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What is Computer Screen Resolution?

written by: Jordan Salvi•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 5/22/2009

The resolution is an important aspect of any computer monitor. Higher resolutions can make screens look clearer, but why? This article explains what resolution means, and why higher resolutions are usually better.

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    Computer monitor resolution plays a large factor in the overall clarity of a computer screen. Each computer screen is composed of millions of tiny dots of light, called pixels, which stands for "picture element". If you look closely at a computer screen or television, you will be able to see the individual pixels. Each pixel is actually composed of separate colors: red, green, and blue. These colors can be lit in different combinations of intensities to create the illusion of millions of colors. Resolution is a measure of how many of these pixels are contained in a computer screen. Low resolutions can make pictures look blocky and jagged, because it is easier to distinguish the individual pixels that make up the image. Higher resolutions can make the monitor look clearer, because there are more pixels available to form the picture.

    The computer monitor resolution shows the number of horizontal and vertical pixels in the screen. For example, if a computer monitor has a resolution of 1600x1200, it has a 1600 vertical columns of pixels, and 1200 horizontal rows of pixels. A computer screen with a resolution of 1600x1200 contains 1,920,000 individual pixels.

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    Common Resolutions

    There are a number of standard resolutions employed in computer monitors today. The most common of these are 1280x800, 1440x900, 1680x1050, and 1920x1080. If a computer or television is claimed to run 1080p, that means that it has a resolution of at least 1920x1080. As larger monitors get cheaper, and as display technologies improve, the common resolutions tend to get larger. Only a few years ago the standard resolution was 1024x768. Some new high-end monitors have resolutions as high as 2560x1600, which may become a common resolution in the near future.

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    Monitor Size

    The size of a monitor is usually linked to the resolution as well; larger monitors usually have higher resolutions than smaller monitors. In some cases, it is possible for a monitor with a higher resolution to actually look worse than a monitor with a low resolution. For example, a 20 inch monitor with a 1680x1050 resolution may look clearer than a 28 inch monitor with a 1920x1080 resolution. This is because even though the smaller monitor has a lower resolution, the pixels in that monitor are packed into a smaller space, which makes the image appear clearer.

    Usually, higher resolutions are better. However, one drawback of having a small screen with a high resolution is that text can be hard to read. As most standard computer fonts are only a few pixels tall, on high-resolution monitors each letter can be tiny. This issue can usually be fixed by simply setting a larger default text size, but there are some applications where this is not possible, and it has the potential to be a problem.

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    The resolution of a computer monitor is important when considering or comparing displays. Higher resolutions usually mean clearer text and images, because there are more pixels that make up the screen. Resolution is most commonly given as the number of horizontal and vertical pixels in a screen, such as 1680x1050. Large monitors typically have the highest resolutions, and as display technologies improve, even higher resolutions are becoming more common.