Changing Your Screen Resolution: Why Would you Want to?from the December 2001 newsletter

by Rob Zorn

The History in Brief

Screen resolution refers to just how many pixels are crammed onto your screen all at once. Put simply, a pixel is a little coloured dot of light, many of which go together to make up what you see on your computer monitor. Whether you are aware of it or not, Windows, in most cases, will allow you to change your screen resolution, and because of changing Internet standards, it is something you may want to consider doing.

Back in the old days (like, three years ago) it was standard to have your screen resolution set to 640x480. What this meant was that your screen was displaying 640 pixels in width and 480 in height. As technology and colour representation improved, the standard for display became 800x600. This meant basically that more could be fit on your screen and still look good. Monitor size was restricted to 14 inches, and some lucky people had the really expensive 15 inch monitors. If you looked at your screen in 800x600, you would notice that things would appear smaller on your screen (and hence more was able to fit on) than if you looked at the same scene on the same monitor at 640x480.

Why is Screen Resolution Important?

Well, when it comes to the Internet, think about it from a web designer's point of view. They want their pages to look good. Any web designer will tell you that the biggest pain in the neck when it comes to designing is producing a page that will look good no matter what the monitor size or screen resolution is of the computer user visiting the site. Designers tend to design for 800x600 because they know that this is the current standard (or was until recently, or maybe still is...). They know that computer monitors are usually shipped already preset to this resolution, and so, to design for that resolution makes the most sense.

If you're not sure you're following me as to how resolution will affect how you see things on the Internet, go online and visit a few sites at varying resolutions. You'll soon see what I mean.

Current Resolution Trends

As technology develops, we can expect that things like resolution standards will continue to change, and indeed that is the case. Technology improvements have meant that larger sized monitors are becoming cheaper, and it is quite common now for standard home computers to have 17 inch monitors. 17 inch monitors don't tend to look all that good in 800x600. The reason for this is that, because the screen is bigger, then each of the individual 800 pixels of width, or 600 pixels of height will be bigger in and of themselves. This leads to graphics looking chunkier and colours looking a tad garish. People with larger monitors (and even some with 15 inch monitors) are now finding that higher resolutions make their screen displays look better. If you have a 17 inch monitor, 1024x768 is now pretty standard.

Why Should You Care?

You should care, at least enough to do some quick comparisons yourself, because web designers (professional and amateur) are starting to design more for 1024x768 these days. After all, it's a much easier resolution to design for, and more and more people have larger monitors. If your monitor is still set to 800x600, you may come to a page and find that you're able to see less of it all at once than the designer intended you to. You're going to have to do a lot more scrolling of sidebars and bottom-bars, and, to put it bluntly, you're going to be aesthetically disadvantaged. This would be a shame as aesthetics make up a big part of a pleasing Internet experience.

It's something you may not have thought that much about, and perhaps it's something you won't notice until you try. That's why I encourage you to have a play with your resolution settings. It's easy to do and you may be amazed at the difference.

Changing Your Resolution Under Windows

1. Simply go to your desktop and right-click on some free space. A grey menu box will pop up.
2. Left-click on Properties near the bottom of the menu. A large Display Properties box will pop up.
3. Select the Settings tab in the Display Properties box.
4. Use the little slide bar near the lower left of the Display Properties box to adjust desired screen resolution and then click Okay.

After you've done this, Windows will ask you to confirm that changing your resolution is indeed what you want to do. After you've clicked Okay again, your monitor will flick off for a few seconds and then pop back to life again with the new resolution. Windows will usually ask you to confirm the change one last time, and then it will leave you to it.

Changing Your Resolution with a Macintosh

For all Macintosh operating systems below OS X, resolution settings are found under the Apple Menu. Select Control Panels, and then Monitors and Sound. Or, you can use the Control Strip at the bottom of the screen, and click on the Screen resolution icon. You can read more detailed instructions at www.serct.vic.edu.au/notebook/mac/wshop2/wshop2f.htm.

For Macintosh OS X, resolution settings are found by clicking the Apple Menu, and then selecting System Preferences and then Displays. Or you can click on the Apple in the Dock at the bottom, and select Displays.

Anyway, have a play with your resolution if you're inclined, and especially if you're finding you often have to use the horizontal scroll bar when visiting sites. If you have an older monitor type, you may find that 800x600 is as high as you're allowed to go. But if you do manage to change your resolution from 800x600 to 1024x768, I would be surprised if you wanted to go back, especially if you're enjoying a 17 inch monitor.

The software box read: "Requires Windows 95, or better." So I bought a Macintosh.