Visual display standards, computer display standards, or display modes refer to aspects of computer video output. Encompassing components such as resolution, color depth, and refresh rate, these standards provide hardware developers with a common interface for computer video.


Visual display standards affect many areas within computing, especially in the digital art, computer aided design (CAD), and gaming sectors. Gamers often expect crisp clear picture as a way to enhance their virtual experience. Digital artists need advanced display technology in order to evaluate the quality of their work without making costly sample prints. Computer aided designers need large monitors and true colors to examine detail while understanding the overall appearance of their work. Recently main topics of discussion have been HDTV vs HDMI, 1080p vs 1080i, and the digitial broadcast qualities of stations.

Display Types

One major discussion area of visual display standards is the type of display. The old standard, CRT (Cathode Ray Tube), is slowly being phased out and being replaced by two newer technologies, LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) and Plasma. Each has its advantages, but Plasma is currently the leader in quality. LCD tends to have a longer lifespan and use less power. Plasma, however, has better contrast and shows black colors better. Plasma also tends to be cheaper in price than LCDs. Both LCD and Plasma are able to produce a full HD picture in 1080p.


Screen Resolutions

According to the most common screen resolution while browsing the internet is 1024x768. This may have prompted web designers to move away from the previously popular 800x600 site design standard to higher resolutions.

Below is a table of onestat's findings on the most popular screen resolutions for web surfing.
1024 x 768
800 x 600
1280 x 1024
1152 x 864
640 x 480
1600 x 1200
1152 x 870


The way in which graphics are displayed on a screen is influenced by a number of variables that can be altered to conform to a user's preferences, if not to resolve various graphical issues. The following are display properties that may be changed virtually at any time, generally on a computer or TV, to enhance the visual experience.

  • Aspect Ratio - The width and height of the image produced on a screen are determined by the number of pixels that make up the horizontal and vertical dimensions of the picture, and are represented by the resolution. The aspect ratio is the ratio of the width in relation to the height as defined by the resolution. While computer monitors traditionally have an aspect ratio of 4:3 or 5:4, "widescreen" monitors, using a ratio of 16:9 and sometimes 16:10, have become increasingly common in the past few years. This increasing popularity results from the understanding that the wider picture engages more in the viewer's peripherals, as seen in the example below.

  • Brightness - Self-explanatory; determines how light or dark the overall picture on a screen appears.

  • Contrast - Basically the degree of difference in luminosity between the lightest areas and darkest areas of an image. When contrast is increased the brighter spots of the picture will become even brighter while the darker areas will become even darker. A low contrast will even out the bright and dark spots and make the image overall appear to have a mask of grey over it. It is generally a good idea to maintain a mid-level contrast on any computer or television screen.

  • Gamma - Sometimes confused with Brightness, gamma is actually more similar to contrast. While contrast focuses on the color scale extremes (black and white), gamma accounts for the midtones in an image, and tends to make focal points in an image brighter which may explain why it appears to be a mere change in brightness. Macs and PCs decode images using different gamma values, and the difference can be seen in the example below.

  • Image Sharpening - This is used for fine tuning in an image that appears out of focus. This affects various "edges" in an image and a high value will create well-defined, hard outlines of these edges. It can also produce a higher level of detail that is not present without it.

  • Digital Vibrance - This is an option available in some computers that allows for substantial color enhancement. It functions to make colors more distinguished and intense. This is used to alleviate dullness in image quality and can reduce eye strain as well.

Here are some other terms relating to visual display standards:

  • HDTV - high definition television, with 1125 lines of resolution and over five times the video information than conventional television. 16:9 screen ratio.

  • SDTV - standard-definition television, with 480 lines of resolution and either 4:3 or 16:9 screen ration.

  • HDMI - High-Definition Multimedia Interface; a new digital interface that carries high-definition video and audio.

  • 1080p - a resolution format that operates at 1,920 vertical pixels by 1,080 horizontal pixels and incorporates progressive scanning

  • 1080i - a resolution format that operates at 1,920 vertical pixels by 1,080 horizontal pixels and incorporates interlaced (non-progressive) scanning


Gaming often drives the field of visual display standards, as gamers expect realistic graphics. The images below show the difference between a video game on an SDTV and a video game on an HDTV.
SDTV Image
HDTV Image
Here is an example of what HDTV and SDTV resolution look like. HDTV has greater resolution compared to SDTV. Notice, for example, the eye of the fish. Clarity is lost when the eye becomes pixelated. The HD image would present a much clearer image by showing different shades of the eye color.

Web Resources

Wikipedia - Computer display standard
The Electronic Labyrinth - Graphic Display Standards
Wikipedia - Display Resolution
Onestat Web resolutions
TV Calculator