Million-Color Myth; Apple's Not Alone Making 6-Bit Displays

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Million-Color Myth; Apple's Not Alone Making 6-Bit Displays

Million-Color Myth; Apple's Not Alone Making 6-Bit Displays

By Rob Beschizza May 21, 2007 | 5:36:57 PMCategories: Law  


The chances are, you think your laptop's LCD panel displays millions of colors. If so, the chances are that you're very much mistaken.

Apple is being sued after saying its laptops offer colors by the million, and after user complaints about its displays. The claim is that a combination of 6-bit display panels and inferior software makes a mythology of its marketing.

But it's a claim that could, potentially, apply to many makers of similar technology: the majority of LCD panels show color at only 6 bits of depth per RGB element, for a total of only about 260,000 colors. However, finely-detailed dithering at the sub-pixel level tricks our eyes into perceiving millions, as would be seen in a true-color 8-bit display.

Display technology, and its interaction with software, isn't the most exciting realm of gadget-dom, but there are some interesting questions here. When we talk of "millions of colors," do we refer to the LCD display itself, or to the output of the video card connected to it? If Microsoft's Windows XP is fine, as the lawsuit contends, isn't it an issue purely concerning dithering software, rather than the technology used in the display?

For starters, the 6-bit/8-bit divide isn't something you'll see represented in the marketing of most monitors. Moreover, it's not just about hardware, as software can manipulate the display output. The most common example is the sub-pixel dithering used to smooth the edges of fonts.

Given that the lawsuit excuses Windows from its claims, perhaps it's just the case that Microsoft's subpixel dithering techniques are better than Apple's. But if that's so, it isn't really about the display panel technology, is it?

It comes down to Apple being in singular control of both the hardware and software in its systems: By describing a video card's output in the magic millions, in the knowledge that its chosen software and hardware combination can't keep up, Apple inadvertantly made itself the prime target for this a lawsuit as opportunistic as it is baffling.


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