What is a pixel? – Amrita Bazar

What is a pixel?  - Amrita Bazar

In our digital media age, we often take the humble pixel for granted. But what exactly is a pixel and how did it become such an important part of our lives? We will explain.

A pixel is an image element

If you’ve used a computer, smartphone, or tablet, you’ve seen a pixel—or millions of them. You’re more likely to read this text thanks to the Pixel. They produce sounds and images on your device’s screen.

The term “pixel” is derived from the abbreviation for “picture element”. Developed by computer researchers in the 1960s. A pixel is the smallest possible unit of any electronic or digital image, regardless of resolution. In modern computers, they are usually square – but not always dependent Aspect ratio of the display device.

The first pixel from a Russell Kirsch scan in 1957.
Russell Kirsch invented the first pixel in 1957 while digitally scanning a photo of his son.

The invention of the pixel is commonly credited to Russell Kirsch In 1957, digital scanning technique was invented. In developing his scanner, Kirsch chose to translate the light and dark areas of a photograph into a grid of black and white squares. Technically, Kirsch’s pixels could be any shape, but square dots on a two-dimensional grid represented the cheapest and simplest technical solution at the time. Then, pioneers in computer graphics stopped Kirsch’s work, and the conference stalled.

Since then, there have been some graphics pioneers like Alvy Ray Smith Said one thing To convey the idea that a pixel isn’t really a square – it’s more abstract and fluid than from a conceptual and mathematical perspective. He was right. But in most modern applications, a pixel is basically a colored digital square used to create a large image. Tiles in a mosaic Or A Stitch at the needle point.

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Example of numbers written in blocky pixels.
Pixels are used to create numbers on a grid. Benj Edwards / Geek How

Since the 1960s, pixels have been the linchpin of the digital domain, rendering the visual elements of word processors, websites, etc. video games, high-definition television, social media, VR and more. With our reliance on computerized technology now, it is hard to imagine life without them. Pixels are as fundamental to computer graphics as atoms.

Raster vs Vector Graphics

Pixels weren’t always the only way to make digital art. Like some of the pioneers of computer graphics in the 1960s Evan Sutherland Works with calligraphic display (often called “Vector display” today), computer graphics are represented on an analog screen as mathematical lines rather than discrete points on a grid. bitmap. To record him, we asked Sutherland about the meaning of pixels.

Example of an SVG vector file scaled to 600%
An example of an SVG vector file scaled to 600%. The lines are smooth.

“A pixel is an image element,” said Sutherland, now 84, one of the pioneers of digital art and VR. “You can interpret as you like. A Grid display It is the contents of the memory cell that operate from a digital memory. In a calligraphic display, this usually refers to its resolution D to A converter Used.”

Today, almost everyone uses bitmapped graphics with pixels in a grid, but Vector art Sutherland pioneered mathematical living in such file formats SVG, stores digital artwork as mathematical lines and curves that can be scaled to any size. To display vector art on a bitmapped screen, mathematical formulas must be converted to discrete pixels at some point. The higher the pixel density and the larger the display, the smoother the lines are when they are displayed as pixels on the grid.

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Related: What is an SVG file and how do you open it?

How to measure pixels

Pixels are fluid objects. They can be any size on a page or screen, but it’s important to remember that pixels are almost meaningless. Instead, they gain strength in numbers. Imagine a square pixel sitting alone, and you’ll realize that you can’t draw many pictures with it.

Therefore, one of the most important measurements of pixels is how many of them there are in an image, which is called “resolution”. The higher the resolution of a grid of pixels, the more detail or “resolution” you can get into an image when a person looks at it.

A bitmap of Mario from Super Mario Bros. on the NES.
Nintendo / Benz Edwards

If a digital image is not of sufficient resolution to resolve the details in an image you are trying to capture, the images will look “pixelated” or “jazzy”. This is called Alias, which is an information theory term meaning that information is lost due to low sampling rates (in this case each pixel is a “sample” of an image). Look at the picture of Mario above. At this low resolution (sample rate), there is not enough resolution to depict the fabric of Mario’s clothing or the strands of Mario’s hair. If you want to image those features, details are lost at this low resolution and that’s the nickname.

To reduce the effects of aliasing, computer scientists have developed techniques Anti AliasIn some cases aliasing effects can be reduced by combining the colors of adjacent pixels to create the illusion of smooth curves, transitions, and lines.

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It takes memory to store each pixel, and in the early days of video games, when computer memory was expensive, game consoles couldn’t store that many pixels at once. That’s what makes old games A more pixelated look What are they doing today? The same principle applies to digital images and videos on computers, as the cost of memory (and the cost of video processing chips) decreases dramatically, as image resolution increases steadily.

Today we live in a digital world full of pixels. As the bitmap resolution on monitors and TV sets continues to increase (8K, anyone?), and it looks like we’ll be using pixels for decades to come. They are essential components of our digital age.

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