Set Your PC Monitor’s Color Depth - dummies

By Dan Gookin

The richness of the image on a computer monitor is determined more by the number of colors available than by the number of pixels (the resolution). Lower resolutions with more colors look better than higher resolutions. In fact, most computer games use lower resolutions simply because more colors are available.

Windows 7 sets the color depth to maximum, no matter what. Windows Vista and Windows XP should do the same, but instead they give you options.

The place to set color depth for Windows Vista and Windows XP is the same location where screen resolution is set: either the Display Settings or Display Properties dialog box. This dialog box has two settings for color depth: Highest (32-bit) and Medium (16-bit). Choose the highest setting available at the preferred resolution for the monitor.

Of course, setting the number of colors doesn’t ensure that the screen accurately depicts the colors displayed. Every monitor has variations. You can adjust the way colors are displayed, or rendered, by using the Windows Color Management tool.

  • The number of colors available is often referred to as the color depth.

  • A relationship exists between resolution and colors. Lower resolutions can have more colors; higher resolutions sport fewer colors. The key is video memory. Lots of colors require lots of memory, which leaves less memory available for resolution. Conversely, higher resolutions require more video memory, which leaves less memory available for color depth. It’s a twisted graphical circle!