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GPF News Archive

First Post Previous Post Next Post Latest Post April 1, 2013

 

I'm breaking the silence once again for a very important announcement, and it's no April Fools joke. I'm happy to announce that one of my favorite features of GPF Premium is back with a vengeance: the High-Definition Archive is actually high-def once again.

We originally launched the High-Def Archive back in 2003 as an incentive for subscribers to Keenspot PREMIUM. When GPF first launched back in 1998, the average screen resolution for PCs was around 800 x 600, but there were still a lot of folks running screens as low as 640 x 480. As such I tried to aim the GPF site to work well for the lowest common denominator, so the strips were capped at 600 pixels wide. By 2003, 1024 x 768 and 800 x 600 were about evenly split at over 40% each and less than 2% of the Internet was still at 640 x 480; by this point, those old strips were beginning to look pretty small to most readers. After spending a good bit of time experimenting and coding, I was able whip up some automated scripts to "upgrade" the strips by taking the original master files and resizing them to 700 pixels wide. A hundred pixels may not seem like much of a difference, but it definitely was. To add to the improvement, I saved the files at a higher color depth and with less compression, reducing artifacts and compression distortion to make for a much clearer image. We debuted the "upgraded" strips as the High-Definition Archive and made it an exclusive feature of GPF Premium. The larger size and less compression really improved the quality of the strips, showing off a lot of subtle details that were lost when the strips were being displayed so small.

By 2010, over 96% of Internet users were running 1024 x 768 or above, but the overwhelming majority of our readers were still seeing the old 1990s-era 600-pixel strips. After a lot of agonizing and soul searching, I decided to "upgrade" the "regular" archive by taking the High-Def strips and making a few tweaks to trim their file sizes down. (You can read the original announcement about this in the News post from November 1, 2010.) It pained me to "take away" a Premium perk and give it to the "common rabble", but the those tiny strips were making GPF look like an Internet relic and the upgrade was definitely overdue. I left the High-Def strips in place so they still had the advantage of less compression and finer details, but did so with the promise that the High-Def Archive would eventually be upgraded as well.

I have plenty of excuses for why it took nearly three years for that upgrade to happen. While most of those excuses were certainly valid, the bottom line was that I knew it was going to take a bunch of time. Fortunately I could automate the bulk of the work, but it would still take a while to write the scripts to do so and I knew there were going to be a lot of little manual tweaks even after the automated work was done. I also knew there were going to be some strips where an upgrade would be impossible (more on that in a bit). Still, setting aside the time to devote to this job was not going to be easy as my schedule for the past several years has been rather hectic.

When I started looking into what pranks to pull for this year's April Fools Day (a grand GPF tradition), I noticed how even the 700-pixel strips were starting to look small again on my laptop's 1280 x 800 screen. This painfully reminded me of my unfulfilled promise to upgrade High-Def, which cinched the decision. What better April Fools prank to pull than to not pull a prank, but rather give back to our loyal Premium folks something they've been waiting for for years.

Here's a few notes about the upgrade:

  • The bulk of the changes should already be in place. According to our calculations, over 97% of the High-Def Archive should have been handled by our automated process. However, the GPF site uses very aggressive caching, both on the server and client sides. While we've already purged the server cache, you may need to clear your browser cache in order to see the new strips.
  • Some strips in the Archive still require manual tweaking because they could not be easily automated. I'll be handling these upgrades myself, so it may take a while for me to make those changes manually.
  • Some strips cannot be upgraded for various reasons. Many of these are guest strips which were given to us as-is by their contributors. There are also a number of animated strips where I failed to keep intermediate files, so it's now virtually impossible to recreate them. Even though some of these will stick out like a sore thumb, we'll leave them in place unmodified.
  • While I've tried my best to cover all scenarios, there will always be "bugs". If you are a Premium subscriber and run across a High-Def strip that appears "wrong" for any reason, please let me know. There are over 3,500 strips in the GPF Archive so it's impossible for me to check each one individually. I can only fix problems when I know about them, so even if you think I already know about it, send me a note about it anyway.
  • One of the hold-ups for this upgrade was the fact that the site's layout and design does not accommodate images wider than a particular size. It was my intention to redesign the site first to make it more flexible, but if I haven't pulled that off after three years, it's unlikely I'm going to get it done any sooner. The caveat here is that due to this layout, either the comic overlaps the tall "skyscraper" ad that usually appears on the right, or the ad overlaps the comic. (I can't remember which case is correct.) Technically, this isn't much of a problem because by default Premium folks won't see any ads. However, Premium also has an option to allow readers to turn the ads back on and let us earn both subscription and ad revenue at the same time, and I know some of you actually use this feature. I may need to make these two features mutually exclusive; that is, if you turn on the High-Def archive, it automatically disables the ads, even if you have them turned on. I need to do some more testing on this, so if any of you wish to do your own testing and report your results to me, it would be greatly appreciated.
  • If you are not a Premium subscriber, you will be unaffected by this change. The regular Archive should be unchanged. Of course, if you'd like to give the High-Def Archive a try, we invite you to sign up for GPF Premium today. Personally, I think the High-Def Archive alone is plenty of incentive to give Premium a try, but we have dozens of other features to hopefully entice you. A single month of Premium is currently only $5.00 USD, so giving it a one-month trial is pretty inexpensive.
  • Similarly, the mobile site will also be unaffected. The mobile site uses the regular Archive strips; the High-Def Archive is not included as part of Premium on the mobile side for bandwidth reasons. (We're worried about your bandwidth, not ours. We have terabytes of bandwidth per month, but most mobile data plans are much leaner than a server plan.)

Note: Historical browser screen size data taken from W3Schools.com.

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