If you take a look at a monitor's specifications you'll see 'native resolution' is on the list but it's not really very clear what this actually means. Also, what happens if images displayed on the monitor are different to the native resolution or have a different aspect ratio? Here we aim to answer these questions so you can make a more informed choice when purchasing a new monitor.
What Native Resolution Means
The number of pixels (the points that light up) on an LCD screen is what the native resolution is. For example, a monitor with a native resolution of "1920 × 1200" lights up, or turns off, 1920 horizontal rows (dots) and 1200 vertical rows (dots) of pixels to display images.
How Images With A Different Resolution Or Aspect Ratio Will Look
Here we will use an example where the image which has a "1280 × 1024" (horizontal : vertical = 5:4 aspect ratio) resolution is displayed on an LCD monitor which has a native resolution of "1920 × 1200" (horizontal : vertical = 16:10 aspect ratio).
Normal Display (Same Magnification)
On a normal display an image with a 1280 x 1024 resolution is shown with black areas around the image's edges (top, bottom, left and right). Why? Well the image is displayed by only using 1280 horizontal rows of pixels and 1024 vertical rows of pixels. What this means is 640 horizontal rows of pixels (1920 – 1280 = 640) and 176 vertical rows of pixels (1200 – 1024 = 176) of the display are not being used.
When using an enlarged display the image's 5:4 aspect ratio is preserved but it's enlarged. This will cause the image to appear slightly fuzzier but it won't be distorted. Instead, black areas will be shown to the left and right of the image as 420 pixels are not lit up by the image. This is because the vertical 1200/1024 is enlarged 1.171875 times, so the image is displayed using 1500 horizontal rows (1280 × 1.171875 = 1500) and 1200 vertical rows of pixels.
In this mode, our image's aspect ratio is altered from 5:4 to 16:10 and as a result it will appear distorted and once again, fuzzy. This is because the 1280 X 1024 image is expanded to fit the native resolution of the display (1920 × 1200).
As you can see from the explanations, the quality of images can easily deteriorate if the native resolution isn't used. In full-screen or enlarged display the monitor may need to use two pixels to display part of the image when really only one should be used and as a result this leads to a loss in sharpness.
Setting The Resolution
How you adjust the resolution will depend on the operating system (OS) you are using. More information on how to do this for your specific OS, such as Windows, can be found on the manufacturer's website.
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