Expert laughs off Microsoft’s pre-emptive claim of Surface beating iPad 3 on screen sharpness

By , Oct 18, 2012

A Microsoft engineer in a Reddit thread made a bold claim that a 1,366-by-768 pixel resolution display on the Surface tablet is way sharper than the 2,048-by-1,536 pixel resolution Retina display on the iPad 3. The comment left some scratching their head, wondering if Microsoft found a way to bypass the laws of physics.

President of DisplayMate Technologies Raymond Soneira is an expert at these things: he previously dispelled Heatgate, recently rated the iPhone 5 as having the best display in a smartphone and now is back with a brief shootout concerning the Surface’s ClearType sub-pixel rendering allegedly improving display clarity beyond what Apple’s device offers…

According to Soneira’s findings, there’s no question that Microsoft’s technology improves sharpness and legibility of on-screen text. He ran tests comparing the iPad 3 to the previous-generation iPad 2 and an Asus notebook that has a similar display like the Surface.

He compared the New York Times web site rendered in Safari, noting:

The Windows ClearType 768p display on the Asus Netbook was significantly sharper than the iPad 2 768p display.

However, it is also “significantly less sharp” than the new iPad 3 1536p display, Soneira wrote.

Sub-pixel rendering that the Surface uses (called ClearType in Microsoft’s terminology) is a neat trick designed to increase the apparent resolution of a display (Wikipedia is your friend), one that fools your eyes into thinking you’re seeing more pixels than there are. All Apple devices use standard pixel rendering which treats all pixels equally.

It is certainly possible that the Microsoft Surface RT Tablet will perform better than the Asus Netbook, but it is very unlikely that it will turn out to be visually sharper than the new iPad 3.

Even though the Surface’s sub-pixel rendering is impressive and can “make the screen appear to have up to 3 times the resolution” as the iPad 2’s comparable display, it doesn’t hold a candle to the iPad 3’s Retina display.

Why is it that Microsoft always makes outrageous claims that can be easily disputed?

Microsoft engineer Steven Bathiche confidently wrote on Reddit that “doing a side by side with the new iPad in a consistently lit room, we have had many people see more detail on Surface RT than on the iPad with more resolution”.

Yes, my iPad 3 has a high reflection in outdoors, but it’s also true its Retina display is razor-sharp in “a consistently lit room”.

That has got to be the new math: 1366-by-768 is better than 2,048-by-1,536. It’s true that pixel count isn’t everything as other factors determine the sharpness of your display.

One of the more important metrics is pixel density, measured in pixels per inch (PPI). In that regard, the iPad 3 at 264PPI absolutely shatters the Surface, which is rated at a rather paltry 148PPI.

Doesn’t Microsoft have the decency to give credit where credit is due?

The Surface Pro, on the other hand, could turn the tables on the iPad.

The Windows Pro version of Surface will have a 1920×1080 208 PPI screen, and it is quite possible that it will be comparable in sharpness to the new iPad 3 with 2048×1536 264 PPI.

It will be really interesting to compare them all… including the displays on Windows Tablets from other manufacturers, who might provide better displays than the Microsoft Surface…

All told, I think Microsoft wants to pre-empt the inevitable headlines.

The software maker is aware that reviewers are going to compare the Surface RT to the iPad 3. People will for sure point out the Surface’s low-res display as an unnecessary trade-off in the age of high-resolution mobile displays.

Apple’s tablet is Retina and that’s likely Microsoft’s fear.

Making matters worse, Samsung is thought to be working on a tablet that will beat the iPad 3’s Retina display, clocking at a whopping 2,560-by-1,600 pixels.

I will give Microsoft’s device the benefit of the doubt because I believe it is a very well built tablet and a refreshing new platform in the tablet space, I just wish they were being more careful about hyping their tech.

Feel free to join the discussion down in the comments.

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  • http://twitter.com/ahmad_sfeed F.A.♥.4.ever

    with what they come of products still iOS products better
    give me like if you agree with me

  • CollegiateLad

    Sounds like a turd. Good job, Redmond.

  • http://twitter.com/geekinit geekinit

    I’m sorry but ClearType sucks. Microsoft guy needs to get his eyes checked. I’ve always thought Apple’s devices look sharp even on a low resolution displays as far back as 10 years ago. Unless they have completely reengineered clear type, someone is smoking something here…

  • CollegiateLad

    This thing will compete nicely against the Nook. lol

  • http://www.facebook.com/SexyRomanticBeast Christian Yu Owen

    You stole this word for word from CNN

    • David Henderson

      CNN should sue.

    • http://twitter.com/HiTekkSteff Stephaughn Alston

      Ouch lol.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001192141522 Gregory Cannon

      Link? (I can’t seem to find the CNN article).

  • Jon Kitahara

    Looks like a great tablet for my teenager! As long as it’s reasonably priced for a stocking stuffer! Imagine the time an money Microsoft has put in to make this leappad!

  • Anirudh B

    From a technical viewpoint, ClearType and sub-pixel rendering in general does make the image look way better. Without ClearType and sub-pixel rendering, every line and every text is exactly 1 pixel wide or exactly 2 pixels wide, etc. and then it becomes too thick or too jagged. To make it look better, you use anti-aliasing. Games frequently use it to make the animations look smoother; in this case, the rendering engine goes down to the individual red, green, blue sub pixels and blends it with nearby pixels so even with a lower res screen you get a nice smooth line.

    Stuff you view on computers isn’t perfect; often you will get slanted lines or stuff that doesn’t line up exactly on one pixel. So instead of looked jagged, it fades smoothly from one row or column of pixels to the next by working with the individual sub pixels.

    Apple doesn’t use sub-pixel rendering on the iPad; to try and not make the images jagged, they increased the resolution of the screen by a huge amount, so even though from close up the lines and everything are still jagged, from where you view it your eyes and your brain make it appear smooth.

    I agree on a PC ClearType sucks, but that’s because different displays have different ways of organizing the red green blue subpixels, which is why there a ClearType utility in the Windows Control Panel to tell Windows what you think looks the best.

  • Guest

    Jajaj lock at the reflections in the image of the surface there are the sae ore even more reflection than the ipad

  • http://twitter.com/ricardohakr97 Ricardo Monterrubio

    Jajaj look at the reflections in the image of the surface there are the same or even more reflection than the ipad

  • Eddie

    This suface should not be compared with the iPad but with other low specs tablets in the market. Comparing to the iPad is a free ad.

  • hellac00l

    news from around the web “A Microsoft engineer tries to explain why he believes the display found on the Surface RT tablet is superior to that of the iPad even with a lower resolution”
    Well thats an “opinion” by Microsoft but sadly the only thing the surface has better is how much light is reflected from it’s Cleartype screen not sharper images.
    I wont even talk about how the OS takes up a huge amount of space.
    I have an ipad 3 but I will probably skip on the ipad mini until they include a retina display.

    • Dylan Knox

      lol Fanboy. So what the OS takes more space? It’s faster than iOS, and way more light wieght overall on the system, helping games and programs make more use of the 2gb of ram it has. Oh did i mention it has an Nvidia Tegra 3 Gpu with a quad-core processor clocked at roughly 1.55? And with a smaller resolution that STILL looks better the new iPad, the cpu and gpu preform far better in comparison to your oversized $800 glass book.

      • http://www.facebook.com/xxLIUZHENYUxx Liu Zhenyu

        lol Fanchild. Did i mention that Microsofts own CEO said it was not about specs but experience? ‘Nvidia, 2GB RAM’ are just specs on paper, even die-hard fartdrois admit they would not buy an iPhone but an iPad?

  • http://twitter.com/davester13 D R

    Don’t forget, MS’s ClearType goes to hell when you rotate the screen from landscape to portrait, because the orientation of the individual pixels is rotated 90 degrees…

  • madmaxmedia

    They were in fact very careful with the comment- it was purposely vague and subjective (“we had many people see more detail…”) so they couldn’t really be called on it. If questioned, they can just shrug and say that was what these people subjectively saw.

  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.jonsen Joe Jonsen

    iPad3 is the number 1 tablet on earth… none come close..

  • http://www.facebook.com/Undertow851 Thomas Gardner

    If it were only as simple as more pixels…