Resolution, Exhibit A (of A-Z)

tHE FOLLOWING IS a requested response to Bill Hill from its author to me.

Wow, posted below two videos, who could ask for more. Who’s managing their rendering in the long term? Never mind, we’ll get to that later.

I’ve known font expert Bill Hill for many years, and have always enjoyed his colorful rendering of everything having to do with type. But colorful rendering of type itself, now that's another thing. I’ve watched ClearType from its infancy, experimented extensively with the ClearType font collection and other Windows font products used in Microsoft Office programs and... elsewhere on Vista. I’ve examined the ClearType patent and clinical studies of ClearType, and I’ve been down into the hints, flags and contours, as well as through details so arcane it’d drive a sane person to Green Stamp collection. But I intend to do more. For now, though, I’d just like to address half of the resolution issue Bill has raised in his post.

Well, actually, I’m here to undress it, like the Emperor’s new clothes. This insistence that higher resolution ‘Will Come’ and ‘Save’ reading on the web, and save Microsoft’s ClearType, and presumably Apple’s Quartz along the way, is pretty far-fetched. How far-fetched? Let’s see, it took 20 years, from 1986 until 2006 for screen resolutions to crawl, generally, from 72 dots per inch or less, to 96 dpi or more, (...are we done yet?).

20 years is a long time in today’s culture, and that was only, generally, a 33% increase in resolution. It was enough to cast type from its long-sat one-pixel-per-stem perch, into the fuzzy land of mostly ad hoc anti-aliased rendering we see today, with 1.3 pixels-per-stem. It was also an increase so small and gradual that it didn't upset the scale of the mostly unscalable database of web-published images in the world. It was also pretty cheap, from 72 dpi or less, to 96 dpi, with the cost of new displays actually falling.

What’s next? Well, Bill Hill says we are going to have display resolutions climb up into the 200 dpi range, roughly a 200% increase in resolution. He already has one of these displays! And, this coming increase makes us hopeful for type on screens to improve by engineering, not art or craft. But has this ever happened before? I mean, has technology ever morphed and rearranged itself to deal with what is exclusively a type problem?

80 dpi is what one finds on Google when one searches for “highest resolution television”. 80 dpi! I’m sure they are lying, and my calculation was quick, but I’ve done this before. HDTV, video, LDTV, DVD, do not require 200 dpi for clarity. What drives modern markets and technology in this world is image quality. What happens, and has happened to type over the millennia of its existence, is that it’s design, making and use, folds into the needs of the wider world’s imagery, with whatever quality that brings. The world does not fold neatly around the needs of type.

In addition, 2 billion users upgrading to 200 dpi at only $1,500 each would cost — my calculator says “3e+12”, my speech reader says “three times ten to the twelfth” — a very big number. Even if that spending and manufacturing were spread out over a decade or two, what it means is that all the unscalable internet objects, including pages, either shrink, get re-rendered, or convert to scaleable objects, for the sake of type? And, all this works on multiple platforms in a resolution range from 72 to 240 dpi?

Hmmm. Let me plan this coronation later. For now, I think it is safe to assume we are headed for access to universal reading with the resolution we’ve got. Where does this leave all those bitching and moaning, scrapping and fighting, screaming and yelling, biting and hitting, mud slinging, name calling, 911 dependent, font experts?

Don’t ask me, I’m a type designer.

That was half of the resolution story. The other half: “What the hell is resolution, to type, anyway!?”, soon! Who’s managing their rendering in the long term?

Your Thoughts (2 comments)

2008-03-11 by Varge McMillan


Could you please fix this site so that it's not impossible to read? (The "Simplify" button is not a solution.) Thanks!

2008-03-20 by David Berlow

Not to Varge in. . .

Making web sites "readable" across platforms is a matter of taste, if possible at all. The "simplify" button for this site, makes the text type "up to you". If the site is courteous enough to allow you to do so, then I at least, count myself lucky to have found it. Otherwise, how did you like Opera? (My search - "VARGE MCMILLAN" - did not match any documents.) And, you're welcome!

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