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A Bigger, Better Monitor Awaits

If you're looking for a more comfortable and faster computing environment, don't overlook your monitor. By replacing your 15-inch or smaller CRT monitor with a 17-inch (or larger) CRT monitor, you save untold amounts of wear on your directional arrows on your keyboard and reduce the odds of "mouse elbow." You also allow yourself to open more programs at once and avoid eyestrain while you use higher resolutions.

By combining a new monitor purchase with a dual-head video card, you can improve your productivity even more; use your new monitor as your primary monitor, and your old one as a secondary monitor. 17-inch CRT monitors have become the new standard display, and 19-inch CRT monitors offer a further improvement in screen real estate for not much more money. If you're short on desktop space, you can use a 15-inch LCD display in place of a 17-inch CRT, and a 17-inch LCD in place of a 19-inch CRT. A 15-inch LCD has about the same viewing area as a 17-inch CRT, and a 17-inch LCD has about the same viewing area as a 19-inch CRT.

Which one is right for you?

CRTs

Conventional "glass tube" monitors are also called CRTs for the Cathode Ray Tube used to display the onscreen image. CRT-type monitors closely resemble TVs in their basic construction, although they are built to a much higher standard for resolution and use computer, rather than TV, signals.

Both CRTs and TVs work by firing a stream of electrons at the inside of the picture tube to form the image. The speed at which the screen is painted with new data, from top to bottom, is referred to as the vertical refresh rate and is measured in Hertz (Hz), or times per second. Monitors are rated by their vertical refresh rate (which varies according to the screen resolution selected), the size of the picture tube (measured diagonally), and the dot pitch (the distance between each trio of red, green, and blue phosphor dots used to make the image onscreen).

Become a Monitor Maven—Master These Terms

Vertical refresh rate—How fast the monitor redraws the picture on screen. Set this rate to be fast enough to avoid annoying flicker.

Picture tube size—Measured diagonally (corner to corner), it is about 1–1.5-inches smaller than the viewable area on a CRT monitor.

Dot pitch—The distance between each trio of red, green, and blue phosphor dots should be as small as possible; .25mm–.28mm is a satisfactory range for 14-inch to 17-inch screens. 19-inch and larger monitors should have dot pitches under .25mm. Larger distances make the image on-screen appear grainy.

The Ideal CRT's Features

The ideal monitor provides a big, sharp, clear, easy to view screen at any supported resolution and uses as little desk space as possible. What kinds of features should you look for in your search for the "ideal" monitor—or as close as you can come to it for your budget? See Table 13.4 for the details.

Table 13.4 CRT Monitor Features

Feature

Desirable

Acceptable

Not Acceptable

Notes

Screen Size (diagonal useful measure)

19-inch

17-inch

15-inch or smaller

The larger the screen, the higher the resolution in most cases.

Highest usable1 screen resolution (19-inch)

1,600x 1,200 or above

1,280x 1,024 or above

1,024x768

Many monitors' highest resolution have refresh rates under 70Hz.

Highest usable1 screen resolution (17-inch)

1,280x 1,024 or above

1,024x 768 or above

800x600

 

Tube type

Flat tube with short-neck design

Flat tube with standard neck design

Curved tube with standard neck design

Flat tube eliminates distortion and reduces glare common with curved screens.

Dot pitch (Aperture Grille Pitch)2 19-inch

.25mm (.24mm)

.26mm or .27mm (.27mm)

.28mm or above (same)

Finer dot pitch improves image sharpness.

Dot pitch (Aperture Grille Pitch) 17-inch

.26mm (.24mm)

.27mm (.25mm)

.28mm or above (same)

 


NOTE

1 "Usable" is defined as a vertical refresh rate of 70Hz or higher; lower refresh rates cause excessive screen flicker.

2 Aperture grille pitch is the distance between triads of vertical red, green, and blue phosphor strips used on some monitors in place of a shadow mask.

LCD Display Panels

Although LCD display panels are still two to three times more expensive than comparably sized CRTs (a 15-inch LCD panel is comparable in usable screen area to a 17-inch CRT), more and more space-conscious users are opting for them. A 15-inch or larger LCD panel needs less than eight inches of desktop depth, compared to 14 to 17 inches for a comparable 17-inch CRT display. LCD displays use far less power than CRTs, produce much less heat, and weigh far less (a 17-inch LCD panel weighs about 10 lbs, compared to 35–40 obs for a 17-inch CRT). So, what's not to like?

LCD displays have just one native resolution (normally 1024x768 in a 15-inch size or 1,280x1,024 in the 17-inch size), which is fine for office work or photo editing, but isn't always the best resolution for gaming or for web designers (who need to preview their pages at different resolutions). Although CRTs can adjust to many different resolutions without problems, LCDs must use scaling to display lower-resolution screens, sometimes with poor results. In addition, many low-cost LCD displays are designed to convert their internal digital signals to analog signals for use with ordinary video cards. This digital to analog conversion can cause the picture on-screen to shake or shimmer a bit. The newest LCD displays have a DVI digital input, but displays with the DVI connector are more common in the 17-inch and larger categories. LCD displays never flicker, so high refresh rates aren't necessary. However, most LCD displays have slower response times than CRTs, making them less suitable for game playing.

CRTs are a long way from becoming obsolete because they have several built-in advantages when compared to LCD displays, as Table 13.5 reveals.

Table 13.5 LCD and CRT Features Compared

Display Type

Resolution

Graphics Card

Internal Signal Type

Viewing Angle

Refresh Rate

Notes

CRT

Adjustable from 640x80 up and sharp at various resolutions

Analog VGA (15-pin)

Analog

Wide

High

No signal conversion necessary

LCD

Fixed native resolution; can be scaled, but is not as sharp as native resolution

Analog VGA; DVI

Digital

Narrower

Low

Analog to digital signal conversion can cause display problems; software controls can help


The Perfect LCD Display Panel

If you prize the compact size, minimal depth, and energy requirements of an LCD screen, how can you make sure you get the best LCD display panel possible? Look for the following features:

  • Viewing angle of 150 degrees or more—LCD panels don't allow as wide a viewing angle as CRTs, but you should be able to see the display clearly from one side.

  • Contrast ratio of 300:1 or higher—CRTs have an average contrast ratio of 245:1, and the more you exceed this value, the crisper the display is. However, make sure the display also handles light and dark tones properly.

  • Pivoting feature—Although some CRTs and display cards in the past have supported the shift of the display from its normal landscape horizontal mode to a vertical portrait orientation, the weight and bulk of CRTs has made this a rare feature. LCD panels are light and easy to swing, and this makes editing a long document even easier.

  • DVI connector—When matched to a DVI-compatible video card, this provides for an all-digital display that avoids problems with pixel swim and jitter that are common when analog signals are converted.

NOTE

Pixel swim—The on-screen shimmer that results when the LCD display panel can't decide which of two adjacent cells should be turned on.

Pixel jitter—Same as pixel swim. To minimize pixel swim/jitter, use the display controls provided with the LCD display, or switch to an all-digital LCD display and compatible video card.

Regardless of the display type you choose, you should try to see it in person before you plunk down your cash or credit card. Some displays look better on paper than they do in person.

Traps to Avoid

Avoid the following traps when you buy your next monitor:

  • CRT monitors with very low refresh rates at the resolutions you want to use—Very low refresh rates at the monitor's highest resolution is a favorite trick of monitor makers who want to impress you with a "high-res" monitor at a low price.

  • My rule of thumb is this: If the refresh rate isn't at least 70Hz at a given resolution, I'm going to ignore it. Thus, the many low-cost 17-inch 1,280x1,024 maximum-resolution monitors on the market whose refresh rates are 60 to 66Hz I call "1,024x768" monitors because that resolution has a very easy-on-the-eyes refresh rate above 80Hz in most cases. Another reason to discount the maximum resolution, especially on low-cost monitors, is the poor picture quality you often have at the maximum resolution. It's amazing to see how bad some monitors look at the maximum resolution and how much better the screen quality is just one notch down from maximum.

  • Curved-tube CRTs—Flat tubes abound, even at moderate price points, and they're easier to use and more accurate. The curved-tube monitors are often also the ones with the useless maximum resolutions I mentioned earlier. Leave 'em on the shelf for somebody else.

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