Dealing with Aging Eyes, Screen Size, and Resolution

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Whether it is growing older or other medical conditions that affect our eyesight, we need to make adjustments to our computers or hardware setups to make reading easy and pleasurable once again. But what is the best course of action to choose? Today’s SuperUser Q&A post offers up some advice for a reader in need of help.

Today’s Question & Answer session comes to us courtesy of SuperUser—a subdivision of Stack Exchange, a community-driven grouping of Q&A web sites.

Photo courtesy of Peter Kemmer (Flickr).

The Question

SuperUser reader Shanman is looking for advice on dealing with readability problems on his computer’ screen:

I have a 19″ monitor with a native resolution of 1600*900 pixels. This provides crisp clear text, but it is too small and my vision is not as good as it once was.

In order to see better, I have reduced the resolution to 1280*720 pixels and chosen large fonts. The text is larger but not as clear. It forces me to scroll horizontally because part of the text no longer fits onto the screen.

If I upgraded to a 23″ monitor with a native resolution of 1920*1080 pixels and chose a normal sized font, would that fix my woes? How would the text size on my 19″ monitor set at 1280*720 pixels with large fonts compare to the text size on a 23″ monitor set at 1920*1080 pixels with a normal sized font?

What is the best course of action for Shanman to take?

The Answer

SuperUser contributors fixer1234, Mark Plotnick, and STTR have some answers and advice for us. First up, fixer1234:

Some Quick Background

Pixels are the smallest physical “dots” that are lit up on the monitor to display an image. They are the building blocks and define all of the trade-offs. The monitor is manufactured with a specific arrangement of pixels, which is its native resolution.

Characters are drawn on the screen by defining which pixels are illuminated within an imaginary grid. The number of pixels in the grid determines the size of the font on that monitor.

Normal Size

We can start with screen fonts at their normal size and the computer configured to use the monitor’s native resolution, then compare how the same font will look on two differently sized monitors. On each monitor, the actual size of the font on the screen will be determined by the physical size of the screen’s pixels.

The density or closeness of the pixels at which the screen is manufactured is measured in pixels per inch. That determines the physical size of each pixel. A 19″ monitor with a native resolution of 1600*900 pixels and a 23″ monitor with a native resolution of 1920*1080 pixels both have roughly 96 pixels per inch. So, if these two screens were compared side-by-side, the font would be the same size on both displays.

Magnification

If you want to select a larger font or set the computer to magnify the font, either option reduces how much will fit on the screen. The larger screen will give you more screen real estate (more pixels to work with). So, the larger, higher resolution monitor will allow you to display more content on the screen.

If you set the computer to a lower resolution and magnify it to fill the screen, it maps the content of the smaller image onto the larger space and interpolates to determine what each physical pixel displays. Mapping a 1280*720 pixel resolution onto a 1600*900 display is equivalent to a magnification of 125 percent.

If you wanted that same magnification on a 1920*1080 display, you would select a resolution of 1536*864 pixels (or whatever was the closest standard resolution available) to map full screen. That figure is nearly the same as the native resolution of your current monitor. If you selected a slightly higher resolution, you would get a slightly lower magnification.

So with the larger monitor, you could come close to displaying the content of your current monitor’s native resolution at the magnification you like.

A second answer from fixer1234:

Computer glasses can make a huge difference relative to multi-focal or progressive lenses. Your entire field of view is accurately corrected to the screen’s distance. I use them now and it makes a world of difference.

Followed by the answer from Mark Plotnick:

If your problem is simply Presbyopia, then either good, non-distorting reading glasses or a similar change to whatever other vision correction you are using (i.e. bifocal or monovision glasses) can help.

And our final answer from STTR:

You can learn more about optimizing the display scaling on your screen here:

Optimize Display Scaling and Fix Scaling Issues on Windows 7 (Microsoft TechNet)


Have something to add to the explanation? Sound off in the comments. Want to read more answers from other tech-savvy Stack Exchange users? Check out the full discussion thread here.

Akemi Iwaya is a devoted Mozilla Firefox user who enjoys working with multiple browsers and occasionally dabbling with Linux. She also loves reading fantasy and sci-fi stories as well as playing "old school" role-playing games. You can visit her on Twitter and .