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Screen Size vs Resolution - How to buy a display, Apple's retina explained

So, let’s say you are out to buy a new monitor for your computer, a new TV for your living room or whatever other reason you would buy a screen for. Not only do you have to take into consideration all the different kinds of display technologies, but you also have to deal with something a lot more simple: display resolution and display size.

If you, for example, have to choose between a large but low-resolution screen or a high resolution, smaller screen, how do you do it?

Let’s first go ahead and make sure that we are all on the same page by defining these two terms. Screen size refers to the diagonal length of a screen and is usually measured in inches. Resolution refers to the amount of pixels a screen has. It is usually expressed like 1920x1080 where 1920 is the width and 1080 is the height (in pixels, of course).

The common resolutions you will find on the market today are 1280x720 (also called 720p or HD), 1920x1080 (also called 1080p or Full HD), 2560x1440 (also called 2K, or 1440p) and 3840x2160 (also called Ultra HD or 4K).

Screen Size vs Resolution - How to buy a display,  Apple's retina explained

Of course, those are all for the 16:9 aspect ratio and you can find other screens with other resolutions such as the ultrawide 21:9 aspect ratio with resolutions such as 2560x1080 and 3440x1440, but let’s not start listing every resolution in the world right now. Ok, so now that we have defined both of them properly we can go ahead and discuss their importance when buying screens, especially monitors for your PC.


Let’s start by checking out the positives when it comes to both of them.

The higher resolution has the benefits of giving you a sharper image and also allowing you to fit more things on your screen at the same time. A larger screen is good if you find yourself often sitting far away from your display because text and small details are usually larger.


Now let’s look at the downsides:

Higher resolutions require more powerful graphics cards to push all those pixels, especially in graphically demanding applications such as gaming. Besides that, high-resolution displays sometimes suffer from scaling issues, where text and other UI elements don’t resize according to the higher pixel count and remain small and hard to read. When it comes to the downsides of getting a larger screen without also upgrading the resolution, the obvious disadvantage is that the image will undoubtedly become less clear and more “blocky” or blurry.

So, the ideal scenario when getting a new monitor or upgrading to a better one would be to get a larger screen with a higher resolution for a better overall experience.


But if your budget or any other constraints don’t allow you to do so, what should you prioritize?

This is where we get to our conclusion for this article, which is one word: “Retina”. You see, the retina is a term that apple coined, which determines when the human eye can’t see individual pixels anymore. At that point, you have the ideal ratio between the screen size and resolution (this ratio is often referred to as PPI, Pixels Per Inch, or pixel density). It tells you how closely pixels are packed together on your screen. A higher pixel density means a sharper image.

However, if you make the display larger without increasing the resolution, you are effectively decreasing the pixel density. Let’s have an example, youtube video is 1080p and this is a 720p image. notice how making it larger just makes it all blocky because the resolution is still 720p, we’ve just stretched it out a bit. simultaneously, making the image smaller, makes it seem a bit sharper.


Now retina depends on two things

Your pixel density and how far away you are sitting from your display.

My 29 inch 2560x1080 display becomes retina when I sit around 90 cm away from it, which is perfect because I sit about 85 cm away.


How do you figure this out?

Go to isthisretina.com and tell it the resolution and size of your screen and it will tell you at which distance your display is “retina” (do, of course, take this with a grain of salt and give yourself a margin of error of about 10-15ish cm). Then, take a look at how far away you are likely to be from that display. If your distance is equal to or higher than what the website tells you, it’s good news.

Screen Size vs Resolution - How to buy a display,  Apple's retina explained

If however, you are closer to the display than what the calculator recommends, you might want to see about getting a higher resolution screen with the same size, or a smaller screen with the same resolution, in effect increasing the pixel density or PPI. So, hopefully, you’ll now be able to get the right balance between having a huge screen and a super high resolution. Now all that’s left for me to say is I really do hope you found this article helpful then give it a share and comment below.

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