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Windows 10 Creators Update Improves, But Doesn't Fix, High DPI Scaling

Finding a high resolution monitor is easy. Making sure Windows 10 will properly scale to handle all the pixels in WQHD (2560 x 1440) or 4K (3840 x 2160) displays is much harder. Or at least it was--the new Creators Update improves the operating system's ability to adapt to these high DPI setups. We've noticed a few problems, especially with making text readable without having it take up an entire display, but scaling is still better.

That starts with how you manage scaling. The options are still found in under the Display category in Settings, and you're still limited to 25% increments between 100% and 225% scaling, but choosing one of those options is easier than ever. That's because Microsoft put all the values in a drop-down menu instead of relying on a slider that resized as you dragged it between options, resulting in a jittery mess that quickly bounced between 125% and 225% scaling whenever you tried to experiment with a new setting. It's a simple change, sure, but it's also a welcome one.

Microsoft also implemented automatic scaling in some apps that otherwise won't be updated by their respective developers to support the system's scaling setting. This is important for legacy software on which you might rely, for example, or even recent apps that have been abandoned for one reason or another. Better to have Windows do some form of scaling on its own than to press your nose against your monitor trying to make out how to use an app. Microsoft did note in its blog post about improvements to high DPI scaling that this automatic scaling does have some limitations, however:

GDI+ content doesn’t DPI scaleDX content doesn’t DPI scaleBitmap-based content won’t be crispIt won’t be possible for end users to determine which apps will benefit from this feature without trying it out on an app-by-app basis.

The Creators Update also fixes problems with desktop icons being too small, made it easier to set DPI scaling for specific apps, and improved scaling in Microsoft apps like Internet Explorer and the Office 2016 suite. (Word especially benefited from the update, at least to our eyes.) It's also easier than ever for developers to make sure their software will scale properly when used on high resolution displays. Further, if you have more than one monitor with varying resolutions, Windows 10 should better handle moving windows, files, and other things between the two in a mixed-DPI environment.

But there are many limitations. Some apps still require you to restart your system to respond to scaling changes; Windows 10 doesn't scale everything properly because of "magic numbers" that assume everything is happening on a 96 DPI monitor; cursors might get lost as they move between mixed-DPI monitors; windows dragged between mixed-DPI monitors have a weird transition; and Microsoft said the guides "for writing per-monitor DPI aware applications were written in the Windows 8.1 timeframe and haven’t seen any significant updates since then." Yikes.

High resolution monitors are only going to become more popular. That's partly because they keep getting cheaper and partly because higher resolutions are simply expected of modern displays. Smartphones have high DPIs, 4K TVs are taking over, and Microsoft's Project Scorpio and Sony's PlayStation 4 Pro use 4K gaming as their primary selling points. We have the graphics cards to push WQHD or 4K resolutions without sacrificing much performance, too, and to us, using those increasingly powerful cards to push 1080p games seems like a bit of a waste.

Windows 10 simply has to get better about supporting these high-DPI displays. The average consumer probably won't fuss around with various scaling options or per-app scaling to get the best result, and even gamers might grow frustrated about having to fiddle with Windows 10 just because they want to put their shiny new GTX 1080 Ti or Titan Xp graphics cards to the test. The Creators Update is certainly a step in the right direction--we're much happier with our WQHD display than we were a few days ago--but it's not quite enough to make a strong impression.