Mercury, 15.1-inch LCDs and Math

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Date: Monday, February 1st, 1999, 00:00
Category: Archive

Regular readers of know that we have been speculating about the new screen size that we expect to debut with the introduction of the PowerBook G4 (Mercury) at Macworld Expo SF 2001 [09-12 January 2001]. Sources indicate that not only will the LCD be larger, estimates range from 15.1 to 15.5-inches, but that the new TFT will be the first Apple screen to ship with a 16:9 aspect ratio, the same orientation as a “wide screen” formatted theatrical or DVD movie.

Some have speculated that the new TFT LCD in Mercury will weigh in at around 15.1-inches diagonally with a pixel resolution on 1600*1024, but this would net out to around 121 DPI. Translation: very small pixels. And if you look at the reader contributed math below*, a 16:9 physical aspect ratio display (at 15.1-inches diagonal) would mean that the display would be about 7.4-inches high by about 13.2-inches wide. The current 14.1-inch display in the latest PowerBook G3s (Pismo) is about 8.5-inches high by 11-inches wide.

click for a larger image

This would mean that the new PowerBook G4 would take on a “widebook” format similar to Sharp’s Wide Note PC-W100-T that was announced a few years back or to the Sony PictureBook C1.

From Toshiba’s “Putting your notebook on a diet” (circa 1997):

16:9 has several advantages for users. The “envelope” format is much more natural for the eyes, approximating to the natural field of vision that our eyes perceive. In an age where eye strain from computers is a growing danger, this can only be an improvement.

For users, 16:9 offers other practical advantages. The horizontal ratio of 16 is four times a standard 4:3 screen, but the vertical ratio of 9 is only three times. The effect is more pixels available across the screen for more data or better detail. Put simply, the greater width brings you 25% more viewing area. For spreadsheet users, the benefits are clearly enormous. For word-processing, text can be more easily displayed at true size and in graphics programs, increased pixel density means more detail or clearer pictures.

For notebook designers 16:9 offers further advantages, which inevitably flow to the user. 16:9 is much closer to the ratio of a keyboard size than any other screens so far. The keyboard is often seen as the one “immutable” aspect of mobile PC design: companies are not trying to redesign the human finger. Now that screen and keyboard are in closer harmony, engineers can construct flatter, wider products, breaking the A4 stricture on notebooks. Flatter is easy to carry. Wider is easier to type on

You may also remember that back in August 2000 Samsung opened a new production line for liquid crystal, flat-panel displays at its manufacturing plant in Korea that is partly financed by Apple. According to Macworld UK, the production line can produce nine 14.1-inch, six 17-inch or four 21.3-inch TFT- (thin film transistor) LCD panels from one glass substrate in a more efficient, cost-effective process.

Apple’s partnership with Samsung combined with the need to innovate in the professional PowerBook space, where they have been dormant for almost three years, points to the discrete possibility that we will see a wide PowerBook G4 come January 2001. The other possibility is that Apple will get the 16:9 aspect ratio in the PBG4 through pixel manipulation in software, but anyone who has done this pixel-switching on a PowerBook G3 will undoubtedly favor the former.

*Please note that we _are not_ mathematicians, please feel free to post your thoughts on the rumored 16:9 aspect ratio screen size and its impact on PowerBooks using the feedback link below.

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