Aris Silzars Display Technology Consulting


“Good Enough” gets better…

Readers of these columns may remember past discussions of how consumer products typically reach a stage of being “good enough”.  Once this level is reached there is little benefit for products that try to exceed these levels. 

A ready example can be found in audio components.  The sound quality of “good enough” can now be achieved by many products that are commonly available -- and at low prices.  There is little commercial benefit to try to achieve anything better because the additional sound “purity” is not detectable by the great majority of listeners.  The few audiophiles who are willing to spend enormous sums of money to achieve aurally imperceptible improvements are a distinct minority.  And they are catered to by a few specialty companies that create products sometimes having more visual appeal than better sound.  The “good enough” criteria for audio components has not changed for quite a number of years and that is the way it is expected to stay.

Some years ago, in the early days of digital cameras, I wrote a column that predicted that for most consumer digital cameras – especially in the point-and-shoot category -- an imager with 2 Megapixels would be “good enough”.  This prediction was based on how people typically use these cameras to take snapshots that are then made into prints no larger than 3 x 5 or 4 x 6 inches in size.   Given the overall quality of the lenses and the casual use of these cameras, it seemed to me that 2 Megapixels would be quite “good enough” and would also keep the digital storage demands at a modest level.  

Clearly my logic was not what prevailed in the market place.  The “good enough” criteria went well beyond the 2 Megapixels so that even the lowest priced digital cameras are currently beginning to approach levels closer to 10 Megapixels.   So have we finally settled on “good enough” at this new and higher level of quality – a level that most consumers will never appreciate? 

Apparently not!  What caught my attention recently was a product review in Popular Photography magazine.  Nikon has just announced new Digital Cameras with 36.3 Mpixel and 24.2 Mpixel sensors.  What is really amazing is that the 24.2 Mpixel camera has a suggested selling price of $699.  It’s intended for amateur photographers just one level above those in the casual point-and-shoot category.  How will these amateurs benefit from this stunning resolution capability?   They would have to make prints larger than 16 x 20 inches to appreciate the subtleties that this resolution can provide.  And the rest of the photographic process has to be executed with comparable precision – no camera shake and very careful focus.  “Good enough” is apparently no longer being determined by what is practical.  It’s a race set by the market-driven need to promote and sell products – perhaps similar to what happened some years ago with horsepower in cars -- a feature that also could never be used by most drivers but cost plenty in extra gas consumption.  So now we have cameras that take pictures well beyond the capabilities of essentially all amateur photographers.  And capturing images at this resolution requires storing very large files that then require extra computer resources to process – like the gas guzzling cars of the late 60s and early 70s.    

Now, let’s look at what’s happening to displays.  Here too, we are apparently about to create a new level of “good enough”, but perhaps one that makes better sense.  When HDTV came along, I wrote a few columns suggesting that full HD resolution of 1080 x 1920 was really more than most consumers would ever appreciate.  It seemed to me that something in the range of 720 X 1280 was going to be quite “good enough” for virtually all casual viewers.  What was not so clear when I made these predictions was how flat-panel screen sizes would grow as time went by. 

Many of you should still be able to remember that the largest CRTs were about 36 inches in diagonal measure and that rear-projection was the only way to achieve large-screen viewing.  Virtually no one in the display industry at that time thought that just a few years into the future we would be looking at typical flat-panel sizes of more than 50 inches – especially with LC technology.  Now we are being tempted with flat-panels in the 60 to 80 inch sizes and soon even beyond. 

Given these larger screen sizes should we reconsider what is “good enough”?  At 70 or 80 inches even 1080 x 1920 HDTV begins to show its resolution limitations.   So perhaps it makes perfectly good sense that we are beginning to hear of plans to introduce TVs with even more rows and columns.  A doubling of rows and columns adds a spectacular three-dimensional quality to images on these larger screens.  And as it was in going from NTSC to HDTV this is a much easier transition for the consumer than trying to use something clumsy like stereoscopic 3D viewing glasses.  The higher resolution does not require anything special.  If a program comes in at a lower resolution it simply doesn’t look quite as spectacular but can be viewed just the same as a higher resolution program. 

There is great entertainment value in large flat-panel screens.  The current “sweet-spot” of television displays in the 50-inch range is moving to 60-inches and soon above.  Over the next few years we can expect to see more of the market migrating to 70 and even 80-inch category displays.  For these, the new 4K resolution format will be of real benefit.  So a new “good enough” is evolving that goes well beyond what we thought was “good enough” just a few years ago.  This is an exciting development for the display industry – much more exciting than stereoscopic 3D that inherently will never be able to produce truly realistic images. 

Are you ready to accept the new larger screens with higher resolution into your viewing life?  Let me know your thoughts on this topic or others.  You may reach me directly from this site, by e-mail at, or by phone at 425-898-9117.           


19916 NE 30th Ct. Sammamish, WA 98074 Call 425.898.9117

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