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

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.