May 082012

Under-utilized Widescreen Computer Monitors

I love HDTV, Blu-ray and other consumer electronics but while the 16:9 aspect ratio of digital TVs and monitors appear to be awesome for watching movies, working with wide spreadsheets, viewing landscapes, or watching snakes and funerals (to paraphrase Fritz Lang’s quote about even wider 2.40:1 CinemaScope screen format), there’s currently nothing better than the old 4:3 (1.37:1) “Academy” format for reading web pages and documents. Moreover, most iPad and similar tablet users flip their 4:3 tablets to the portrait mode (3:4) when reading pages with text or website articles while our widescreen monitors remain stuck in showing too little page depth and wasting so much empty space at the sides. No wonder micro blogging on Twitter is so popular in the age of widescreen shallowness. Everything else requires

Roll, roll, roll and scroll,
Gently down the page,
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
To our own outrage.

As I mentioned in my buzzwords post, if you have a wide screen device and your window is maximized, you’ll see loads of empty space on the sides of this text, as well as on most other websites. So in the beginning we were paying even more to have a widescreen monitor while the manufacturers were investing less in its production because a widescreen with same diagonal has almost 12% less real estate (here’s the screen area calculation) and then this became so successful that most manufacturers quit making monitors in “normal” 4:3 resolution. The few that still make them charge an arm and a leg for each monitor above SXGA resolution (1280×1024). In 2004 I used to have a 20″ UXGA (1600×1200) monitor at home that rocked, but after the widescreen format became fashionable, the 1200 pixels of height got demoted to 768 pixels on a laptop (got married and got kids, so the big stuff had to go), which is a cumbersome way to utilize a screen for computing.

16:9 Widescreen – Not Wide Enough and Shallow

On Full HD resolution Monitor (1920x1080)

1920x1080 is still shallow and it can't fit two pages side by side

Standard Laptop HD Resolution

1366x768 resolution is extremely shallow - most pages require scrolling down

The usual FHD resolution (1920×1080) (AKA HDTV) of contemporary bigger PC monitors is widescreen, but 1920 pixels are not wide enough to comfortably put two web pages (each usually 1024 pixels) next to each other, while it’s even worse if you try to stack your windows on top of each other like we used to do on 4:3 monitors. On the other hand, the depth of a 1600 x 900 or even FHD 1080 monitor is still somewhat problematic, although much better than the seriously impaired productivity on the 1366 x 768 screen of most laptops, where most websites require scrolling down in order to do any serious reading. So here I am, eight years after having gotten used to the 1600 x 1200 resolution, stuck on a 1920 x 1080 monitor and a 1366 x 768 laptop, and complaining because I still have a lower screen height than I had then at 1200 pixels. Another quirk of the 21st century besides us never going back to the moon. Things of the future looked more futuristic in the past, didn’t they?

People usually never miss things they never had and having switched to portables, tablets, and much smaller laptops, most of us don’t remember how good things used to be on desktops with big monitors and how not every site required scrolling. I don’t have a desktop but I have a 23″ 1920 x 1080 monitor and an ergonomic keyboard because my glossy screen laptop tends to ruin my eyes, and using its screen and the sorry chiclet excuse for a keyboard that hurts my little finger is good only when I need portability.

Wider than Wide And Back

As much as I prefer the old Academy format in 4:3 aspect ratio to the modern 16:9 widescreen monitors, even the wider 2.35:1 (Cinemascope) aspect ratio actually sounds like a better format because in it one could fit two documents or websites and more next to each other naturally, without a major loss, but then, what use do we have of so much width when our eyes can only focus on one thing at a time (I know, I know, some people like to use two monitors and a CinemaScope aspect ratio monitor could be a good substitute). Still, the monitor format I currently like most is the UXGA resolution (1920 x 1200) with aspect ratio 16:10, like Apple monitors and early PC widescreen laptops as well. That resolution doesn’t make the screen as shallow and gives enough real estate at the bottom of the page. Moreover, that aspect ratio allows for two pages of text to fit comfortably next to each other, and it would also bring me back to the 1200 pixel page height I used to have back in 2004, but monitors like this usually cost at least twice as much as the ones with the standard FHD resolution (1920 x 1080).

Alternative Widescreen Windows Taskbar Placement

If you happen to have a laptop with the measly HD screen resolution (1366 x 768) like me, which is quite likely, as it is the resolution used on most laptops out there from 11″ to 17″, your screen is so shallow that keeping the Windows taskbar at the bottom of the screen is clogging the most expensive piece of real estate, the Malibu Beach of your screen. Move it to the side because you most likely have enough unused width there (insufficient to place two webpages next to each other, though), and you can at least get some additional room at the bottom for better internet browsing and document reading experience, and a nice and comfy, wide taskbar with full time, day of the week and date display on either left or right side.

This is why I move the Windows taskbar on a HD resolution (1366 x 768) from the bottom to the side. On the HD+ resolution (1600×900) I’d still keep Windows taskbar at the side, but so far on a FHD (1920×1080) I alternate between the bottom and the side, while on a WUXGA (1920 x 1200) I’d keep it at the bottom. This is how I cope with the monitor industry’s impairment of our computer experience.

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