If you’ve tried to buy a nice Windows laptop in the past few years, there’s a good chance you’ve agonized over display resolutions.

Buy a laptop with a 4K display, and you’ll get a picture so sharp that individual pixels become indiscernible, but both battery life and performance will suffer as a result. Get a 1080p laptop instead, and you’ll get more battery life at the expense of that glorious picture.

There is, of course, a middle ground in the form of 1440p (2560×1440) displays, also known as QHD. You just wouldn’t know it from today’s selection of laptops. Even though 1440p hits the sweet spot between a crisp picture and long battery life, most laptops instead make you choose between extremes.

We asked some PC makers why, and the answers were illuminating. In short, 4K TV marketing has blinded laptop shoppers to the benefits of 1440p displays, so display manufacturers and laptop makers seldom bother to produce them. There is, however, some hope that this might change over the next few years, especially as PC screens come in different shapes and sizes that look less like your TV.

4K laptops: Mostly for marketing

Tom Butler, Lenovo’s executive director of commercial portfolio and product management, said the prevalence of 1080p laptops (also known as Full HD or FHD) is easy to explain. Panels with 1920×1080 resolution are inexpensive, look decent on smaller screens, and are battery-efficient. IT departments also appreciate 1080p because it generally works with any application, with no scaling issues. That makes it a safe bet for the commercial laptop market.

“FHD, that’s the easy one,” Butler said in an interview. “That has become the industry sweet spot.”

But as laptop makers have moved into higher resolutions, they’ve gravitated toward 3840×2160, or 4K resolution, skipping over anything in between. That’s largely because of the hype that TV manufacturers have created around 4K. “The TV industry has really trained consumers to look for 4K,” Butler said.

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The problem is that 4K displays affect laptops in a way that users don’t experience with 4K TVs. “TVs aren’t bound by battery life,” Butler pointed out. Compared to 1080p, 4K panels have four times as many pixels. Lighting them up requires much more powerful backlighting. The laptop’s processor also has to work harder to render images with all those extra pixels.



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