iPad Retina display trumps Microsoft Surface, display expert says

A display expert has debunked claims from Microsoft engineers that the Surface tablet display is sharper than the Retina display on the new iPad due to its use of ClearType technology.

Microsoft Surface

The Surface with Windows RT will start shipping October 26 with a 10.6-inch, 1366-by-768-pixel display, while the third-generation iPad has a 9.7-inch screen with 2048-by-1536-pixel resolution. The pixel density per inch on the iPad is 264 PPI compared to 148 PPI on the Surface RT.

During a discussion on Reddit earlier this week, Steven Bathiche, director of research for Microsoft's Applied Sciences group, claimed “Microsoft has the best pixel rendering technology in the industry” and “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.”

Dr. Raymond Soneira, president of DisplayMate Technologies, was intrigued by Microsoft’s claims, put them to the test and reports that they don’t actually stand. He tested the theory by running the Safari browser on the new iPad, iPad 2, and an Asus tablet with a 1366-by-768-pixel 130 PPI display that uses Microsoft's implementation of sub-pixel rendering, called ClearType.

In some cases sub-pixel rendering can make the screen appear to have up to three times the resolution of pixel rendering, as individual red, green, and blue sub-pixels are treated as independent image elements and are not all bound together into specific pixels.

apple ipad retina display
Apple iPad

However, Dr. Soneira’s test found “the Windows ClearType 768p display on the Asus Netbook was significantly sharper than the iPad 2 768p display but also significantly less sharp than the new iPad 3 1536p display. 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.”

Steven Bathiche later backtracked and edited his Reddit post, saying, “I hope folks understand that I am not saying that one resolution is better than the other. Nor that one display is better than the other.  […] So in some cases ClearType will look better and in other cases (darker environments) the iPad retina will look better. Further, in a number of cases the differences will be negligible.”

A Surface tablet model might match the new iPad screen, though, Dr. Soneira explained. “The Windows Pro version of Surface will have a 1920-by-1080 208-PPI screen, and it is quite possible that it will be comparable in sharpness to the new iPad with 2048-by-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.” (See also By the Numbers: Microsoft's Surface vs. Apple's iPad.)

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