More Pixels, More Weirdness: Retina Displays and the Sudden Importance of Resolution Independence

A buddy of mine who still works at Apple got me in on a deal for a new MacBook Pro with a shiny new “Retina” display. For those who’ve lived a charmed life immune from the Apple hype machine, “retina displays” are what Apple calls their ultra-high resolution (typically 220-330 DPI) displays, which come (somewhat) close to the human eye’s limit for ability to distinguish individual pixels. It’s a crazy sharp display, with a native resolution of  2560×1600 on a 15″ form factor. All told, it’s a ton of pixels.

I can tell you from firsthand experience that it makes for razor-sharp text display, and the sheer beauty of well-designed fonts on it has gone a long way toward rekindling my love of the fine points of typography. It’s also easily the nicest, lightest, and most capable laptop I’ve ever owned.

But–and you knew there was a “but” coming–all those pixels are causing me a lot of trouble when it comes to ComicBase, due to the insane ways which Windows deals with font scaling.

The problem comes down to this: if you actually try to run a MacBook Pro 15″ at its “native” resolution of 2560×1600, the pixels are so impossibly small that you’d need either the eyes of a teenager or a jeweler’s loupe to be able to read the type. To work around this, you have to tell Windows to scale the display to use a “custom text size” of 200% in the Display Control Panel. Windows then attempts to make all the application’s elements twice as large, solving the “tiny pixels” problem.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t do such a great job of resizing layouts which use graphics, leading to all manner of half-drawn screen elements and tiny pictures in the middle of what are now double-sized text layouts.  And of course, one of the biggest victims of this slapdash resizing is that old graphic-and-text-heavy app ComicBase.

In the past, we’d advise folks who ran into this problem to simply use “normal size” text, and run their displays at native resolutions. For better or worse, however, the advent of super-rezzy retina displays makes this advice no longer realistic. As such, expect yours truly to be devoting a lot of energy and special coding to ensure the next release of ComicBase looks terrific on even the most hardcore displays.

After all, what’s the point of having Really Shiny new tech toys, if your favorite programs aren’t going to look terrific on them?

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