Windows 7 Feature Focus: Working with Displays and Projectors


Windows 7's display configuration settings have gone through some of the biggest transformations from previous editions, including Windows Vista. And, the changes are more than skin-deep. With improved support for portrait displays, better ways to detect and manage multiple monitors, easy projector connections, and better theme controls, Windows 7 makes it easier than ever before to make the visual components of Windows work the way you want them to.

Accessing Display Settings

Windows 7 provides a variety of ways to access display settings. Right-click an empty location on the desktop to select from Screen Resolution, Gadgets, and Personalize menus:

From the Control Panel, you can access the Personalization category (shown here) and the Hardware and Sound category. Both categories include links to Display settings, and, on laptop computers, the Hardware and Sound category also includes a link to the Windows Mobility Center, which offers laptop-oriented display options.

This article focuses on the Screen Resolution and Personalization menus. A future article in this series will discuss Gadgets and other desktop features.

Using the New Screen Resolution Dialog

The new Screen Resolution dialog in Windows 7 is the nerve center for much more than adjusting screen resolution:

This dialog, as in previous versions of Windows, is also used to identify and configure multiple displays. However, it also provides new features and functionality:

  • Click Detect to detect a newly-installed display. This feature helps overcome one of the biggest problems with multiple display use – getting Windows to find the additional display(s).
  • Open the Orientation menu to switch between portrait and landscape modes, or to flip the display "upside down" to enable the display to be hung at different angles.
  • Click Make Text or Other Items Larger or Smaller to open the Appearance and Personalization Display text size selection dialog.

Selecting the Optimal Resolution for Your Display

According to a study of Windows Feedback Program data performed by the Engineering Windows 7 blog last fall , 55% of users with default monitor displays of 1280x1024 or higher did not use their displays' default resolution , but used a lower resolution. What happens if you don't use your LCD display's default (aka 'native' or 'recommended')  resolution? Some of the problems cited by the Engineering Windows 7 blog include:

  • Blurry text resulting in eye fatigue
  • Reduced resolutions often use non-native aspect ratios, causing distorted text and graphics
  • Inability to tune LCD displays with ClearType
  • Inability to view 720p or higher HD video signals

Fortunately, it's easier than ever to choose the best resolution for your display in Windows 7. Select Screen Resolution or Adjust Screen Resolution to open the Change the Appearance of Your Display dialog shown in the previous figure. To change screen resolution, open the Resolution menu. The current setting is listed along with a pointer adjustment, along with the recommended setting:

Note that the recommended setting might not necessarily be the display's maximum setting. In this example, I needed to increase the display's resolution from 1280x768 to 1440x900. If you need to change your resolution, select the correct resolution, click Apply, then OK. Click Keep Changes on the confirming dialog that appears to save the new resolution setting. Here's the dialog after increasing the resolution as recommended:

Switching Display Orientations

While most LCD displays, like the CRT displays they've superseded, are used in landscape mode, there are many situations in which portrait mode is preferable, such as in page layout and heavy-duty word processing. If your LCD display uses a VESA standard mount, you can switch the standard mount for a variety of monitor mounts for swivel use.

In Windows 7, it is no longer necessary to open a proprietary display driver function to switch display orientations. Open the Orientation menu and select the orientation desired:

Note that the preview changes when you select Portrait:

How much more can you see when you use portrait mode instead of the default landscape mode when editing a document? Here's a document on a Windows 7 desktop in the default landscape mode:

Switch the display to portrait mode, and you can see much more of the document at one time:

Detecting and Configuring Multiple Displays

Windows 7 continues the multiple-display support features found in earlier Windows versions, but with a significant improvement: Windows 7 can now detect additional displays. After you connect an additional display to your system and turn it on, click the Detect button (1). After the display is detected, use the new Multiple Displays dialog to select how to use the additional display (2):

After enabling an additional display, you must click Apply before making other changes:

Note how easy it is to switch to only a single display in Windows 7: rather than needing to select the display and clear selection boxes as in Windows Vista and earlier versions, just select whether you want to use only display 1, or display 2, and so on.

Working with Projectors on Mobile Systems

If you are working with a projector on a mobile system, you have even more tools that can make your life easier. On notebook, table PC, and other mobile systems running Windows 7, the Hardware and Sound category features an additional category: Windows Mobility Center:

Click Adjust Commonly Used Mobility Settings to open the Windows Mobility Center dialog. Use the Connect/Disconnect button in the External Display function (top right) to add or remove an additional display. Click Turn On or Turn Off in the Presentation Settings to work with a projector:

The Presentation Settings dialog provides quick access to common options for projector use:

After you connect your projector, you can use the Display Settings dialogs shown earlier to fine-tune your connection.

Working with Themes

Themes, the combination of visual and audio features that personalize your desktop, have been around for awhile, but previous versions of Windows made working with themes difficult, to put it mildly. In Windows XP, creating a theme meant working with the multi-tabbed Display properties sheet, never seeing a list of current settings, and thus never being quite sure what was in your theme. Although Windows Vista provided easier ways to change theme elements, it was still a challenge to find out what you'd selected. Finally, Windows 7 makes selecting and creating a theme easy by showing you exactly what a theme includes (note that Windows 7 Starter edition doesn't support themes).

While you can go directly to menu choices for background, window glass colors, sound effects, and screen saver from the Personalization menu, it's just as easy to make these choices from the Themes submenu. To get started, click Change the Theme from the Appearance and Personalization category's Personalization menu:

The themes dialog shows you themes you've created (1); the current background, window color, sound scheme, and screen saver (2); a scrolling list of additional themes (3). The highlighted theme is the current theme:

Note that you can also download additional themes (click Get More Themes Online).

Selecting a Different Theme

To select from the themes built into Windows 7, scroll down and click the theme you prefer. Windows 7 includes seven themes built for Aero and six basic and high-contrast themes:

When you select a theme, the elements of the theme are automatically displayed at the bottom of the theme dialog. In this example, I selected the Aero Architecture theme:

Most themes included in Windows 7 do not specify a screen saver, so you will probably want to add one and save the modified theme.  To modify an element in a theme, click the element (such as the setting for screen saver) in the bottom of the Themes dialog.

Selecting a Screen Saver

The Screen Saver dialog is virtually unchanged from previous Windows versions, and also lists screen savers from optional programs (this example shows entries installed by Picasa and Windows Live Photo Gallery):

After selecting a screen saver and choosing options such as wait time and whether to display the login (logon) screen, click Apply, then OK, to use your changes:

Selecting Backgrounds

To change the current desktop background, click the link at the bottom of the Themes dialog. The selected background - or backgrounds - are marked with checkboxes (see the Architecture category). You can select a different background category (1), browse to a specific location (2), select or clear all pictures in a category (3), select picture location (4), choose how often to change backgrounds if you have more than one selected (5), and optionally shuffle the order of background images (6).

To choose only one subcategory, click the title bar for that subcategory (such as Architecture).To select all of the photos in a category, click Select All. To use only one photo, click Clear All, then click the photo you want to use. To use more photos, use Ctrl-Click to select the photos you want.  However, if you prefer Solid Colors, you can only choose one color at a time. Click Save Changes to save your selections.

Changing Window Color and Appearance

The Window Color button opens the Window Color and Appearance menu, which is virtually identical to the Windows Vista version. Click the Advanced Appearance Settings dialog to make changes in the Windows Basic or High Contrast color schemes:

Again, click Save Changes to use your new selections.

Selecting a Sound Scheme

The fourth element in a theme is the sound scheme. Click Sounds to open the Sound dialog shown here:

As with previous Windows versions, you can select an event and click Test to see if you like the sound choice. What can you expect when you select a new sound scheme? Here are three examples: Cityscape uses jazzy vibraphone sounds, while Afternoon uses acoustic guitar chords, and Sonata puts a string quartet at your disposal. Click Apply, then OK, to use your choice. If you add or modify sounds in the current scheme, use the Save As option to save your changes first.

Saving a Modified Theme

Whenever you modify a theme, a new Unsaved Theme is created. After reviewing your choices (1), click Save Theme (2):

Enter a name when prompted, and click Save. The new theme is listed in My Themes:


With few exceptions, Windows 7 has made the process of customizing your display and desktop much easier than with previous Windows editions. Hit Comment and share your favorite themes, tips, and tricks.

Mark is the author of the forthcoming book Easy Microsoft Windows 7 , and is inspiring digital photographers everywhere with his new book The Shot Doctor: The Amateur's Guide to Taking Great Digital Photos .

Around the web