What 15 Years Of Computer Screen Evolution Looks Like

The standard desktop monitor today has a resolution of 2560x1600. This artwork shows two dozen or so of its most recent ancestors.

As the resolutions on our computer screens have grown larger, the stuff on them has grown smaller, at least as far as our eyeballs are concerned. It’s like moving into a big new house and finding that all your apartment-sized furniture doesn’t really fill up the space. Boston.com’s Big Picture blog used to stretch awe-inspiringly across my entire laptop; now it takes up, like, half, which is definitely a bummer. Text is even more problematic. It’s tiny! Sometimes painfully so. So I’ve gotten in the habit of enlarging it when and wherever I can. I compulsively blow websites up to a more comfortable size, and I bumped my default TextEdit font from the torturous 12-point to a far more reasonable 18. I relish in my grandma-size jumbo text. It keeps me sane.

At least for now. From the looks of things, the future only holds more hi-res madness. Some smartphones now boast HDTV-worthy resolutions, and soon TVs will make the jump to 4K. But what about the past? Just how did we arrive here with all these pixels to fill? That’s precisely what these pieces of paper show us.

Graphic Arrays, by Aram Bartholl, shows the evolution of aspect ratios and resolutions over the last decade. The retrospective covers the development in two distinct strains: the portrait-orientation screens of our mobile devices and the landscape ones of our laptops and desktop monitors.

The latter begins with the VGA display that IBM made standard starting in 1987. A humble 640 pixels wide by 480 tall. The largest in that stack--which Bartholl rendered out of paper, "our 'old’ medium," he explains--represents the 2560×1600 resolution commonly found on desktop monitors today. On mobile, the smallest is 240x320 (just big enough for a game of Snake), ending with the comparatively gigantic 1536x2048 resolution of the retina-level iPad. We’ve come a long away.

It may look like a leap, but it was, of course, the product of many incremental jumps. Here, in the artist’s statement, Bartholl catalogs all of them:

240×320, 240×400, 320×480, 480×640, 480×800, 540×960, 600×960, 600×1024, 640×960, 768×1024, 720×1280, 1366×768, 800×1280, 1080×1920, 1536×2048

640×480, 768×576, 800×600, 1024×600, 1024×768, 1152×720, 1280×720, 1280×768, 1280×800, 1152×864, 1280×960, 1280×1024, 1360×768, 1366×768, 1440×900, 1600×900, 1400×1050, 1680×1050, 1600×1200, 1920×1080, 2048×1152, 1920×1200, 1920×1440, 2560×1440, 2560×1600

If you’re having a hard time reading that, try holding down CMD and tapping the "+" key on Mac or CTRL "+" on Windows.

Graphic Arrays is currently on view at DAM Frankfurt as part of a show titled Back to Back, running through April 27.

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4 Comments

  • danny richardson

    "THE STANDARD DESKTOP MONITOR TODAY HAS A RESOLUTION OF 2560X1600." hARDLY ANY MONITORS, ASIDE FROM 27" IMACS AND CINEMA DISPLAYS HAVE THIS RESOLUTION, TO SAY THIS IS "THE STANDARD... RESOLUTION" IS NOT TRUE AT ALL.

  • Chris

    While I don't agree with the AllCaps, the poster above is correct. 2560x1600 might be the standard somewhere (Apple store) but it's certainly not the world at large...

  • Adriano Farina

    You can actually play Snake on a 84 x 48 screen, such as the good old Nokia 3310.