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HDMI on (my) LCD TVs sucks (aka The Campaign For Pure Pixels)

Before I get into the rant: I am thoroughly ignorant of any and all video standards. Do not expect this post to contain much in the way of factual value.

I’m housesitting at my parents’ place at the moment. They have a recent-ish 32″ Panasonic LCD TV. They have my old XP Media Centre PC driving it.

Until last night, it was plugged in via VGA cable exclusively, but I thought I’d try a DVI to HDMI cable instead, as the VGA quality is terrible but I haven’t had time to fiddle with it to date.

To expand on that “terrible” a bit – the screen is 1280 by 768 pixels. The screen doesn’t seem to support this resolution through VGA, but instead scales 1360×768 to 1280, making everything a bit grainy and distorted at the individual pixel level. It supports “WXGA” mode for input which helps with the distortion a little, but trades that for colour depth – suddenly everything is banded horribly. So, terrible.

The Panasonic has the same problem as the Sony Bravia I have at home – the list of resolutions supported via HDMI are the “classic” HD resolutions. 576p, 720p, 1080i.

None of these wonderful standard resolutions are the native physical monitor resolution, so in any resolution mode, I’m going to have display pixels that aren’t exactly one physical pixel big.

For most video content, this probably isn’t the hugest deal – video tends to be fast-moving, enjoyed at a distance, and fuzz is quite tolerable.

For text, though, it’s the kiss of death. Icons look a bit odd. Windows and the cursor alias while moving across the screen. And there’s worse!

Worse – Cleartype is designed to work at physical-pixel precision, and there’s no “blurry monitor mode”, which means that the super-large (or just oddly-placed) pixels make the usually-subtly-coloured “rounding” pixels visible on the edges of letters. Which kinda breaks the effect.

With me so far? Well, life gets worse again: Compounding the already-not-insignificant feeling of dread, OVERDRAW!

Whoever figured overdraw was something important to preserve via HDMI – in the HD era – needs to consider whether they’re really the best person for the job they’re doing.

The resolution I’m actually running now from Windows’ perspective, to a screen with 1280 horizontal pixels and 768 vertical, is something like 1180 by 684. Yes, I have to reduce the logical resolution even further to compensate for the sucky consumer HD resolution hardware.

In short: the colour displayed is vastly improved now, but blocky pixels are noticeable up close.

Overall, it’s an improvement from the VGA cable, but it’s also not quite the same in terms of screen real estate.

Is there a solution? Can I get my pure 1:1 pixel mapping with a non-monitor TV? 

Do I just have to suck up the standard HDMI formats as-is? Does your LCD or Plasma TV report itself as supporting a nonstandard 1:1 format via HDMI (like, 1366×768 or 1920×1200 or, heck, 1024×768)? Is that even possible? (if so, recommendations, please!)? Am I the only person that cares about this!?

Bring back DVI, I say. That was when men were real men, women were real women, and pixels were real display pixels.