The Idiot’s Guide to Screen Resolution


Last week, while writing “Everything you Need to Know about Choosing a Monitor” I tried and failed to properly explain monitor/screen resolution in a single paragraph. While this subject may seem trite to the technophile, the uninitiated are left alone to navigate numbers and ratios that can be hard to understand, let alone find use in! I’d like to take a few minutes to layout the basics of screen resolution, hopefully allowing everyone to make better use of this omnipresent specification.

The Pixel

Before screen resolution can be properly understood, you’ve got to understand the pixel. The pixel, which is actually short for “picture element”, is the base unit of an LCD screen image, and is further comprised of three sub-pixels, one red, one green, and one blue. Using this system of sub-pixels, each pixel is able to output loads of different colors by combining colors in varying degrees. An LCD display is comprised of hundreds of thousands of these pixels arranged in a grid pattern, with each pixel being so small that you usually can’t pick them out individually.

Screen Resolution

A screen’s native, or recommended resolution is defined by the actual number of physical pixels found on a particular screen. A common resolution today is 1440 x 900, which means that an LCD panel physically consists of 1440 pixels horizontally and 900 pixels vertically.

Because this is how the screen is physically built, it can’t be changed. A display built with a 1440 x 900 resolution has 1,296,000 pixels, no more, no less. This is really great if the movie you’re watching, the gaming you’re playing, or the web-page you’re viewing provides enough information to fill 1,296,000 pixels. If not, then things can get complicated.

Just now when I mentioned that screen resolution can’t be changed, you may have thought, “wait, that’s not right, I can change my resolution whenever I want!” This is partially true. You can change the display resolution of your computer by right clicking on your desktop, clicking on personalize –> display settings, and then by selecting a different resolution on the slider bar. This setting defines the number of pixels for which your computer will generate data to fill. If, for example, your monitor’s native resolution is 1440 x 900 and you set your PC to display at a 1440 x 900 resolution, then the computer will create the perfect amount of data, it will individually direct every pixel and the image will fit perfectly on the screen. However, if your recommended screen resolution is 1440 x 900 and you set your PC to display at 800 x 600, your computer will not create enough data to fill the entire screen. The LCD monitor will compensate for this by stretching out the image to fit its immutable physical dimensions, resulting in a sub-par image that will look warped and awkward.


Your computer screen will always look best when it’s working at its native or recommended screen resolution. Any other image will have to be stretched, shrunk, or otherwise modified in order to fill the number of physical pixels on the LCD’s screen. So pay attention when you buy a new monitor, make sure that your computer will be able to supply the proper screen resolution. If it is unable, you can improve your PCs resolution capacities with the addition of a new video card.

If you’re on the market for a new LCD screen or video card, check out OutletPC for a huge selection of both. If you’d like to read the original, “Everything you Need to Know about Choosing a Monitor” article, click here.

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