On Smartphone Displays and Resolutions

(Update: updated graphics for 2013 and 2015 are available)

You might say I’m a bit overenthusiastic about technology and gadgets sometimes. When the joint Google-Samsung event which was scheduled for today was cancelled, it probably hit me harder than most people you know. I’ve had the day marked on my calendar, with reminders to follow multiple liveblogs, etc. All the same, the cancellation was understandable and it was a very classy display of respect for Steve jobs, who passed away last Wednesday, October 5th.

The long-awaited Nexus Prime is rumoured to be unveiled at this Google-Samsung event. As a Nexus One owner—the original Google phone—I’ve been really looking forward to Google’s newest development. The Nexus line have generally set the standard that Google expects all its Android partners to rise up to. For example, prior to the Nexus One, few phones had a combination of a high-resolution display, fast 1Ghz processor, good camera, etc. (for the time). Now, it’s rumoured that the Nexus Prime (or Galaxy Nexus, or Droid Prime) will raise that bar again, and this time bring the screen resolution to an insane 720p HD (1280×720).

I had to visualize this for myself, so I made this graphic:

(All ppi calculations were done using online tools such as this one)
 

The next generation of Android flagship phones are undoubtedly going to feature massive, pixel-dense displays like the Nexus Prime’s. These phones are going to be a joy to use—imagine having the screen resolution of most standard laptops in the palm of your hand. You could navigate websites in full, desktop mode, and you could even read the sharp text if you hold the phone close enough. To further illustrate the point, a 720p screen has 17% more pixels than the iPad. It’s crazy to think that my next phone is going to have 2.4× the resolution my current phone has. Such a large number of pixels requires a graphics chip that can drive them—which in turn requires considerable added (electrical) power, taking a toll on battery life.

The Samsung Galaxy Note (which is gradually being released in various markets) has a gargantuan 5.3″ display which packs so many pixels, it’s like holding a current high-end Android phone in landscape, and stacking 2.6 screens above each other to make another portrait screen. This phone actually comes with a stylus (like PDA’s of yore), and is meant for pressure-sensitive sketching and note-taking, plus regular touch. It’s a great evolution of touchscreen technology.

Platform makes an important difference as well. The HTC Titan is a new Windows Phone Mango device with a very large 4.7″ Super-LCD screen. Those of you who’ve been paying attention will remember that Windows Phone has a restriction on resolution: all devices must be 800×480—no more, no less. At this massive size, this respectable resolution would yeld a pixel density of 198.5ppi, which is about as detailed as current mid/entry-level phones on their smaller screens.

This next stage in display size and resolution is a great opportunity for Android to get ahead and stand out. iPhone, with it’s “retina” display, will continue to be stuck with a relatively small 3.5 inch screen. You get a lot of fantastic things with Apple’s star product—such as a great camera, best-of-class apps, and unrivalled battery life—but you’ll never get a large screen on which to really enjoy the content you’re watching. Once consumers see the plethora of stunning large displays lining cellphone kiosks, they will undoubtedly look at Android devices with a new level of envy.

Update: the Google-Samsung event has now been scheduled for October 19th in Hong Kong, at 10AM (In North America, October 18th, 10PM EST).

MSI Radeon HD 4830 1GB CrossFire Benchmarks

msi_box4

Image from MSI’s product page

In August of 2009 I tried my hand at benchmarking and running a dual-card setup on my own machine. I had recently purchased an ATI Radeon HD 4830, which was a lower-midrange video card at the time but had really good value in terms of performance for its price. So I bought a second, identical card (which I later returned), and ran them in crossfire to map out their benefits in real-world game tests. It was a fun experiment and I enjoyed the process of testing hardware.

Test Rig
Processor i7 920 @ 2.6 (Turbo Boost off)
Motherboard Intel DX58SO
Memory Mushkin 998659 3x2GB @1066, 8-8-8-19
Hard Drive Western Digital Black 640GB
Cooling Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus
Case Cooler Master Storm Scout
Power Supply Antec EarthWatts 500
Monitors Samsung SyncMaster 216BW and Sharp Aquos 42D64
Operating System Windows 7 RTM

 

Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X Demo

There is a built-in test run in HAWX called “Test Performance” under Video Settings. Although this utility outputs an Average and Max FPS, the Max results were always way too high to be accurate. I therefore I used FRAPS to capture FPS stats.

Hawx

Refresh Rate: 60Hz; AA: 8x; VSync: Off; View Distance: High; Forest: High; Environment: High; Texture Quality: High; HDR: On; Engine Heat: On; DOF: On

F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin Demo

Fear 2 Demo had no benching system that I could find, neither built-in or 3rd party. Worse, the game doesn’t keep my saved checkpoint after I quit the game. So for each benchmarking set, I had to sit through the intro and play up to the point where I fight a bunch of guys in a cafeteria. I did multiple runs for each test, using FRAPS to capture stats, and averaged out each set of runs.

Fear 2

Effects Detail: Maximum; Particle Bouncing: Maximum; Shell Casings: On; World Detail: Maximum; Corpse Detail: Maximum; Sound Quality Limit: Medium; Water Resolution: Maximum; FSAA: 4x; Texture Level of Detail: Maximum; Enable Shadows: On; Texture Filtering: Anisotropic 16x; Light Detail: Maximum; Shadow Detail: Maximum; Vertical Sync: Off; HDR: On: Model Decals: Maximum; Motion Blur: On; Reflections and Displays: Maximum; Ambient Occlusion: On

Half Life 2 Episode 2

I used two different time demos for Half Life2 Episode 2. PortalStorm is a 25-second, physics-intensive scene from the first few minutes of the game where the citadel’s super portal releases a portal storm, flinging debris and nearby objects into the air, and causing an overhanging bridge to collapse. DriveToBase is a 36-second race with Dog from a river to the base at White Forrest, and is more representative of the majority of the gameplay in this game.

Demos were very easy to record and play back using Source’s command console. Stats were captured using FRAPS, and three runs were averaged for each set of tests.

HL2ep2 1680

Model Detail: High; Texture detail: Very High; Shader Detail: High; Water Detail: Reflect all; Shadow Detail: High; Color Correction: Enabled; MSAA: 8x; AF: 16x; VSync: disabled; Motion Blur: Enabled; Field of View: 90.00; Multicore Rendering: unavailable; High Dynamic Range: Full; Use ‘bloom’ effect when available: unavailable.

HL2ep2 1920

Model Detail: High; Texture detail: Very High; Shader Detail: High; Water Detail: Reflect all; Shadow Detail: High; Color Correction: Enabled; MSAA: 8x; AF: 16x; VSync: disabled; Motion Blur: Enabled; Field of View: 90.00; Multicore Rendering: unavailable; High Dynamic Range: Full; Use ‘bloom’ effect when available: unavailable.

Far Cry 2

I’d like to salute the makers of Far Cry 2 for making the easiest benchmarking system out of all. All you have to do to start the built-in utility is right-click on the game’s icon in the Start Menu and select “Benchmark”. THAT’S IT. At the end of a test you’re presented with a results page that not only gives you detailed stats, but actually automatically averages all the runs for you.

I ran the “ranch small” time demo in DX10, 3 loops per set.

Far Cry 2

2xAA; VSync off; DX10; Fire: Very High; Physics: Very High; Real Trees: Very High; Vegetation: Very High; Shading Ultra High; Terrain: Ultra High; Geometry: Ultra High; Post FX: High; Texture: Ultra High; Shadow: Ultra High; Ambient: High; HDR on; Bloom on

Crysis SP Demo

I used the popular Crysis Benchmarking Tool for this test. Unfortunately, DX10 and 64bit wouldn’t work for some reason, so I stuck to DX9 (according to talk online, there isn’t much difference in performance). I ran the “benchmark_gpu” timedemo, 3 loops per set, and had the time of day set at the default 9AM.

This game demo had a problem in CrossFire mode, where various objects in the game (random trees, shrubs, rocks, etc) would rapidly flicker. I’m guessing CrossFire was rendering each frame using alternate GPUs, and some objects were somehow loaded into one card but not the other. Since this demo is the prerelease demo, this and other problems in the game were probably fixed in later patches. Unfortunately, Crytek did not provide any updated demo to this game, nor a demo to their follow-up game Crysis Warhead.

Crysis

Quality Settings: Overall Quality High; 2xAA; DX9

Fallout 3

Unfortunately, VSync cannot be disabled in this game so there was no point benchmarking it. Even on a single 4830 on the highest settings, the framerate stayed generally at the 60fps ceiling. TweakGuides suggests a hack to this limitation, but unfortunately it did not work for me.

Update: I’ve been asked to clarify why I didn’t benchmark Fallout 3. There is a phenomenon in every animated 3d game and environment called screen tearing, where the image on screen looks sliced at various parts during rapid panning (such as when you look left or right in a first person game). This can be jarring and it removes from the realism of the scene. VSync is a feature that can be included/enabled in most games which solves this problem, eliminating these jaggies during panning. But one byproduct of VSync is that it prevents the game’s framerate from going any higher than 60fps (which is the monitor’s refresh rate).

When I tried benchmarking Fallout 3, even at the most taxing configuration (highest graphics settings, highest resolution, single video card) the framerate was stuck at 60fps, and this was because VSync was enabled in the game. It also couldn’t be disabled. So, were I to benchmark it, I would simply get a whole graph showing 60fps across the board. So suffice it to say, the 4830 has power to spare for playing Fallout 3. It just can’t be benchmarked.

All Content © 2009 Bagha Shams
(Video Card photo © Micro-Star Int’l Co.,Ltd.)