Laptop Guide: Advantages of IPS Display Laptops and Where to Find Them

With the advent of the Apple iPad more people are now aware of what an IPS (in-plane switching) display is and the advantages of it.  Most tablets on the market these days come equipped with an IPS display.  This makes sense, the major benefit of an IPS display is its extremely wide viewing angles, meaning colors stay true no matter what angle you view it from.   A tablet is designed to be viewed from any angle and so color reproduction from wide angles is important.  The YouTube video below gives a great example of how the colors stay the same from almost any angle on the iPad:

Apple iPad IPS Display viewing angle demo

Non-IPS displays, such as the TN (twisted nematic) technology used in most laptops tend to wash out and have color distortion when you view it from angles other than straight on and perpendicular to your eyes.  As an example, check out this video of an Acer laptop with a typical TN panel screen used in most laptops:

Acer Laptop TN screen viewing angle demo

The difference is pretty shocking, the same images are used on both the Apple iPad screen and the Acer laptop screen and you can see how much better the colors are on the iPad at various viewing angles compared to the Acer.  For those that can’t play video at work or prefer images, here’s a side-by-side shot of the iPad (on the left) and Acer laptop (on the right) showing how colors are at an angle over 45 degrees from viewing:

IPS and TN comparison

After seeing this you might wonder why every laptop maker doesn’t just use an IPS screen instead of TN technology screen?  The easy answer to that is they don’t because IPS is expensive.  If you’re buying a $ 500 15-inch screen laptop with a TN type screen it’s probably not worth it to you to spend the extra $ 100 – $ 150 that’s required to upgrade to an IPS style display.  Most people buy a laptop based on price first and foremost and then look at features like the processor, screen size, hard drive size and amount of RAM.   The screen quality and type of screen is an afterthought (or non-thought) for most buyers so laptop manufacturers have little incentive to make more laptops with an IPS display.

So what type of person does generally look for and need an IPS display in a laptop?  Photographers, designers, video editors, animations artists and technophiles to name just a few.   The main advantages to an IPS display over TN are summarized below:

  • IPS has Better Color Gamut – An IPS display compared to TN has a much better color gamut.  IPS monitors have true 8-bit color representation while TN is only 6-bits.   This means a TN panel is limited to 65,536 colors while an IPS panel is closer to the 16.7-million colors a typical graphics card can produce.  This means an IPS display is able to give full color reproduction with no dithering, TN panels cannot and have to dither or “makeup” colors it cannot reproduce.  This color gamut advantage is of course very important to those whose work depends on producing accurate true to life images and video.
  • IPS has Better Color Accuracy – This goes hand-in-hand with having a better color gamut, it is easier to calibrate an IPS display and get accurate colors on it than a TN panel.  Blacks appear black, reds appear red, whites appear white.
  • IPS has Better Viewing Angles – This is of course the feature most noticeable to the average eye and easy to demonstrate as the videos did previously.  IPS displays can have viewing angles up to 178-degrees wide, while TN panels might be as little as 10 – 15 degrees before color shifting occurs.

These advantages of IPS display are all nice and you’re probably asking, “great, where can I get a laptop with an IPS display?”.  Not so fast, it’s not that easy to find them, the amount of laptops with an IPS display on the market at this time is very limited.  Here’s the short list:

  • Dell Precision M4600 (15.6″, 1920×1080,  IPS, matte)
  • Dell Precision M6600 (17.3”, 1920×1080,IPS, matte)
  • HP EliteBook 8560w (15.6″, 1920×1080, IPS, matte)
  • HP EliteBook 8760w (17.3″, 1920-1080, IPS, matte)
  • Lenovo ThinkPad X220 (12.5″, 1366×768, IPS, matte)
  • LG XNote P330 (13.3”, 1366 x 768, IPS, matte) currently not available in North America
  • HP Envy 15 (15.6” screen, 1920×1080, IPS, glossy with anti-glare coating)

If we include Windows based tablets we can expand the list to three more:

That’s right, of the hundreds of laptop models for sale today there are just seven dedicated laptops with confirmed IPS display, and the LG P330 is hard to find anywhere but Korea so let’s call it just six.  There are laptops known for having very good TN based screens with some IPS-like qualities, but we’ll discuss those along with some disadvantages to IPS (yes, there are some) in an upcoming article and stay focused on IPS availability and advantages for now.

So why are there few laptops with an IPS display?  You’ll notice that those IPS laptops being sold are mostly business laptops with a high price tag so they’re targeted at a niche audience with specific needs that are willing to pay up for a better display.  With tablets becoming more popular and people being more aware of IPS display advantages we might see an uptick in offerings, for instance the ThinkPad X Series did not offer IPS until this year, maybe the iPad was viewed as competition for a smaller laptop.  With 2012 here we’ll be looking for a refresh of laptops when Intel releases Ivy Bridge in the Spring and at that time there will be a flood of new laptops.  We’ll see then if IPS screens make it into more of those upcoming 2012 laptops.

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