Refuting Microsoft's claim of Surface display superiority

Refuting Microsoft's claim of Surface display superiority

Summary: Microsoft is telling customers that its new tablet's display is sharper than the iPad 3. "Not so fast" says an internationally recognized research scientist specializing in display technology.

Refuting Microsoft's claim that Surface display is better than the iPad's - Jason O'Grady

Microsoft recently implied (via CNET) that the display in its Surface tablet is better than the display in the iPad 3 -- despite the fact that Surface for Windows RT has a resolution of 1366 x 768 (148 PPI) compared to the iPad's 2048 x 1536 (264 PPI).

Steven Bathiche, director of research for Microsoft's Applied Sciences group, recently told a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) audience that "Microsoft has the best pixel rendering technology in the industry" (ClearType 1.0 and 2.0) and that (while unofficial) "our current ClearType measurements on the amount of light reflected off the screen [of the Surface RT] is around 5.5%-6.2%, the new iPad has a measurement of 9.9% mirror reflections)."

Bathiche said that "screen resolution is one component of perceived detail. The true measure of resolvability of a screen called Modulation Transfer Function (MTF), not Pixels." He goes on to say that "without good contrast, resolution decreases."

Dr. Raymond Soneira, President of DisplayMate Technologies (who's Mirror Reflections readings are quoted by the Microsoft engineers in the AMA) takes issue with Microsoft's claim of screen superiority over the vaunted iPad 3.

Since the Surface isn't shipping until October 26 and not available for a true comparison Soneira compared the iPad 2 and 3 to an Asus Netbook with a 1366 x 768, 130 PPI display that's "essentially identical" to the Surface (the ASUS Eee PC 1201N Seashell) because it uses the same Microsoft Sub-Pixel Rendering believed to be used in the Surface.

For his test Soneira loaded the New York Times website in Safari on all three displays and compared them side-by-side (all three displays have the same 5.9-inch screen height in landscape mode, so it was a very fair comparison). He concluded that "The Windows ClearType 768p display on the Asus Netbook was significantly sharper than the iPad 2 768p display but also significantly less sharp than the new iPad 3 1536p display."

While far from conclusive, Soneira's test casts serious doubt on Microsoft's claim of display superiority over the iPad. To be fair, he notes that it's possible that the Microsoft Surface RT will perform better than the Asus Netbook he tested, but calls it "very unlikely" that the Surface will be visually sharper than the iPad 3.

On the other hand Soneira says that it's "quite possible" that the Surface with Windows Pro (with 1920 x 1080 and 208 PPI) will be "comparable in sharpness" to the iPad 3's 2048 x 1536, 264 PPI panel, but since it won't be shipping until 90 days after the Surface RT, we'll likely have to wait until CES 2013 in January to find out definitively.

I can't wait until October 26 (and beyond) when we can compare the actual displays in the new crop of Windows tablets, including the displays that come on Windows tablets from other manufacturers who might ship higher quality displays than Microsoft does in the Surface.

Competition is a good thing, my friend.

Topics: Apple, iPad, Microsoft, Tablets

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  • Now why would this Dr. Raymond Soneira

    make such a claim before testing the actual product against the iPad3?
    John Zern
    • The actual product

      The actual product isn't shipping until October 26, so obviously, it's an opinion. Microsoft's Steven Bathiche pretty clearly states that it's better than the iPad display.

      FWIW, according to CNET ( Bathiche is the director of research for the company's Applied Sciences group ( and worked on the development of the tablet.

      - Jason
      Jason D. O'Grady
      • When there is simple math involved, Soneira or whoever else does not ...

        need actual product to say 2+2=4.
        • I was truly hoping you would show up

          So when the iPhone has a lower resolution than the competition, it is still better because of glue between the layers and when the iPhone has a lower MP camera than the competition, it is still better because of IR filters.

          But DRESSS, it is simple math. 8.7MP is better than 8MP, therefore the Nokia Lumia has a better camera than the iPhone 5. And 332 PPI is better than 329 PPI, therefore the Nokia Lumia has a better screen than the iPhone 5.

          Hey DRESSS, it is simple 2+2=4 math, right?
          • That's why!

            That's why my six years old 5MP camera takes better picture than my smartphone's 8MP camera...

            Camera's megapixels isn't everything just like pixel density isn't everything on a display.
          • Tell it to DDERSSS, not toddbottom3.

            I hope that comment was offered up with the understanding that toddbottom3 was himself making the point that if all your going to go by is the simple math of one element your going to get 2=2=4, when in fat the actual number thats the true final answer is not four at all but more like 5 or 6.

            The math is actually still just as factual but its very handy for some people who want to get a different result to simply not use all the numbers involved to do so.

            A much better analogy mathematically in this case may be more like 2+2+1+1=6. If you know 6 is the result for both products, but your only coming up with 4 for one of the two products your comparing...your just simply not adding in all the factors involved with the product only getting a score of four.

            Its an old trick used by scammers, flim flam men, crooked accountants and hardware zealots now I guess.
          • toddbottom3, you make such a great point!!!!

            Why is it, every time the iPhone falls short it is still perceived as better somehow? Kinda drives me crazy. By all practical deduction, the Lumia 920 is leaps ahead of the iPhone 5. We will have to see how the surface pans out!!!!! I am betting it is going to be very nice!!!
          • ToddBottom3's wife shows up

            Thanks for your comments to support your hubby!
          • Wife

            or top....same difference.
          • Lumia 920 so NOT leaps ahead except in your brain

            Don't make me laugh. Your "every time the iPhone falls short it is still perceived as better somehow" is ridiculous since it's "falling short" is near nonexistent. I've never heard the things you are talking about. Maps had issues for a small percentage of people but is VERSION 1 and will be a non-issue completely shortly. Let's see just how well Nokia 920 does in market share if it's so much better. I predict abject failure, just like your comments.
          • LMAO

            Market share won't make the Lumia 920 inferior to the Iphone 5. Unfortunately we live in a world where the sheep try to be hip so they buy what's popular. It's only a matter of time before the I-sheep wake up and realize Apple is stealing your money and offering you less in return with each new product. I hope the profit numbers come out in the recent court ruling so we can see how bad Apple gouges its own followers.
          • Listen to yourself

            "VERSION 1"
            "will be...shortly"
            The issues were so *near nonexistent* that the CEO PUBLICLY APOLOGIZED! (sorry about the caps, I would have used italics if I could).

            In other words, you're refuting yourself. Don't choke on the KoolAid.
          • Apples do rot

            Crap Apples happen all the time. Sheepies just can't admit it. Even Apple CEO said use Google or another map product. Overprice merchandise, now under performing the competition.
            Role Guy
          • you are right

            his comments sucks... poor people.... inferior human beings ...
          • Lumia 920 must be better, it has higher PPI

            Isn't it obvious that the screen with 332 PPI (Lumia 920) is better than the screen with 326 PPI (iPhone 5)?

            The great thing is that, according to the methodologies listed in the article, we don't even really need to compare this to an iPhone 5. We can compare the Lumia 920 to an iPhone 1 and "guess" that the iPhone 5 screen probably isn't going to be much better.

            Or do you see a problem with that testing methodology?
          • It's actually getting hard to keep up with iPhone 5 problems

            So many ZD Netters are in the tank with Apple or otherwise there would be a story with a chart of iPhone 5 issues: crap maps app, pre-chipped bodies, purple flare photos, data gobble bug. I've probably missed a few.
          • confused

            They are talking about specs of the phones. Not the maps (sounds like someone is a little sensitive). And they were not talking marketshare either.
          • @pgentry53

            @pgentry53, Are you trying to demonstrate ToddBottom3 's point? Sorry I did not catch your sarcasm.
          • Answer

            because of iSheeps
          • Really?

            This dude says the Surface has a better screen becasue of iSheep? Even thouh the Surface is a Microsoft product and not an Apple product? Perhaps I'm not getting your point here so could you explain your logic here? Thanks.