Understanding how Monitor Resolutions and Monitor "Aspect Ratios"
Affect and/or Improve the Display of our Software
(and what you can do about it)

For a complete discussion of other important Bible Computer Lab issues issues,
consult our book,
Teaching with Computers in Christian Education.

Depending on your screen settings and monitor type, software may not fill the screen, or your program graphics may appear stretched too wide.

This article addresses that issue for our software and our customers.  (If you're not a customer, we hope it helps you too!)

Many kids software programs, were designed to display at a FIXED 4:3 aspect ratio (proportion), and at a lower resolution setting than your newer computer came set at. This is particularly true of some good older programs and 3d style games in our catalog.

For example, your new computer monitor may have come set for a typical wordprocessing resolution of 1280 x 720.  But because your kids' software is preset to display only as big as 800x600, you'll get a THICK BLACK BORDER around your screen window, such as in the example here.

These days we've all gotten used to documents resizing across any size open window. But many games can't simply resize.

Fortunately,  your computer comes equipped with graphic display options that allow you to reset your computer to  various resolutions and aspects. Older computers usually have fewer options.

Some of the newer video graphic cards/chips will automatically detect a program's preferred width and try to adjust. Some aren't so smart. Same goes for the software. Some may try to adjust, others can't.

(Btw...the graphic seen above here is from our Awesome Bible Stories CD)

 

PROBLEMS:

Your Software doesn't fill the screen
You get a thick black box around your software's open window
The software appears too small on your screen

SOLUTION:

Change/lower the Screen Resolution/Display size to increase the size of the software's window on your screen.

With your game/program on the screen, try setting down your Screen Resolution to something like 1024 or 800. Experiment.  If you have a wide-aspect monitor, see the second solution below.

WHY?
Many kids programs were designed to fit a certain "fixed" size on the screen and won't resize themselves to spread across a higher resolution you may have set. These "fixed width" programs are
especially found among kids software made prior to 2009.

No matter what your screen resolution (pixed width/height) is set to, these programs will only occupy a certain area on the screen, and the operating system will fill the rest of the screen with a black box around it. (Life of David for example, or Life of Christ, Pathways through Jerusalem, etc)

Here's an example of this fixed width design and the consequent 'black box' which appears around the program's screen...


 (Pictured above, a scene from Esther Story found in Awesome Bible Stories CD
 www.sundaysoftware.com/awesome
 

What you want to do is set your display resolution to as close to 800x600 as you display control panel will let you.

Additionally....
Vista
and Windows 7 and 8 have an option to "show an older program in a 640x480 window" --which comes in handy when trying to run some older but still good older software like Life of Paul CD which has a fixed display of 640x480. 
 By selecting this option for those older programs, you can get them to fill more of the screen on a newer computer.

To make the change: Right click the program's startup icon and look in the Properties/Compatibility option for that nice option. This will make the older programs fill more of the screen, but it still may not look as crisp.


 
PROBLEM:
Your software graphics appear stretched across the screen, or "fat".

SOLUTION:
Change your "Aspect Ratio" graphic setting to correct the "fat" appearance of some software on a wide aspect monitor (such as a laptop). 

You'll find this setting in your graphic properties under you DISPLAY options in the Windows Control Panel. These properties are provided by your chip/card manufacturer and may options vary depending on the brand and quality.

Software designed for a 4:3 proportioned screen will often S-T--R--E---T---C----H  too wide across a wide aspect screen ---and this makes the game graphics look "fat."  For example... look at "Robin" from our Joseph CD on my 5:3 wide aspect laptop, and then after I opened up my graphic display panel and selected the "panel fit" option to "center desktop":


 Seen here: "Robin" the young archaeologist in Sunday Software's "Joseph's Story CD"
 www.sundaysoftware.com/joseph

(Click here to read more about Joseph's Story CD seen in this graphic.)

STRETCHING is a common problem on some laptops that have wide screens
designed more for playing DVD movies and wordprocessing.

To adjust your graphic display settings and "Aspect Ratio" in Vista, Windows 7/8 and XP....

In VISTA and Windows 7, the quickest way to adjust graphic properties is to RIGHT click a blank area of your desktop and select from your graphic options

In the example below below you can see the "resolution" option for my Intel graphics chip on my laptop. For most of our software, set your resolution as close to 800x600 or a notch above that.

Also in the example screenshot below, you can see the Aspect Ratio option, which I recommend setting to "center desktop" (if you have that or a similar option) to keep software from stretching too wide across a wide aspect screen.

In XP and earlier versions of Windows, you may need to open your "Display Properties" in your Windows Control Panel to make such adjustments. (And on some older computers with cheaper videochips, they may not have these aspect options at all).

 

Your graphic control panel may look different than mine depending on the chip brand and version. But you can get the general idea by looking at my example here....

CHANGING YOUR SCREEN'S ASPECT RATIO to "FIXED" for some software

This is the setting I have set to keep my 3d games from stretching "fat". I could change the 'Screen Resolution' lower, if this were my church lab's computer, but because this is my home computer, I'm sticking with my laptop's native resolution.

Changing the aspect ratio does NOT affect the appearance of any other software I have, such as IE or Word.

Depending on your operating system, and depending on the BRAND and QUALITY and AGE of your graphic card/chip/driver, your options MAY VARY. But most graphic chips/drivers are headed in the right direction: getting smarter and giving us more choices.

Older computers, older operating systems, and those with old drivers and 'inexpensive' graphic components may have FEWER options.

Reminder: Some graphic drivers/chip may not give you the option to change the aspect ratio.

 

Learn more about our Ten Commandments CD

 

While we're on the subject....

How to adjust your Resolution and Color Depth settings to improve graphic performance on older computers.

The human eye can barely distinguish between 16 bit and 32 bit color quality (aka "depth"). Thus, at this date (2012) ON XP COMPUTERS we recommend setting your color depth to 16 bit color for most Sunday Software titles.

If you have a newer computer you'll have to stick with 32 bit color. 

Having your older computer set to higher resolutions and color depth settings (aka, "quality" or "bit") can bog down your processor and affect the performance of certain graphically intense software.

Your Display control panel may look different depending on your operating system version of videocard/chip brand. In XP, open "Display" in your Windows Control Panel. In Vista, right click an empty area of your desktop and the graphics options will appear. Again, it might depend on your system and setup.

 

I welcome comments that help clarify this article. Your questions are also welcome if you are a customer of ours.

Read my book and/or online articles. They tell you what else I know about setting up and teaching with software in Sunday School.

Neil MacQueen, Sunday Software
neil@sundaysoftware.com  

 
 

 

ADVANCED NOTES FOR TECHIES:

Time was when all computer monitors had the same ratio of screen width to height and only a few screen resolution options. But as this chart to the right shows, those days are long gone.  Many laptop and wide screen LCD monitors use a 5:4 or 16:10 ratio of width to height.

These differences sometimes require you to manage your display settings for different programs in our catalog. And if you don't know how to adjust your graphic settings, the software can look strange, small, fuzzy, or stretched. This article is here to help!

Your first computer was likely 640 pixels wide by 480 pixels high (a 4:3 aspect ratio or proportion. Then came 800x600 (also a 4:3 ratio). Then came the wide-aspect screens and higher resolution monitors.  Laptops, especially, tend to have wide-aspect (widescreen) dimensions They are great for wordprocessing and browsing the web, but you need to be able to adjust the settings for many kids games.

Many kids software programs, were designed f to display at a 4:3 aspect ratio, and at a lower resolution setting than your newer computer came set at. This is particularly true of some good older programs and 3d style games in our catalog.

Fortunately,  your computer comes equipped with graphic chip options that allow you to reset your computer to  various resolutions and aspects. Older computers usually have fewer options.

Unfortunately, MOST people either don't know they have such options, don't understand them, or they change things without understanding how it affects certain software.

What do "maintain aspect ration," "full screen," and "center desktop" mean in your graphic settings? 

Intel's website is little help. Here's my interpretation...

Fullscreen:  This is the preset option which will stretch every program to fit your screen no matter what ratio you have. Thus, some programs, especially kids software, will look fat.  Great for wordprocessors, bad for kids programs.

 

Maintain Aspect Ratio: This will stretch your program to fit your screen but keep a 4:3 aspect ratio. The problem with this setting is IF your computer's display resolution is set to 1200x800 pixel resolution, but the program was designed for 640x480 pixel resolution, the program graphics will appear MORE FUZZY as it 'interpolates up' to use all the pixels your display is set to.   Use this setting only if you have set your screen resolution below 1200x800 pixels. If your display resolution is a mammoth 1900 x whatever, your game software graphics may look quite fuzzy as the driver attempts to fill in pixels by surrounding one pixel of info into several copies around it to fill the available pixels your screen is set to.

 

Center Desktop:  This is the preferred option for many kids programs. This will maintain BOTH the aspect ratio of 4:3 and keep a program designed with 800x600 pixels in an 800x600 box. Thus the graphics will look CRISPER (in theory).  And in my experience it doesn't affect your wordprocessor or internet browser appearance.