It’s better than it used to be!
I’ve been thinking how nice it’d be to have a higher DPI screen. My current monitor is 109 dpi which is just low enough that I can run things at 100% scaling and it’s all readable. (Sometimes I bump the font size up +1 on things). But I’d love to get a 200 dpi or higher screen so everything looks crisper. This works great on MacOS but historically has been a mess on Windows, in large part because sometimes you are running 20 year old code that is rendering pixels on its own and is totally DPI unaware. But things have improved.
The testing below is with Windows 21H1. I learned a lot from this blog post which explains how to configure Windows high DPI, in particular how to override settings on a per-app basis. I haven’t needed to do that but it’s nice that it’s an option.
I set Windows to 125% scaling and tried a bunch of things. For me my metric of “works OK” is “readable” and “works right” is “readable and not blurry”. Example blurry window to the right. (Note that the app itself works right; only the installer is blurry.)
Most of the apps I use just worked right. A few had to be restarted; they were blurry or in the case of Steam just didn’t work right at all. A few apps were slightly blurry: not “pixel scaled 125% blurry” but more like “awkward font size”, maybe just something not quite optimized. A few older apps worked but were blurry like 125% pixel scaling: Audacity 2.3.3, NZBGet 21.1 (Win UI), SFTP Net Drive. The only thing that was consistently blurry was NSIS, the Nullsoft installer system a lot of software use. There might be a fix package builders can use. Don’t much care anyway, you run an installer once and forget about it. I didn’t test very many games, most games are fully doing their own thing with rendering anyway so I expect they are unaffected by the DPI setting in Windows.
I was honestly surprised at how much did work perfectly. So that impressed me. 125% scaling works almost everywhere in Windows now. None of it feels quite perfect and there are some rough edges but then that’s typical of the Windows UI experience in general. It’s fine and totally usable.
Microsoft has put more thought into display scaling than I reazlied. This helpful developer doc shows the evolution; there was reasonable support starting in Windows 8.1. Windows 10 1703 stabilized on “Per-Monitor V2” with various APIs. The part that surprises me is “Desktop applications must tell Windows if they support DPI scaling”: without that Windows just bitmap-scales and makes for bluriness. I’m surprised almost all the apps I tried are apparently DPI scaling aware. It seems to work even with very old Win32 APIs, you don’t have to use fancy new UWP apps to get scaling. This guide makes it sound not very hard to write basic scaling-aware apps although it does take some extra work to do it nicely.
There is a way to inspect the scaling-awareness of running apps. Oddly a couple of apps (Everything, the PowerToys launcher) say they are “System” status which means basically unaware and yet they look right on my screen. There are a few apps that are fully “Unaware” but they are mostly things like Steam that seem to have their own bizarre rendering for everything.
One thing I can’t tell easily is if the apps are non-blurry because they aren’t scaling at all. I think PingInfoView may be like that; it says it’s “System” scaling but the window was non blurry and the font seemed too small. But the difference from 125% to 100% is not easy to be sure about. I’d care a lot more if I’m running at 200%.
I wish I had a simple program that called the various APIs for inspecting display characteristics and just showed me the info. I guess I could write one.
Higher DPI monitors
Anyway the software mostly seems to work. Now I need the hardware. I currently have a 34″ 3440×1440 monitor that I bought for about $1000. I like it very much. It’s 31 x 13 inches for 109 dpi. There are a bunch of higher density displays but they get pretty pricy.
5K monitors may be more reasonable. Here’s a couple, the first is pretty much a straight DPI upgrade on my existing screens ize.
Newegg has a lot of choices for 4k gaming monitors, some 16 at 3840×2160 (for a 16×9 aspect ratio).
Looking at this another way… a 43″ 3840×2160 monitor is a pretty common size for $1300 or so. That’s 105dpi, so basically I’d get a bigger monitor at the same dpi. Not interested. To go higher density there’s 32″ 3840×2160. That gives 138 dpi, or about 25% more pixel density. These monitors are 27″x15″ and I’d definitely the loss of width.
What would be a clear DPI upgrade on what I have now is a 5120 x 2160 monitor. That gets me back to that LG 34, I think it’s the closest to a direct dot density upgrade. It’s one of only two monitors in this size; the other is the MSI PS341WU.
The other thing I should consider is pixel depth; 10 bits is common now although I don’t know of any software supports it. And also refresh rate; I like my GSync up to 100Hz. The LG 34″ that looks like a good match for me is 10 bit and supports 75 Hz. No indication of GSync or FreeSync support though. The MSI monitor is 60Hz only.
Just for fun, Apple’s Pro Display XDR is 6016 x 3384 for 218 dpi at $5000 (!). The screen is 28 x 16″. I can’t find anyone selling another brand with this panel.
Bottom line, the LG 34WK95U-W looks like the best option for me and a fairly unique one at that. $1224 on Amazon is not a lot but I don’t think it’s a big enough upgrade to warrant replacing my existing monitor.