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Subpixels

A spatial resolution smaller than that of pixels.
1080px Pixel Geometry 01 Pengo

Many display and image-acquisition systems are not capable of displaying or sensing the different color channels at the same site. Therefore, the pixel grid is divided into single-color regions that contribute to the displayed or sensed color when viewed at a distance. In some displays, such as LCD, LED, and plasma displays, these single-color regions are separately addressable elements, which have come to be known as subpixels. For example, LCDs typically divide each pixel vertically into three subpixels. When the square pixel is divided into three subpixels, each subpixel is necessarily rectangular. In the display industry terminology, subpixels are often referred to as pixels, as they are the basic addressable elements in a viewpoint of hardware, and hence pixel circuits rather than subpixel circuits are used.

Most digital camera image sensors use single-color sensor regions, for example using the Bayer filter pattern, and in the camera industry, these are known as pixels just like in the display industry, not subpixels.

For systems with subpixels, two different approaches can be taken:

  • The subpixels can be ignored, with full-color pixels being treated as the smallest addressable imaging element; or
  • The subpixels can be included in rendering calculations, which requires more analysis and processing time, but can produce apparently superior images in some cases.

This latter approach, referred to as subpixel rendering, uses knowledge of pixel geometry to manipulate the three colored subpixels separately, producing an increase in the apparent resolution of color displays. While CRT displays use red-green-blue-masked phosphor areas, dictated by a mesh grid called the shadow mask, it would require a difficult calibration step to be aligned with the displayed pixel raster, and so CRTs do not currently use subpixel rendering.

The concept of subpixels is related to samples.

Key Terms

definition
different color channels
example
image acquisition systems
many display
pixels
single color regions
subpixel rendering
subpixels
usage

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Synonymns

Subpixels
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Sources & Credits

Last modified on March 26 2020
Content adapted from Wikipedia
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