NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, June 2006
Clear Reading With Cleartype
by Vinny La Bash,
Member of the Sarasota Personal Computer Users Group, Inc., Florida
vlabash@home.com (click to email author)

My students know why LCD displays are superior to CRT monitors. When one of them complained to me that he found text difficult to read on his new 21 inch LCD Monitor, I told him it was probably because the screen resolution made the text too small to read easily. He didn't think so because his teen age granddaughter also thought the text wasn't clear. His comment made me think.

Flat panel LCD Monitors are designed to display information at a specific resolution known as the "native resolution". Manufacturers refer to them as "fixed-pixel displays" because they are limited to displaying only one resolution. If they receive an image signal that is either higher or lower than the native resolution, they convert or scale the image automatically to fit the native resolution.

If the incoming source has more pixels than the display's native resolution, you will lose some visible detail and sharpness. Very often you will need to carefully compare the images side by side to see any difference. Only the most exacting applications will suffer from this small constraint.

If the incoming source has fewer pixels than the native resolution, there is no benefit from the higher resolution. Extra pixels will not improve the appearance of a lower-resolution source.

Converting images from either a higher or lower resolution to the LCD's native resolution hardly affects the quality of graphic or video images, but it can make text appear blurry. Early LCD displays had no ready solution for this problem. All one could do was experiment with various font styles and sizes until an acceptable compromise was reached.

Microsoft didn't want to keep its customers waiting while it found an answer so it licensed TrueType fonts from Apple. The advantage of TrueType fonts was that text could be made larger or smaller with little distortion. Text became easier to read, and Microsoft made some improvements to the technology, but TrueType proved to be an interim response.

While Microsoft was working on Windows XP, it was also developing a new software technology designed to enhance text readability on flat panel LCD monitors, laptops, PDAs, Pocket PCs, indeed any device that used an LCD screen, no matter how big or small.

Microsoft claims that its development people spent two years studying typography and the psychology of reading to create ClearType. Instead of affecting individual pixels which are either treated as "on" or "off", ClearType works with a different type of pixel that is constructed of three individual pieces tinted with red, blue, and green stripes. The technology varies the brightness of the sub-pixels, making the screen characters appear smooth, clean, and sharp around the edges.

Now that you know what it is, how can you use it? You have three ways to turn on or "enable" ClearType for your LCD display. Let's start with the easiest way.

Go to http://www.microsoft.com/typography/cleartype/tuner/Step1.aspx Follow the online directions to enable ClearType on your system. Another way is to download the PowerToy version of the online tuner. This lets you do the same thing that the above procedure does, but you do it by accessing the Control Panel and activating the ClearType settings from there.

Go to http://www.microsoft.com/typography/ClearTypePowerToy.mspx Follow the online directions to download, in- stall, and use. It's easy. Finally, for the propeller heads and bit twiddlers in the audience, you can access the Registry. To enable ClearType for all users of your system:

    From the Start button, select Run and type Regedit in the Text box. (As if you didn't know).
    Navigate to HKEY_USERS/.DEFAULT/Control Panel/Desktop.
    Create or Modify the Data Type and Value Name as detailed below.
    Data Type: String Value
    Value Name: FontSmoothing
    Setting for Value Data: [Set Value to 2]
    Data Type: Dword
    Value Name: FontSmoothingType
    Setting for Value Data: [Change Value to 2]
    Exit Registry and Reboot

Enabling ClearType only for the current user instead of all users is identical to the above procedure except that instead of HKEY_USERS, work with HKEY_CURRENT_USER instead.

When you're finished, check the Desktop and examine the icon titles. Open the Start menu while you're at it and observe the readability of the text. You may find the text too small to read even though it is sharp and clear. If this is the case:

    Right click on the Desktop
    Choose Properties from the popup menu.
    Click the Appearance tab.
    Click the Advanced button and make changes there.
    Decide which technique is best for you, and enjoy text that is clear, crisp and sharp.

There is no restriction against any non-profit group using this article as long as it is kept in context with proper credit given the author. The Editorial Committee of the Association of Personal Computer User Groups (APCUG), an international organization of which this group is a member, brings this article to you.

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