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Monitor Screen Resolutions

Informative article about computer monitor screen resolutions and how to change the monitor screen resolution settings for a PC and for a Mac, including a new discussion about the aspect ratio of monitors and of resolution settings.
Screen dimensions are the horizontal measurement followed by the vertical measurement. These are not resolution numbers, but merely something you can do with a tape measure. For example, a computer monitor display might be 14.75 inches wide and approximately 12 inches tall. This same screen has a diagonal measurement of 19 inches, which is the screen size.
Screen dimensions are measurements that you do yourself using a tape measure or a yard stick.
Screen size is the diagonal screen measurement, usually in inches.

Monitors have an aspect ratio.
An aspect ratio is the ratio between the horizontal dimension and the vertical dimension. Divide the horizontal dimension by the vertical dimension. Common monitor aspect ratios are 4:3 (1.3333) and 5:4 (1.25). Wide screen monitors are totally different. Check the monitor manufacturer's website to find out the aspect ratio of your monitor. Sometimes the aspect ratio is listed in the printed manual that was shipped with the monitor.
If you have a wide-screen display, read the literature or contact the manufacturer online or in e-mail or by phone, to find out the aspect ratio for your particular wide-screen display.
Screen resolutions also have an aspect ratio, not related to the monitor aspect ratio. You noticed that you can set more than one choice of screen resolution settings: If you are using Windows, right click on the desktop and select Properties. Click on the Settings tab to see the dialog box for setting screen resolutions. The resolutions are in pixels and the horizontal number is given first. For instance, a setting such as 1024 by 768 pixels has an aspect ratio of 4:3 (1.3333).
Key Point:The monitor's aspect ratio was determined when the display screen was manufactured and is different than the aspect ratio of the Setting's Screen Resolution, which you can change. You cannot change the manufacturer's display's aspect ratio but you can change the Screen resolution's aspect ratio....
Again, if you have a wide-screen display, find out what the suggested screen resolution should be for your operating system. Also ask what the display's aspect ratio is for your display brand and model...
Match the aspect ratios
Understand that a computer user needs to select a screen resolution setting with the same aspect ratio as the aspect ratio of the monitor. If your monitor has a 4:3 aspect ratio, then your screen resolution setting should have a similar 4:3 aspect ratio, otherwise the display with be “squished” and objects will appear fatter. On the other hand, if your monitor has a 5:4 aspect ratio, then pick a resolution setting which also has a 5:4 aspect ratio.

Resolutions with a 4:3 aspect ratio: 800 x 600
1024 x 768
1152 x 864
1600 x 1200
Resolutions with a 5:4 aspect ratio: 1280 x 1024
1600 x 1280

The more common resolutions having a 4:3 aspect ratio are: 800 by 600, 1024 by 768, 1152 by 864, 1600 by 1200 pixels.
Resolution settings with a 5:4 aspect ratio are 1280 by 1024 pixels, and 1600 by 1280 pixels. These resolutions should not be set for monitors having a 4:3 aspect ratio. The display will be distorted. Use the 5:4 aspect ratio resolution settings when using monitors also having a 5:4 aspect ratio.


More standards needed

Many newer LCD monitors have a native resolution of 1280 by 1024. Widescreen monitors are not standardized yet. They might have any aspect ratio. CRT monitors typically have a 4:3 aspect ratio, or a 5:4 aspect ratio.
In Summary, know that the monitor has an aspect ratio separate from the aspect ratio of the resolution setting. The aspect ratios between the hardware and the resolution setting should be similar ratios for the best non-distorted screen display.


The Web Author's Consideration of Monitor Screen Resolution

As a Web author you may want to know about computer monitor screen resolutions because you may need to view your page at various different resolutions in order to make decisions about your page layout. This article also includes information about how to change and reset your computer monitor screen resolutions.


Older Monitor Screens

A VGA monitor display is typically 640 pixels wide by 480 pixels in height.
The current SVGA monitor resolution setting is 800 pixels in width by 600 pixels in height. This is expressed as 800 x 600 (800 by 600). Note that the width is always stated before the height. The end-user may adjust the display property setting of SVGA monitors to resolutions as low as 640 x 480 and as high as 1024 x 768.
With technologies such as XGA, resolutions may be adjusted to a low of 1027 x 768, a mid-range of 1280 x 1024 and even as high as 1600 x 1200.
The type of monitor you have and the video adapter card installed will determine the range of the resolutions available for you to set. The video adapter card contains VRAM (Video RAM Memory). You will not be able to set a higher resolution than what is supported by your video adapter.

The following table summarizes a few categories of screen resolution.
Width x Height (pixels) Category Aspect Ratio
640 x 480 SVGA 4:3
800 x 600 SVGA 4:3
1024 x 768 SVGA/XGA 4:3
1280 x 1024 XGA 5:4
1400 x 1050 XGA 4:3
1600 x 1200 XGA 4:3
1600 x 1280 - 5:4

The newer XUGA properties/resolutions/ratios are not discussed for the wide-screen displays so contact your manufacturer or look online for the information. Problem is: aspect-ratios for wide-screen displays often vary by manufacturer and no industry standards had been set as of late 2006.
Keep in mind that while you may have a new system with high resolution for web graphics most of your end-users will be viewing your web page with the lower resolution monitors.
Currently, most monitors display 72dpi (dots per inch). At this resolution, 32 pixels would be 0.5 inches and 72 pixels would be an inch. Since resolution can be changed slightly by the user, the web author has no way of telling the user's screen resolution but may code widths in percentage values rather than in absolute width units.
At higher resolutions you seem to gain more desktop "space" because objects will appear smaller in size and icon labels may be more difficult to read at the smaller icon size. With higher resolutions the display is "sharper" but the cost may not be worth having more pixels to process, perceivably slower screen refresh rates and more eye strain from looking at the smaller objects.
There WILL be times you may wish to temporarily increase the resolution. For instance, if you are working in a program for which all of the menu options do not display you may increase the resolution in order to view the full width of the tool bar and menu bar. If you are working on a web page you may wish to see your page as viewed with higher or lower resolutions, especially if you are working on page layout.

Changing Monitor Screen Resolutions

(On many computer systems you may need to turn off and reboot your system in order for the changed settings to take effect.)
Windows 9x/2000Pro/XP:  Right click with your mouse pointer positioned on a blank spot on your desktop. Select Properties from the pop-up menu. Left click on the Settings tab. You should now be able to see the Desktop area slider bar.    Moving the slider by holding down the left mouse button and dragging it to the left or to the right will change the resolutions. The current resolution numbers will appear under the slider. Click on Apply and click on OK .
Mac OS 8.0:  Choose Monitors & Sounds from the
Control Panels submenu under the Apple menu . If necessary, click the Monitor button in the Monitors & Sounds window that appears. Select a resolution from the list in the Resolution area. Close the Monitors & Sounds window.
Mac OS X Jaguar: From the Apple menu select System Preferences, then select Displays from the Hardware section. The two tabs are for Display and Color. The default refresh rate is 85 Hertz in a range from 60-120 Hertz. Be sure to check "Show modes recommeded by display". The nine resolution settings vary from 640 x 480 pixels up to 1280 x 1024 pixels.



Updated 27 March 2007

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