Sunday, August 5, 2007

Two-screen trickery

I go to turn on my computer, but something isn't right. The screen is just a little bit sharper, the colors just a little richer and deeper, but for one small difference. The screen is also much, much smaller. I am using my "old", or "little" screen, my 19" LaCie flat-CRT (tube) monitor I've had for years. As a computer monitor, it's great and has served me well, but for the past couple of months, I have been using a widescreen 32" Sanyo HDTV as my monitor.

Now, this 19" screen I used to think of as "huge", as "gargantuan" (compared to your usual 15" and even 17" monitors), seems tiny in comparison to the HDTV. Even now that the HDTV is off, and I've been in the room watching Law & Order for the past hour, I'm still unaccustomed to the "small screen".

The resolution is set at 1024x768, which is about standard on a 15-17" monitors. My own monitor can go just above 1600x1200, 17**x13**, I forget the exact numbers. But even still, the text and icons seem tiny.

So, why am I using the 19" screen? No, my HDTV is not broken. There's the obvious, that it's kind of refreshing to be using a normal computer monitor for my computer, even though it is pretty special, despite being over 2 years old now. (I assembled it from parts bought on, I put it all together from case, motherboard, CPU, RAM, graphics card, hard drive, optical drive, etc.)

No, it's just that two games I have absolutely cannot, to my present knowledge, be played on a widescreen monitor. In Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, for instance, the HUD (heads-up display) is hard-coded for a 4:3 display, and its publishers have decided that it is too costly and/or not profitable enough to write a patch for widescreen monitors.

For some games, such as my favorite, Deus Ex (which came out the year prior, maybe 2 years earlier) this isn't a problem. You can select its predetermined resolutions or your desktop resolution, if it's not in the list. That is, 1176x664 wasn't a choice until I got the HDTV, and now that it is, everything looks as it should. But Deus Ex is based on the Unreal Engine, and the Unreal Engine is said to be one of the best and most versatile game engines one can develop for, meaning that games based on it can be more easily modified, adapted to newer operating environments - such as a widescreen display.

Of course, movies look better in widescreen, because you're seeing the movie as it was filmed. With the exception of TV shows, TV movies, and a few exceptions (e.g. Stanley Kubrick's films), most movies are shot with a wide-aspect camera, even before TVs. Why home televisions started out with the 4:3 ratio is still a mystery to me, but I imagine it was more cost effective to make a tube-based set as close to square as possible. There are tube-based widescreen TVs, but they are not common and are mostly being passed over for plasma or LCD sets.

As such, my current setup is a little more efficient. Both screens are connected to the computer, and via my control panel in Windows, I can switch between one monitor or the other. Our DVD player is connected to the TV, so it is possible for me to be on the computer, and Jen to be watching a movie, for instance. Or perhaps I could be watching a movie and blogging about it at the same time, doing a running commentary, or whatever.

I can even set up a horizontal stretch, which means I can literally move the mouse between one and the other. As it happens, right now I have my text editor spanning both. As I type on the left side of the screen, I am watching the text on the monitor, but as it crosses over, it winds up on the HDTV. Obviously, this is not going to work for, say, web browsing, but I can have my web browser on one screen, filling it, and I can have another web browser, or maybe a text editor, paint program, music jukebox software, or whatever, on the other screen. This is amazing, as I understand it, if you have two screens of the same size. As it is now, it's just a novelty. And my wallpaper looks bad. It's stretched more on the right screen than the left. I go to launch a game, though - Deus Ex - and it smartly disables the HDTV and goes to fill the little one (because at this point the little one is the Primary, I could change that).

As always, click these to see them bigger. Here you really have to. As you can see (at full magnification), the taskbar (the bar along the bottom of a Windows desktop) doesn't stop on the first screen, and there's no Start button on the second screen; the taskbar stretches across. Firefox is not maximized (doing so would occupy both screens); it's just set up to fill the right screen. That's nothing special, I just reduced it to a window and manually stretched it. As you can see, sometimes I write my blogs in a text editor, and then copy them over to the Blogger interface.

Here's Jen playing Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. It only plays right on 4:3 screens. What a cutie, eh? I mean, a woman who's 1) into computers, 2) into Star Wars (enough to play KOTOR), and 3) into games. Girl geeks rock.

1 comment:

OriginalSin said...

Chicks who play video games leave WAY more ass than chicks that don't, it's a proven fact!!!