The Mona Lisa never looked her best on computer screen. The detail was missing. Her smile was fuzzy, which put artists in a difficult position.
If they wanted to change Mona - color her purple, update her background, make her grin - they could do amazing things electronically. If they wanted to glimpse the richness of the original, they needed a photo or print.
Xerox has developed a solution for this unappealing tradeoff. By adapting technology used to make laptop computer screens, the company has created a high-resolution display with an image that looks as sharp on-screen as it does printed out on a good-quality laser printer.
The possibilities are huge. Want to search a map? An on-line version could show you the way with as much clarity as today's paper variety. Want to read a book on-screen? With resolution approaching that of a printed page, it should prove easier than it is today.
With really high-resolution screens, we might eventually turn from a race of Internet surfers to Internet readers.
There are, of course, a few hurdles to overcome before we get there.
First, to achieve the resolution of a 600 dots-per-inch laser printer, Xerox can only offer a black-and-white image. That's not a drawback for text. But showing off the bright colors of the Internet's World Wide Web, for example, means reducing the resolution.
Instead of displaying a black-and-white picture with 6.9 million points - called pixels - the Xerox technology in color can achieve only a little better than 1.7 million pixels. That's because it takes four pixels with special filters to make one full-color pixel. That's still far better than the 480,000-pixel screens that are beginning to appear on most high-grade notebook computers, although some companies, such as Japan's NEC, have begun selling 1.3 million-pixel screens.