How Microsoft kept Surface tablet a secret

Apple talks about the Retina Display not in pixel resolution numbers but in terms of the experience being as much detail as the human eye can see.

Microsoft is also emphasising the experience over the specific numbers by talking about what it calls ClearType displays.

ClearType is Microsoft's font smoothing system which uses the fourth pixel that every screen has in every Red Green Blue pixel group to paint the edges of characters more accurately on screen, so ClearType displays seem to be screens designed to make that work better.

ClearType display:

"creates an effect where the eye can't distinguish individual pixels"

Mike Angiulo, who runs the Windows team that usually works with PC makers, says that with a ClearType display "the specific pixel geometry rendering and optical bonding create an effect where the eye can't distinguish individual pixels at the right viewing distance" (which in the case of Surface is around arm's length).

Integrating the layers this much makes for a thinner display, and reduces the power usage as well (because there are fewer inefficiencies transferring information between different systems that might run at slightly different voltages).

The Surface screen does look clear, crisp and colourful and that's what matters; video and photos look good. But what resolution does ClearType translate to?

The Surface RT screen is a ClearType HD display; Surface Pro has a ClearType Full HD display.

ClearType HD has to be at least 1366 x 768 to allow two Metro-style apps to run side by side and 768 is enough for the 720 lines of HD video.

Full HD video needs 1080 lines so we expect ClearType Full HD displays are at least 1920 x 1080 (to fit the 16:9 aspect ratio of the Surface screen).

Microsoft is being coy on the price too, probably to avoid a price war with Android tablets before the Surface is even on the market.

Surface Pro will cost the same as an Ultrabook with a similar spec (Intel is pushing Ultrabook prices to be under $1,000). And Surface RT will have a comparable price to other ARM tablets with the same size screen and amount of storage, which should mean Microsoft matching the price of the iPad.

But don't expect to see Surface RT as cheap as the Kindle Fire, Microsoft head of corporate communications told TechRadar. That means Microsoft isn't subsiding the hardware cost the way Amazon does.

Bathiche may call it priming the pump, but Microsoft is really in the PC business now.


Mary (Twitter, Google+, website) started her career at Future Publishing, saw the AOL meltdown first hand the first time around when she ran the AOL UK computing channel, and she's been a freelance tech writer for over a decade. She's used every version of Windows and Office released, and every smartphone too, but she's still looking for the perfect tablet. Yes, she really does have USB earrings.