Windows 7 Feature Focus
When Windows Vista debuted in late 2005, it came with some heady new hardware requirements for those users who wished to take advantage of the GPU-backed Aero display. Today, of course, such hardware is commonplace on all PCs, even low-end netbooks, and with Windows 7, Microsoft was able to move beyond the Aero basics of Vista and offer users a more compelling visual experience. There are Aero-based improvements all over Windows 7--including the new taskbar, Aero Snaps, Aero Peek, Aero Shake, Aero Themes and more--but the display improvements in Microsoft's latest OS go well beyond these effects. In this feature focus, I'd like to examine some of the other display improvements that are available in Windows 7.
Windows 7 includes a Display Color Calibration wizard that helps you adjust, or calibrate, your PC display so that it correctly displays colors as they appear in the real world. This is perhaps more difficult than it seems: We all perceive colors differently, and many other factors determine how your display renders color, including your surroundings and, in the case of laptop displays especially, your horizontal and vertical viewing angle. And while color calibration may seems like a relatively high-end feature required only by graphic artists and the like, anyone with two different brand displays has likely seen how differently they can render the same display.
To launch the Display Color Calibration wizard, type calib in Start Menu Search and tap Enter. This tool will step you through a number of adjustments, for gamma, brightness, contrast, and color balance, and it provides a nice plain English description of each adjustment.
If you have separately obtained a dedicated color calibration device, that device will offer far more accurate adjustments than are possible with a software-based tool like Display Color Calibration. But such tools are uncommon in the real world, and Display Color Calibration is certainly a fine addition to Windows 7 for the layman.
Improved high DPI support
In Windows Vista, Microsoft introduced basic support for high DPI (dots per inch) displays, which pack more pixels per square inch than normal displays. For example, a typical LCD display features 96 DPI, whereas a high DPI display may feature 200 DPI. What this means in the real world is that a high DPI display can offer a much larger resolution on the same sized screen. So if you were to compare a normal 21-inch display, it might offer a resolution of 1680 x 1050, whereas a high DPI display of the same size could offer 1920 x 1200 or even 2560 x 1600 resolution, or similar. The result is that onscreen objects are much smaller and, in the case of text, much harder to read.
Interestingly, Microsoft's end user research has found that fully 55 percent of Windows users have lowered the resolution of their display in order to better read small text. The problem with this approach is that LCDs have a single native resolution, and when you "bump down" the resolution to make onscreen objects clearer, you also introduce fuzziness, which can impact eyesight over time.
In Windows 7, there's a better approach: Thanks to the scalable nature of the onscreen objects, especially text, you can scale the display using a simple control panel, while leaving it set to the native resolution. The result is much crisper text (and other onscreen elements), while retaining the ability to view photos and videos at their original size and resolution. In other words, it's the best of both worlds.
To access this control panel, search for display using Start Menu Search. Unlike the similar control panel in Vista, the Windows 7 version provides simple 100 percent, 125 percent, and 150 percent scaling options, instead of a sliding scale. Note that you'll need to logoff and log back on to see the change.
ClearType is Microsoft's "sub-pixel rendering" technology, which improves the readability of onscreen text by smoothing the minute curves that make up each character. ClearType was optional in Windows XP, but off by default because so many users still had CRT-based displays back then and ClearType works well only with LCD-type flat panel displays. In Windows Vista, ClearType was enabled by default across the system. And in Windows 7, Microsoft has fine-tuned how ClearType enhances the display of text. There's also a nice ClearType Text Tuner wizard, shown below, that will help you manually adjust how text is rendered onscreen according to your own eyesight and the display properties of your display.
Improved support for external displays
One of my favorite new features in Windows 7 is Connect To a Projector, which lets you neatly toggle how your PC handles its primary and secondary (projector) displays. You can find this applet in the Start Menu by searching for connect to, but the easiest way to use it is via the secret WINDOWS KEY + P keyboard shortcut. Either way, you'll be presented with the following very simple UI:
There are four possible choices:
Computer only. In this case, only the first display attached to the PC is used and any external display or projector is disabled.
Duplicate. Here, the display in the PC is mirrored to the projector or secondary display.
Extend. With this setting, the Windows desktop is extended between the primary display and the projector.
Projector only. The PC's internal display is disabled and the PC desktop is outputted only to the projector.
This feature has proven particularly useful during our current vacation, because we've been able to use the laptop's HDMI connection to display PC-based movies on the HDTV here.
Note that Windows 7 also provides the same old-school "connect to an external display" option that was available in previous Windows versions. This interface allows you to virtually position the displays and other configure a multi-monitor setup, or when using a projector to extend your desktop.