The holodeck: a room that can create an interactive 3-D hologram of just about any environment you can think of. It’s been the dream of Star Trek nerds ever since The Next Generation debuted on TV. Well brace yourself, Trekkies, and try not to soil those Starfleet unitards in glee. The U.S. intelligence community had heard your prayers and is now taking a step towards building its own holographic simulator.

Iarpa, the intelligence community’s advanced research outfit, announced this month that’s it’s embarking on a Synthetic Holographic Observation (SHO) program, a quest to build a system that lets intel analysts collaborate with each other using interactive 3-D holographic displays.

Before you get too excited, SHO isn’t going to be an exact replica of the holodeck. Instead of a geometrically patterned room on board the Enterprise, the holograms will come from workstations here on earth. While Iarpa’s announcement promises “dynamic, color, high-performance” holograms, the all-around holographic environment that’s indistinguishable from reality is still a long ways off. In the meantime, Iarpa’s program will rely on synthetic, electronically reproduced light fields.

SHO is bringing part of the holodeck concept one small step closer to reality, though. The program is aimed at generating 3-D displays that let analysts get a better feel for the mountains of imagery that the intelligence community collects. In particular, SHO needs to render conventional imagery and LIDAR (light detection and ranging) into holographic light fields. LIDAR bounces beams of light off objects in a manner not too different from conventional radar, allowing users to quickly make 3-D images and maps.

Just generating a hologram from aerial imagery isn’t enough, though. SHO needs to be able to let multiple analysts work together on the same image at the same time. To do that, it has to be interactive. Iarpa’s asking prospective builders to make a hologram that analysts can navigate and manipulate in ways that regular maps don’t allow.

This isn’t the defense world’s first foray into the world of holograms. Some projects, like the “Face of Allah,” have aimed at beaming a 3-D image of a deity over the battlefield in hopes of striking fear of the divine into the hearts of the enemy. Darpa’s contract with Vuzix of Rochester, New York is a little closer to SHO’s goals. Vuzix is building eyewear that would give troops on the ground a holographic image of nearby air assets and allow them to call in airstrikes with greater precision.

Unlike the battlefield hologlasses, eyewear-based devices need not apply for SHO. Iarapa wants its holographic displays to be visible to the naked eye.

Analysts’ eyeballs are a special concern for IARPA, too. Conventional 3-D technology can lead to eye strain when used for long periods of time. Iarpa needs analysts to use SHO for long periods of time so those pitching a holographic system need to make systems that are easy on the eyes over extended use.

Iarpa’s announcement provides a few examples of how they’d like to use their holographic system. During the testing phase, it wants to see how holograhic systems work on LIDAR data of urban environments and terrain, and conventional imagery of buildings and airspace.

But for a more real-life example of how holographic displays could be useful, take the bin Laden raid as a test case. In that instance, the intel community’s imagery nerds used satellites and airborne sensors to snap all kinds of imagery of the terror leader’s Abbotabad crib. That imagery helped Navy SEALs build a real life mockup of Chez bin Laden at Bagram Air Field. And it may have led the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency — the intel community imagery exploitation shop — to make virtual models of the compound with its software.

If SHO can move past the prototype phase, imagery analysts would be able to quickly generate immersive models of a high-value target’s lair. Multiple analysts and personnel could take a virtual stroll through the building and help plot a raid without ever having to visit the real-world replica.

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