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ClearType on Tablets

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  • User profile image
    DeathBy​VisualStudio

    @SimonJ: So does that mean they did drop sub pixel rendering from the desktop?

    If we all believed in unicorns and fairies the world would be a better place.
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    JoshRoss

    @DeathByVisualStudio: They half dropped it. In some places it works, like Chrome; in other places, like Internet Explorer, it does't. I'm not sure what is worse, the fact that font rendering is totally inconsistent, or that ClearType doesn't work in the Flagship application of Windows 8.

    -Josh

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    DeathBy​VisualStudio

    @JoshRoss: I'm glad to see "No Compromise" is still in full effect as is "Microsoft; We no compromise". Let's hope it's just a bug.

    "No Compromise" is going to haunt them like GW Bush's "Read my lips... no new taxes."

    If we all believed in unicorns and fairies the world would be a better place.
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    JoshRoss

    @DeathByVisualStudio: Speaking of no compromise, WTH is this?

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    billhill49

    I found the link to this discussion when looking at traffic to my blog:

    The Future of Reading http://billhillsblog.blogspot.com/

    As one of the inventors of ClearType, I was always highly aware that it was a transitional technology, with a shelf life. It was invented to solve the problem of displaying text at the sizes human vision requires, on displays which at that time (1998) were 88 - 110 pixels per inch (Clustered at the lower end of that range).

    Bill Gates told us that the technology had enabled sustained reading on screens some 5-10 years earlier than it otherwise could have happened, and I think that's true. I always believed that when mainstream screen resolution reached a certain point, it would become redundant. 

    The same year ClearType was invented, I had a 204ppi IBM desktop monitor in my office. ClearType still gave a small advantage on that display. But it was a much smaller improvement than you got at, say 110ppi. The LCD technology in that display was not at all innovative, apart from the pixel size. LCD technology has improved a lot since then, with technologies such as In-Plane Switching, better color gamut, and so on, in addition to the improved resolution.

    I found the first iPads quite acceptable for sustained reading, despite a slight blurriness (which font choice could improve. The new iBooks fonts Apple shipped last year showed a big improvement - especially Iowan, which I use all the time).

    The new iPad has a screen resolution of 264 ppi, and a highly-innovative construction which avoids one of the problems from which that old IBM display suffered: that as you increase the number of pixels and decrease their size, the black wiring tracks between them take up a greater and greater proportion of the screen area. In effect, you're reducing light transmission, and you have to crank up backlight power to compensate, which of course also means more drain on the battery of a portable device.

    The iPad does not, of course, use ClearType. But it is without question the best onscreen reading experience I have ever seen or used. Interestingly enough, with the addition of an Apple wireless keyboard and the Origami stand/keyboard case, it is also without question the best writing tool I have ever used. I'm typing on it now. It has spoiled me for every other system I've ever had.

    When you reach >250ppi, you have passed through a threshold. Any further increase in resolution will bring a perceived improvement so small that it might not even be noticed.

    So, my view is that Apple has now set the bar for screen reading quality on Tablet devices.

    When I worked at Microsoft, we looked at the issue of ClearType on rotating tablet displays. No question, they were sharper in one direction (vertical RGB striping) than in the other. But our experiments showed the same algorithm was still optimal (the best you could get).

    Of course, at 264ppi, with square pixels which you can go back to treating as whole pixels rather than dealing with non-square RGB sub-pixels, you don't need to care about whether a screen is rotated or not. And you don't have to compensate for color fringing effects, which cause problems for some users more than others because everyone's color perception is different.

    Another interesting effect of this improved resolution is that most of the typefaces we have developed for print over the past 550 years now work really well on screen. The ones that don't are those which needed the "free anti-aliasing" which dot gain provided. That's the blotting-paper effect of paper soaking up ink and slightly blurring the edges of printed characters.

    I've been building some experimental eBooks using embedded fonts and more sophisticated layouts than the largely "vanilla" novels most people will have read so far. They look stunning. There is (straightforward) technology which needs to be built yet to support some aspects of this; I won't give details here.

    I've been working on screen readability for a long time, since the 1980s. I created my first electronic book in 1985, while working as a consultant for a company which created the first hypertext authoring system for the Macintosh. It was my total focus at Microsoft for 14+ years.

    True screen readability has finally arrived. Apple got there first, and everyone else needs to catch up. It will be a tough challenge. I can't believe they can build such an easy-to-use device with a screen this good at such a low price. My IBM display retailed at $13,000 - only justifiable if you were at the leading edge of research.

    Forgive the long post. It's a topic very much on my mind right now. I'm writing a book about my personal involvement with books, and their transition from paper to screen, over a period of almost 60 years.

    Nice to talk to you all again,

    Bill Hill

     

  • User profile image
    AndyC

    @billhill49: Great to hear your perspective as always Bill. And do pop by and let us all know when the book is out, I'm sure more than a few of us would very much enjoy reading it!

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    dentaku

    @billhill49:It's good to see you post something on C9 again after 3 years.

    Hopefully people will start caring about the quality of displays now. I hate LCDs with horrible viewing angles so it took me forever to use one as my main monitor until I found a 22" IPS at a good price on dell.ca a while ago.
    Tablets with their constantly changing orientation have forced manufacturers to use better panels because you wouldn't want to use a cheap TN LCD that only looks decent at one particular angle.
    I find this to be just as important as the pixel density.

    High PPI displays have been around for a long time but OS/application interfaces just haven't been up to it. We all know that super high resolution laptops make text unreadable unless the software you're using is ready for it. I guess it's not as bad in the tightly controlled phone OS category than with desktop/laptop OSes.

    It would be amazing if WindowsPhone 8 could support 1600X960 to make it easier for developers of WP7 apps considering it's exactly twice the width and twice the height of the current 800X480 resolution all WP devices use.
    Of course that would be a monstrous resolution for small portable devices like phones and probably impossible to manufacture at the moment.
    A Nokia Lumia 900 at that resolution would be 434 PPI ! Smiley

  • User profile image
    billhill49

    @ dentaku: 434ppi would be nice. Possibly overkill. Human vision is 600ppi, but that's vernier acuity. The only real benefit would be for software, since it would be easier to handle legacy software with a straight "pixel doubling" hack, as Apple has done. Windows did the same. Chris Wilson wrote an Internet Explorer hack to do pixel doubling and support my IBM display way back when. It was eventually folded into the code, as I remember it.

    Office was far quicker to provide high-res support than Windows. Word was a pleasure to use on my IBM display: Two full pages of a document, side by side, at actual size, at 204ppi, was excellent, and the UI was easily scaled, so it worked. 

    Then you went out on the Web, or into LOB apps, and everything broke, horribly. 

    I hope Windows8 has been built to be resolution-independent. I really hope so. 

    I'd be happy if all manufacturers set the bar at ~250ppi, and that became the norm. And you're right; it's not just about resolution. Other LCD technologies like IPS are contributing a lot to screen improvement.

  • User profile image
    cbae

    @billhill49: According to the Windows 8 blog, W8 will support 291 DPI:

    Generic Forum Image

    Of course, it could just mean that W8 simply supports that particular resolution on that particular screen size. It remains to be seen if it truly is resolution "independent".

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    dentaku

    @cbae:Windows Phone 8 looks like it might support 1280 x 768 which is amazing but will require quite a powerful GPU I'm assuming. On a Lumia 900 sized screen that's 347.15 PPI.
    It also doesn't work with the pixel doubling trick like 1600X960 would but at least it's the same aspect ratio.

  • User profile image
    DeathBy​VisualStudio

    @billhill49: Responses from Microsoft inventors like yourself are just gems here in the dialog of C9. Thanks for taking the time to give us your perspective.

    My concern with W8 is that they are marginalizing ClearType too soon. It's an advantage that W7 and its predecessors have today. Now in W8, IMO it appears they are hobbling it and then justifying that move because some day we'll all have high dpi displays. I really hope that isn't true as W8 will need every advantage it can get to recapture the hearts and minds of its customers. We certainly know Microsoft's marketing group isn't going to help much there.

    Again, thanks for your responses here.

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    dentaku

    @DeathByVisualStudio:Forcing people to use ClearType the way it works now on tablet displays that will be turned 90 degrees allot really wouldn't do any good to the image on Win8. It looks horrible that way on my IPS panel. I couldn't use my monitor rotated in portrait mode for more than a few minutes with ClearType on but in LandScape mode it looks great.

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    JoshRoss

    @dentaku: But this is the thing, on a Windows 8 tablet, the orientation is a known property; unlike a desktop monitor that has no way of signaling its orientation. What better way to use SensorFusion than to improve visual acuity?

    -Josh

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    Craig_​Matthews

    , dentaku wrote

    @DeathByVisualStudio:Forcing people to use ClearType the way it works now on tablet displays that will be turned 90 degrees allot really wouldn't do any good to the image on Win8. It looks horrible that way on my IPS panel. I couldn't use my monitor rotated in portrait mode for more than a few minutes with ClearType on but in LandScape mode it looks great.

    I'm not a super coder or anything, but I have to imagine that, at present, it is possible to write software code that a. Detects orientation, b. Determines optimal font rendering methodology based on display type and orientation, then c. Turns Cleartype on/off on the fly. It's software.

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    DeathBy​VisualStudio

    @dentaku: I'm not sure how you got "forcing" out of my words but ok, whatever. As both Josh and Craig have suggested my thought was at a minimum it would be configurable and at best it would detect the display and hardware capabilities automatically and adjust accordingly.

    If we all believed in unicorns and fairies the world would be a better place.
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    dentaku

    , DeathByVisualStudio wrote

    @dentaku: I'm not sure how you got "forcing" out of my words but ok, whatever. As both Josh and Craig have suggested my thought was at a minimum it would be configurable and at best it would detect the display and hardware capabilities automatically and adjust accordingly.



    OK, detecting orientation of the screen and choosing the correct method would be a good thing.
    I was thinking about that too.

    ClearType the way we know it now just doesn't work in both orientations because of the way the displays are made so that would probably be the best alternative.

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    DeathBy​VisualStudio

    @dentaku: All I'm asking is that it work as good as it does today in landscape in W7. It sounds like either there are bugs or excuses as to why ClearType isn't implemented in W8 CP to the same degree as it is in W7. I'm hoping it's just bugs but with all of this talk about portrait mode, increasing pixel densities, etc. it makes me wonder if it is really just excuses.

    If we all believed in unicorns and fairies the world would be a better place.
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    dentaku

    Another funny thing about all this situation is that I'm assuming tablets are more often used in portrait mode when reading text so I guess the hardware manufacturers would have to make panels that have the subpixels laid out horizontally when they're in that mode instead of landscape mode.
    This way Win7 style ClearType would work when the tablet is vertical.
    I'm not sure if LCDs are manufactured this way already but it's an interesting thought.
    It all gets very complicated when you throw in variations in hardware into the equation. Nobody uses their laptop sideways and 99.9% of the people have never rotated their desktop monitor so this hasn't been a big issue in the past.

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