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Take Your Time - Yours Eyes Will Thank You
Buyers Guide: Computer monitors
Member Name: Nibelung
Buyers Guide: Computer monitors
Advantages: A good screen is the crowning glory for a good PC
Disadvantages: Can sometimes be fiddly to get dead right
(I'm assuming that no-one in 2013 is going to buy a CRT (tube) monitor. Other reviews in this sector are pretty old and still include the CRT as an option.)
There are many reasons why you'd buy a new LCD (flat-screen) monitor. One of which is to accompany a new PC, either included in the overall price, or as a separate item.
Or maybe your old monitor just breathed its last and a new one is now a necessity. This is how I've tended to buy monitors, i.e. alternately to my purchases of new PCs!
I'm guessing that the older bulkier and more-expensive-to-run CRT (TV tube) monitors have just about seen their last days, so even those who have been able to sustain one up till now will be 'running on borrowed time' and shortly will be looking at a new monitor. Whatever, they'll have little choice but to buy a flat screen next time, however long they can make the old one last! New flat screens are far more energy-efficient than CRT screens, and many companies saw the sense of changing over in a wholesale fashion years ago, based on just electricity savings alone (plus of course the savings in desk space so they can pile more work onto you!)
If you look around almost any PC store, you'll see that almost without exception, monitors are now 16:9 widescreen proportions*, rather than the older squarer 4:3, so in this respect they ape what has happened to TVs.
(*except those that are even wider!)
Likewise, the way in which the picture is fed to them has also changed. Gone are the days when the only way was 'analog' through a VGA connector (D-shaped with 9 pins). Nowadays, there's also a digital feed usually called DVI. This is a somewhat larger plug than the HDMI socket on a digital TV, but unlike the HDMI lead, it does not carry sound signals. In all other respects it is similar, and you can even buy DVI/HDMI converter adapters quite cheaply.
On the subject of sound, a handful of monitors actually contain speakers, be here again, as with panel TVs, the sound is pretty 'slim' hence most people use a separate set of speakers with their PC.
Some monitors, like my AOC e2343f, have both VGA and DVI inputs, which is very useful if you are buying 'in between' buying PCs, as the day may well come when PCs only have digital video outputs at some time in the future. At the moment, most PC makers are still clinging to analog video cards, some with the addition of the DVI port so this isn't yet an issue.
OTHER THINGS TO CONSIDER?
Well, there's screen size for one. Don't forget that the size is usually quoted in inches and that this is the diagonal dimension (as with TVs), and so a 23" wide-screen like mine will only be about as tall as a 17" in the old 4:3 format.
Changing your screen from an old 4:3 to a new 16:9 is easy enough in the first instance, as a new monitor is one of the few bits of hardware that will run first time without any formal installation but until you make a few adjustments, you're going to get some slightly weird results, like photos of slim people suddenly taking on a new barrel-like quality!
The problem comes because the proportions of the screen resolutions are quoted in 'dots across by dots down', not whether they are 4:3 or 16:9.
For example, the old favourite VGA screen definitions of 640/480 or 800/600 are effectively 4:3, (both being a ratio of 1.33 to 1).
However, using Windows as an example, you'll be confronted with choices like 1920/1080. As it happens, this is exactly the same ratio as 16:9 (1.78 to 1) and is in fact the screen resolution that I use on my 23" screen. It would be useful if the operating systems like Windows actually told you this instead of forcing you to resort to a calculator! Wide screens can bring many benefits beyond being a better showcase for movies and games. I can get two pages of a Word Document side-by-side on mine without resorting to minuscule type-size
Beware not bothering with the maker's installation disk though. If they supply one, use it. For one thing it helps your PC identify the new hardware right down to its precise model number. You may be wondering, now that your monitor seems to be working just fine, why you should bother. Well, this is one of the few occasions where incorrect settings can actually DAMAGE the hardware.
It's nothing to do with the screen resolution but everything to do with what's called the 'refresh rate', this being the number of frames per second that are transmitted to the monitor.
Too few and you'll be conscious of screen-flicker, which is a common source of eye-strain and headaches.
Too many and you run the risk of overheating the screen's electronics, with the possibility of causing it some permanent damage.
Somewhere just above the eye's level of awareness is just fine, say 60Hz. If you watch a lot of action movies or war games you'll maybe want a higher rate, but beware of taking it beyond the range recommended by the screen maker.
If that sounds a bit scary, just make sure you use the maker's disk and you'll be fine.
Having made the jump to a flat screen monitor, there's in now more than one technology to look out for.
The slimmest screens tend to be 'LED-lit LCD'. This method is now taking hold also in the TV market and explains why a 42" screen telly now only needs to be about 1.5" thick.
Also, if you are buying a monitor 'in between PCs', you may want to get one that's touch-sensitive, so that a future PC running, says Windows 8 (or future versions) can be used to its full potential. However, if your wear out monitors faster than you do PCs, then you may want to give this aspect of 'future proofing' a miss this time round!
One last thing - do feel free to adjust the screen for a perfect fit, both physically and electronically, after all you're going to be staring at it for a long time. Screens that have to be looked up at are bad news for your neck - try watching Sky TV in a pub and you'll see what I mean. Use whatever height and tilt adjustments are available to make the centre of it just below eye-level so that a gentle downward tilt of the head is needed. With this kind of screen, it's important to make sure that you view the centre at 90 degrees to your line of sight, otherwise you may not get the full benefit of its colour definition. If you walk to one side of, or stand too far above an LCD screen you'll see the colours fade.
Play with the on-screen menu until your picture is an exact fit for width and height. This is a separate exercise to setting resolutions and refresh rates, and is, in fact nothing to do with the operating system.
After all, why would you pay for a 23 inch monitor and only watch 20 of them?
Summary: Hints and tips for buying a monitor