Your monitor sucks. No, you didn't buy the wrong one. No, it's not because they didn't cram enough pixels in there. Actually, computer displays have come a long way since looking at holes in punch cards, boards with light-bulbs, oscilloscopes, and everything in-between.
Eventually we got fancy and started using electronics to be our display for computers. Blinking red lights down the sides of supercomputers. eventually using oscilloscopes and other more modern displays that could reproduce text.
We eventually had monitors that were flat, light weight, great display quality (high resolution, millions of colours, and other common measures), we also started making them much bigger than ever before. A common monitor is over one foot across. Sometimes this isn't enough. As a programmer, I prefer to have two monitors, but adding more screens and adding more places for me to move my head slowly makes the entire task more daunting than helpful: there's a limit to screen size usefulness, and how much better photo quality does my display really need to be? Most people are very happy with a normal monitor's quality. I have two of these acer monitors and they cost under $150. They're not top-of-the-line, but they've lasted me more than three years and don't have any dead pixels.
Of course, some people really do care deeply about their monitors, if you explore Amazon a bit you'll find some monitors of ultra-high contrast ratios, up to 70 inches wide, waterproof, projection onto a wall, and we keep going in that direction. Now that's where I see things starting to go wrong. I'm damn happy with my two monitors that came to about treefitddy after taxes. I have roughly four feet of display to work with, which is nice, but adding more than this slowly becomes something we simply don't use. The concept of a display is to show you something from the computer, it used to be punch cards, now it's a flat panel of light-bulbs. Actually, it's been a panel of light-bulbs for quote some time. Display technology has lost interest in innovating towards making a better way to look at computer output. That's not to say innovation is dead, but those who have been pushing the boundaries are fighting a lot of momentum from the existing market.
Many people speculate the next "big thing" is this headache-inducing "3d" stuff. Put on glasses, stare at interlaced images, or some other tricks. You can buy these TVs, but most people simply don't care if they have their advertisements jumping out of the screen or not. There's a long way to go before we ever reach starwars-like holographs with R2D2 projecting a video in the middle of nowhere. We have something close to that however.
This is really cool, it's a work of optics that is actually capable of producing a point of light in the middle of the air, any air. Some other systems used mirrors, pushed water or gas into a cloud and used a projector, this one actually uses a laser beam to explode a specific point of air into plasma
. It's really dangerous but really cool
. All of these things are neat but it's not addressing the core reason we bothered with a display in the first place. The display wasn't invented so we might build a bigger one with a a sharper contrast ratio in two years. Displays are a prime part of the computer-human interaction system, but they've become the most common one.
What happens when we start thinking about human interaction?
Suddenly, the picture quality is less important. We don't really care "how crisp" something is as much as we care about how much value we can get from it. Here's a video that demonstrates my favourite (to date) example of what we could be doing, even though it may not be a fully developed concept, and there may be many display technologies involve, it's the interaction that's the important part.
They've augmented their reality to such a point that the entire computer interaction is seamless and feels very natural. That "display" system fits the user exactly like a glove. Computer monitor manufacturers are chasing a goal post of building sharper displays and bigger displays, and I say we're about to see a paradigm shift because playing that quality game simply cannot compete with giving customers value through better usability.
Two concepts covered by Philips in that report was customization of a workspace to fit an individual, and a large stress on communicating value. Only one software packages comes to mind that attempt to make displays more natural.
f.lux automatically changes how bright my screen is based on the time of the day. It's beautiful, no more glaring sunlight in my eyes late at night, or disrupting my sleep cycle because my body thinks it's daytime. This is an example of how displays need to fit the human like a glove, not display ultra-realistic, rich, crisp pictures of cats.
So where do we go from here?
The computer screen may have improved graphically over the last few decades, but what we're doing with it has been fairly stagnant. The display doesn't fit the user like a glove, it doesn't consider that the user is a human or how it works (aside from being designed to have the same light characteristics as the sun).
What do I mean when I say it doesn't fit like a glove
? I mean we're humans and we haven't fit naturally into an interaction where we simply stare into a box of lights. That set-up works great for pictures and watching videos, but it isn't equally powerful for our other computer uses. What do I mean by things that don't fit like a glove? Right now you have to search around for that window you just hid somewhere. I mean it's not responsive to you as naturally as it could be. In our race for photo-realism (which is nice sometimes
), we forgot to make it work for a human the way we need it to.
As we move forward, displays shouldn't be about just the box of lights, it needs to be an interface that is responsive to the person using it. If I'm about to look up something on the internet, my computer should be predictive of my needs and place things where I can anticipate them readily. It should take into concern my level of ease in using it. I shouldn't be searching through tabs for a single blob of text. I shouldn't have to look at some company's lovely graphics plastered all over the place to get to my content. As we move forward, displays need to be able to fit us like a glove and deliver content to us in that way.
How do we do that?
We separate content from design, and let the display figure it out for me. What I'm suggesting is a divergance from the old concept that a display is just a box with lights, and now suggesting the display needs to get involved with the entire user experience, and wrap its self around the user. A display should not deliver content to me with a 400px banner of BrandNameProduct, blast my eyes when changing from a dark-website to a bright-website forcing my eyes to re-adjust as I move from a black-background to a white-background. These things are all related to how I interact with my display. They may not be the concerns of Acer, but they're what I think of as a human being when I look at a display.
All of these issues where we've locked presentation and content together need to vanish. When they do, we can start making these responsive displays that wrap around the human like a second-skin, totally natural. We're already having a hard time making a website work on a mobile phone because displays are concerned with photo-realistic contrast instead of delivering a user experience that demonstrates value.
Projects that augment reality are a step in an interesting direction, but perhaps not always the right one. It may end up bringing the exact same content-tied-to-design issues we've always had. Simply making things pop out of the screen, or include a computer character with us isn't going to improve the value of something to us. It will impress us with what video technology is capable of, but again, where's the value?
The value is in displays that fit the human like a glove, the value is when we have displays that can look at multiple content sources and decide what way is the most intuitive and comfortable way for the human to absorb it. We have a long way to go before a display can fit us like a glove, the first thing we need to do is expose content and let displays figure out how to mix it with other content for you
and me specifically