Get close to your screen. Really really really close so that your nose is almost touching it. Do you see those little dots that seem to be in a multicolored grid? Those are pixels. All computing screens whether on small smartphones or monster 30 inch desktop monitors display their images through these pixels.
When you sit far enough away, the result is not a weird colored grid but a very realistic image. We’ve come a long way since the blocky and migraine-inducing 320 x 200 pixel standard of CGA video on the mid-Eighties IBM PCjr and Tandy 1000 computers. The average desktop monitor these days sports a 1024 x 768 pixel resolution with many larger monitors readily achieving double that. By comparison 1080i Full HDTV is 1920 x 1080. Ultra high definition screens have been trickling onto the market with the highest resolution being one recently demonstrated by Sharp with a massive 85 inch screen featuring 7680 x 4320 (33.155 million) pixels or 16 times the pixel resolution of HDTV. These ultra HDTVs are not just toys for the super-rich but point the way to a high resolution future which has truly wondrous practical applications.
The iPad Retina Display Is 6.5 Times Denser than Sharp’s 8K TV
The current gold standard in popular computing is the iPad’s stunning Retina Display. Anyone who has marveled at the ultra-realistic sharpness of the images rendered on this phenomenal display will testify to the value of extremely high pixel resolutions. The iPad has a 2048 x 1536 (3.145 million) pixels crammed onto a nine inch display resulting in 264 pixels per inch. There is no commonly available similar screen which can reach those amazing levels. To put this pixel density into perspective, if the resolution of the iPad 3 and 4 were to be applied to Sharp’s 85 inch 8K TV the display would feature 216.69 million pixels or more than 6.5 times as many as currently achievable!
The Human Eye Resolves at 477 Pixels per Inch at a 12 Inch Distance
Of course you place your eyeballs much closer to an iPad’s screen than you would an 85 inch monster television, so the fact that the Sharp 8K has fewer pixels per inch than the iPad is going to be lost as soon as you sit even ten feet away. The importance of these ultra-high resolutions is not just in the clarity of the image that they display but in the creative aspects of the overall experience of viewing these screens. At ultra-high resolutions some viewers report that the frame of the image has a tendency to melt away as the resolution of the background behind the screen and the images displayed reach approximate parity. Total parity is not yet achieved with actual sight as the human eye resolves at a level which approximates 477 pixels per inch at a 12 inch distance which is nearly double that of the iPad’s Retina Display. However, the difference is so fine that for most viewers during normal use the difference between actual sight and Retina Display level is essentially indistinguishable.
While a viewer of today’s most advanced HDTVs is still amply aware that they are indeed watching a display and not actual reality, the distinction will blur with the ultra-high definitions. The placement of an ultra-high definition curved display which is designed to extend beyond the limits of our peripheral vision could create a very persuasive illusion of ultimate virtual reality. Given the ability to display images which convince our brains that they are actually real could open up an entire new sphere of human experience. We could tour the canals of Venice without having to put up with the fishy smell and the pickpockets of Piazza San Marco, we could walk around in a Martian crater without being stuck in a capsule for over a year, and we could even conduct our own Fantastic Voyage inside the capillaries of a human body. 8K and other future resolution developments may trigger the age when reality is best experienced through ultra-dense displays.