Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Color depth is a computer graphics term describing the number of bits used to represent the color of a single pixel in a bitmapped image or video frame buffer. This concept is also known as bits per pixel (bpp), particularly when specified along with the number of bits used. Higher color depth gives a broader range of distinct colors.
With relatively low color depth, the stored value is typically an index into a color map or palette. The colors available in the palette itself may be fixed by the hardware or modifiable.
- 1-bit color (21 = 2 colors) monochrome, often black and white
- 2-bit color (22 = 4 colors) CGA
- 4-bit color (24 = 16 colors) as used by the least common denominator VGA standard
- 8-bit color (28 = 256 colors) Super VGA
As the number of bits increases, the number of possible colors becomes impractically large for a color map. In higher color depths, the color value typically directly encodes relative brightnesses of red, green, and blue to specify a color in the RGB color model.
HiColor or Highcolor is considered sufficient to provide life-like colors, and is encoded using either 15 or 16 bits:
- 15-bit color uses 5 bits to represent red, 5 bits to represent blue, and 5 bits to represent green. 25 = 32 levels of each of these three colour can therefore be combined to give a total of 32,768 mixed colours (32 x 32 x 32 = 32,768)
- 16-bit color uses 5 bits to represent red, 5 bits to represent blue, but (since the human eye is more sensitive to the color) uses 6 bits to represent 64 levels of green. These can therefore be combined to give 65,536 mixed colours (32 x 32 x 64 = 65,536)
Truecolor can frequently mimic many colors found in the real world, producing 16.7 million distinct colors. This approaches the level at which the human eye can distinguish colors for most photographic images, though image manipulation or "pure" generated images may reveal the limitations.
- 24-bit Truecolor uses 8 bits to represent red, 8 bits to represent blue, and 8 bits to represent green. 28 = 256 levels of each of these three colour can therefore be combined to give a total of 16,777,216 mixed colours (256 x 256 x 256).
"32-bit color" is a misnomer when regarding display color depth. A common misconception is that 32-bit color produces 4,294,967,296 distinct colors.
In reality, 32-bit color actually refers to 24-bit color (Truecolor) with an additional 8 bits either as empty padding space or to represent an alpha channel.
Selection of color depth
In graphics intensive applications such as computer games, a tradeoff of performance and quality can be achieved by raising or lowering the color depth of the display; graphics with lower color depths do not require as much frame buffer memory or display bandwidth, allowing them to be generated and displayed more quickly. Increasing color depth results in higher color quality at the expense of display speed and responsiveness.
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