iPad Display: Flawed Picture

Okay, I was determined to maintain the HDTV Almanac as an iPad-Free Zone, but Steve Jobs has forced me to break my resolution. There are many amazing points to pick out of Wednesday’s announcement, but I’m just going to focus on the video part. First, consider these quotes from the iPad promotional video on the Apple Web site:

The iPad is the best… movie-watching experience ever.”
Phill Schiller, Senior VP, Worldwide Product Marketing

This is an unbelievable device for watching video. The quality of this video is amazing.”
Scott Forstall, Senior VP, iPhone Software

And finally, from the text on the iPad Web site: “The best way to experience the web, email, photos, and video. Hands down.”

Widescreen movies and other video gets scaled down and letterboxed on the iPad screen.

Well, in my opinion it’s “thumbs down” on these typically hyperbolic claims by Apple. Even a momentary consideration of the specifications makes these claims dubious at best.

First, Apple gets all excited about the LED backlight and the IPS LCD panel. Hmmm… just about every notebook on the market these days has an LED backlight. There’s nothing amazing there. And IPS stands for “In-Plane Switching”, which is LG’s technology for wider viewing angles on LCD panels. It’s a good technology that has been around for a long time, but it’s hardly cutting edge.

A more stunning fact is that the iPad does not have a widescreen display. It is the same 4:3 aspect ratio as your grandmother’s Zenith picture tube TV had. Just about every netbook computer on the market has a 16:9 aspect ratio screen, but not the iPad. To make matters worse, however, the panel only has XGA resolution, which is 1024 by 768 pixels. Guess what? That’s not enough to even show 720p high definition images without scaling them down. And because the panel is not a widescreen, the result will be letterboxed. The best it can do is 1024 by 576, which is barely better than a widescreen standard definition format. And when letterboxed, the image size shrinks from 10 inches diagonal (actually, it’s just 9.7 inches) to a mere 8.9 inches.

How does watching a less-than-high definition 8.9 inch diagonal video image rate as “the best movie-watching experience ever“? Somehow, I would have picked a 1080p projector with a 100-inch screen and a 7.1 surround sound system in a home theater installation, or at least a 50-inch LCD or plasma flat screen HDTV. I don’t think a device like the iPad would ever occur to me.

Am I all wrong on this? Will you be trading your HDTV for an iPad as soon as you can? Let me know at alfred@hdtvprofessor.com.