Digital Displays: How can something so right, be so wrong.
Data from a recent marketing report on digital cameras by the Consumer Electronics Association seems to confirm the obvious. Electronic viewers are the most prevalent method used to view photographs today. Once the standard, photographic prints now place a very distant second.
With that thought in mind, you have to wonder why there is no photo- specific viewer on the market. It's true that we can view photos on nearly every device available, from smartphones to HDTVs, but they all share a common flaw when used for that purpose.
Have you ever wondered why all of your vertically composed photos are so much smaller than their horizontal counterparts when viewed on your computer? Or why slideshow presentations seem less than satisfactory because of the constantly changing image sizes? Or why you have to rotate your tablet or smartphone in order to view the largest version of each image? The reason is one of simple geometry and dates back to the very beginning of digital photography.
When Kodak developed the first digital camera in the mid 1970's, the first images had to be converted from digital to analog so they could be viewed on a typical 1970's era television set. Unlike the broadcast industry, who designed a complete system to capture, record, transmit and receive audio and video signals, the Kodak engineers chose to piggyback onto existing video technology for their first display. While television was the most expeditious choice to demonstrate that a digital image had been recorded, it was far from an ideal choice for photographs. Television was not designed to account for the camera rotation that still photographers routinely use as a compositional tool, it was designed to display video content. Vertical images just didn't fit their fixed rectangular shape. Eventually this problem was "solved" by adding circuitry that downsized the vertical images to fit on the screen. I guess the logic was, we can't stretch the screen so we'll just shrink the photograph. It must have never occurred to them that photographs needed a different display device altogether.
Over time, displays have been converted from analog to digital, from the bulky Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) to more compact flat screen designs (LED, LCD ,Plasma and OLED) and from the giant behemoths of the past to something that fits neatly on your belt. Although recent models have been redesigned to accommodate the newer widescreen format, they remain fundamentally a rectangular video device. This latest change only exacerbates the size differential between vertical and horizontal photographs. So much for the problem, but what about the solution?
Most photographers would agree that, an ideal photo viewer is one that would display all images the same size, regardless of their orientation or aspect ratio (i.e. 3:2 or 4:3 for still cameras) and without having to rotate the screen. To do this, the screen must be of sufficient size and shape to allow the images to rotate freely without resizing them. Those requirements are all met if a square screen, large enough to accommodate the longest side of the displayed image, is used. For example, a 12x12 inch screen is capable of displaying either an 8x12 inch 3:2 aspect ratio image or a 9x12 inch 4:3 aspect ratio image, regardless of orientation. Minimal letterboxing or pillarboxing is used to fill the unused portion of the screen. Smoother transitions between same sized images insure a more pleasing slideshow presentation than is currently possible on devices with rectangular screens.
When subdivided into smaller squares, the multiple images displayed retain the same characteristics as the single image view. Multi-image "pages" offer a more uniform appearance than current designs because the images are properly oriented, arranged symmetrically and identical in size. The square design offers the first real opportunity to develop a practical digital photo album. It eliminates the inherent flaw that current video displays exhibit when they are used to view still photographs.
I have a patent pending on this concept and hope to convince manufacturers that there is a market for a standalone photo viewer based on my design. Unfortunately, all of the major electronics firms have strict policies in place that prevents them from discussing new designs until the patent issues. A conservative estimate on that date is another two years. Looks like we'll be twisting and turning our tablets and phones for a few more years.
Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I am including an illustration that depicts the basic concept of my design. If you can visualize a slideshow utilizing the three pairs of images, I believe the benefits of the square display will be obvious.
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