What to Look for in an LCD Monitor

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Flat screen LCD monitors have many advantages over the old CRTs. Besides being smaller, lighter and easier to move around the desk when the time comes to wipe the dust, LCDs use only one-third to one-half the electricity of their CRT counterparts; they emit less low-frequency radiation than CRTs; and they are easier on the eyes.

The best way to choose the LCD monitor is to take into account both technical and non-technical considerations – and to trust your eyes more than the manufacturers’ specifications. Consequently, if you find an LCD monitor on bidorbuy that appeals to you, you’d do well to examine the same model in a local shop before placing your order.

When choosing your next LCD monitor, first take into account the bigger picture:

•    The type of work that you will you will be doing on your computer. If you use graphic applications or play games, look for a monitor with higher specs.
•    The size of your computer desk real estate. It’s no use to dream of a big screen if you have only so much space to fit the monitor in between the shelves.
•    The size of your budget. Entry level LCD monitors will do well enough for routine office tasks and browsing the internet, but if you want more out of your display, be prepared to pay more.

The next step is to consider the physical factors of the monitor:

Screen size (measured diagonally): If it is too small, you may have trouble cramming onto it all you need to see; if it is too big, you risk a neck cramp, much like when watching a movie in a cinema from the first row.

Aspect ratio: Many applications are adapted for and look best in 4:3 ratio. However, if you watch a lot of movies on your monitor, the wide screen 16:9 or similar ratio may suit you better. Wide screen can also be useful in a work environment, because it allows you to open two documents side by side.

Stand adjustments: Ideally, you should be able to swivel, tilt and adjust the height of the screen. Some LCDs can even pivot horizontally (landscape mode) and vertically (portrait mode). This is useful for desktop publishing, long spreadsheets, etc., but don't pay extra for this feature if you won't use it.

Viewing angle: Viewing angle determines how far you can move from the centre of the screen and still see clearly what is displayed on it. If you use your LCD to give presentations or teach a group of students crowding around you, look for a wide viewing angle. A viewing angle of at least 140 degrees horizontal and 120 degrees vertical is recommended, but this is one of those things where your eyes are a better judge than manufacturer’s specs.

Finally, it is time to take a look under the hood and delve deeper into the “internal” technical specs of LCD monitors:

Contrast ratio: This determines how rich the colours will be on the display. Look for a contrast ratio of between 400:1 and 600:1. Anything above that serves no practical purpose, because you will not be able to tell the difference anyway.

Brightness: Otherwise known as luminance. It is expressed in nits or candelas per square meter (cd/m²). Most tasks require no more than 200 to 250 nits, though 500 nits are better for TV and movies. You may safely skip this spec, because all decent LCD monitors have good brightness. If anything, users usually turn it down.

Resolution: Make sure that the monitor’s native resolution suits you before you buy it. The native resolution of LCD monitors depends on their physical size. Change it, and you get poor display (that’s about the only area in which modern LCDs can not match the old CRTs: CRT monitors allow you to adjust the resolution without sacrificing picture quality). Here are some of the common native resolutions found in LCD monitors:

  • 17-19": 1280x1024
  • 20"and more: 1600x1200
  • 17" (Widescreen): 1280x800
  • 19" (Widescreen): 1440x900
  • 22" (Widescreen): 1680x1050
  • 23.6" (Widescreen): 1920x1080

If you plan to use your monitor to watch Blu-ray DVDs at their full resolution, you will need a display with at least a 1920x1080 resolution. On the other hand, most web sites are optimised for 17” LCDs (12080 x 1024 resolution). That is why it is a good idea to view internet content on the monitor you plan to purchase.

Response time: Measured in milliseconds (ms), response time tells you how long it takes pixels to change colour. Slow response time can produce ghosting or streaking effect when fast-moving images are displayed. A response time of 17ms to 25ms is fine for most requirements. For gaming or viewing television and movies, a 12ms to 15ms response time is better.

Connectors: Most LCDs have an analog and a digital connector, the latter usually being a DVI (Digital Visual Interface) connector. Don’t skimp on this feature, even if your present PC does not have a DVI port - your next one will have it (lack of a DVI port is one of the signs that you need a new graphics card or, even better, a new computer). More demanding computer users will opt for a monitor with HDMI (High-Definition, Multimedia Interface) connector. Providing you have a corresponding graphics card, HDMI will enable you to get high definition video on your LCD monitor. Some monitors also come with home theatre connectors including component, composite and S-video.

As a matter of fact, you can use a high-end, big LCD monitor as a stand-alone display for cable or satellite television programmes. It is much cheaper than buying a flat-screen TV set. We recommend getting a TV licence anyway, just in case!

Whether you opt for an entry level or advanced LCD display, do remember that your old monitor must never, ever end up in a rubbish dump. That would be an absolute crime to the environment and is forbidden by law anyway. If your old monitor is totally unusable, take it to a recycling facility. If it still works, re-sell it or donate it. There are many schools in South Africa that desperately need computer equipment.

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