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Sub-pixel Rendering Leads Microsoft Surface Display to Strong Performance

By Wesley Fenlon

What the Surface lacks in a full color gamut it makes up with low reflectance, sharp text and accurate color calibration.

DisplayMate's close analysis of the Microsoft Surface has proven Microsoft played it smart with its first piece of Windows hardware developed in-house. The $500 tablet's display outperforms other devices with similar pixel counts, offers the lowest screen reflectance of any DisplayMate-tested tablet, and factory calibration to rival Apple.

At a resolution of 1366x768, the Surface RT's pixel density pales in comparison to the iPad's 2048x1536 or the 1080p+ resolutions of some Android tablets. But Microsoft has mostly made up for that limitation with Cleartype, aka sub-pixel rendering, which sharpens text. If you squint at everything, you'll probably notice the pixel difference--but it's most important for text, and there Microsoft has used software to shore up its weakness.

DisplayMate found that the Surface delivered darker blacks than either the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 or the iPad 3 and higher contrast ratio than either. Its color temperature was also better--the other tablets presented whites as slightly too blue.

Image via DisplayMate.

Color gamut is the surface's great weakness. While the iPad 3 hit 99 percent of the standard color gamut, the Surface managed only 57 percent. Especially vibrant colors will look muted on the Surface.

Still, the Surface's screen reflectance makes it much more usable in bright lighting conditions, reflecting 33 percent less ambient light than the iPad 3. It's also a strong winner on battery life, lasting 8 hours at max brightness compared to the iPad 3's 6 hours. If the Windows 8 Pro tablet launching in 2013 retains the Surface's strengths in its expected 1920x1080 resolution, Microsoft will have a strong contender for best tablet display.