Laptop Screens and LCD Panels: Assessing Suitability

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Laptop Screens and LCD Panels: Assessing Suitability

LCD screens, whether as free-standing monitors, televisions, or laptop screens, are central to many modern activities. Almost every new device involves either buying a new screen or working to make sure the new piece is compatible with existing screens. Even people who work primarily with laptops may buy replacement or upgraded laptop screens or free-standing monitors to use with their laptops. But not just any LCD screen will do. Given how important LCD screens are, finding one that properly fulfils the user's needs is critical. Shopping for screens can be difficult for buyers not familiar with electronics because the product descriptions involve a lot of specialised terminology. Further, the sheer variety of screens can be bewildering. The key to finding screens that are really suitable to a particular user is knowing what the terms that describe the main screen characteristics mean and what different uses really require from screens.

About Laptop Screens and LCD Panels

Laptop screens are technically a type of liquid crystal display (LCD) panel. Although the term LCD panels usually refers only to stand-alone monitors and flat-screen televisions, and not laptop screens, it is important to recognise that the same technology is involved. This means that the screen specifications are largely the same, as is the terminology used to describe the different screen types.

Screen Type

LCD screens all use a layer of liquid crystal to create the image, but a light source behind this layer provides the actual light. One of the primary ways LCD screens differ is in the type of backlighting used. Cold cathode fluorescent lamp (CCFL) is the older technology, and uses one or more fluorescent tubes for backlighting. CCFL screens are relatively low-cost and have very good picture quality, but do use more energy than the newer light emitting diodes (LED) backlighting. LED screens are also much thinner and lighter than CCFLs.

It is important to note that while a laptop can be designed for either backlight type, no laptop can be designed for both; when replacing a laptop's screen, make sure to use the original screen type. The LCD itself also comes in several different types, the two dominant types being twisted nematic (TN) and in-plane switching (IPS). TN is the older technology, and is still much more common in laptops, while IPS is becoming popular for stand-alone monitors and handheld electronics. While IPS offers a better viewing experience overall for most uses, each technology has advantages that the other lacks. There are also several types of 3D technology, although most screens do not have 3D capability.

Screen Size and Aspect Ratio

The size of a screen is measured diagonally across its face, not counting its bevel, or frame. The shape of a screen is expressed as its aspect ratio, the ratio of the screen's width to its height. Screens can be anywhere from almost square, like an old-style telly, to dramatically wide, like the proportions of a movie screen. Video created for one ratio must either be formatted or presented with black bars in order to play on a screen with a different ratio. Two screens could have the same size measurement yet look very different, by having different aspect ratios.

Resolution and Pixel Response Rate

Resolution is how much detail a screen can show, expressed as the number of pixels the screen can display both horizontally and vertically. Larger screens generally have more resolution, but resolution is not directly tied to size, and some smaller screens have better resolution than some larger ones. Some screens are considered high definition, or HD, based on a combination of their size, resolution, and aspect ratio. Sometimes other terms are used to designate specific resolution and aspect ratio combinations. Although in most cases better resolution is considered desirable, very small HD screens can sometimes cause eye strain, and higher resolution sometimes slows the frame speed for video, which can interfere with gaming. The pixel response rate is how long it takes for a pixel to shift from black to white. The faster the pixel response rate, the smoother and clearer video appears. Very slow pixel response rates can distort video.

Screen Colour, Brightness, and Contrast Ratios

Screens vary in how many colours and shades of grey they can display and how accurate their colours and grey scale are, but even low-end screens are adequate for most uses as they can show many thousands of colours. Brightness, or the amount of light a screen can put out, is measured in candelas per square metre. Contrast ratio is the difference between the darkest black and the whitest white the screen is capable of producing. Although very high contrast ratios are available, anything beyond 600 : 1 does not usually make any practical difference.

Viewing Angle and Glare

There are circumstances under which even screens with great colour, resolution, and so forth are nearly impossible to see. Part of buying a screen is finding ways to limit those circumstances so that they do not limit screen in any practical way. LCD screens look great when viewed straight on, but when seen from an angle their colours appear distorted or even totally black. This is seldom an issue with laptop screens, since they are almost exclusively viewed head-on anyway, but it can be an issue with larger monitors. Manufacturers work to make the ideal viewing angle as wide as possible, and the viewing angle, expressed in degrees, is usually part of the screen's specifications. However, it is difficult to know for sure how wide the viewing angle really is without testing the screen. Bear in mind that a wide viewing angle is entirely unrelated to whether the screen itself is wide; to find a wide screen, look for a high aspect ratio.

Glare is another problem, since most LCD screens are nearly impossible to see in bright light. This is mostly a problem with laptops, as stationary panels can usually be mounted in places with controlled lighting. Some laptops do work well, even in bright light, however; screens that are very bright, or matte as opposed to glossy, tend to do better. Shading a laptop from direct sunlight is usually a good idea anyway, as the heat from direct sun can become a problem.

Other Features

Free-standing LCD panels are not just screens. Most include speakers, and all must have some way to accept a signal, whether that is a USB port, television or computer cables, or some combination. Laptop speakers are typically not part of the screen, but many do have cameras and microphones for placing video calls.

Choosing Laptop Screens and LCD Panels

When actually choosing a screen there are, of course, differences between laptops and other screens. The major difference is that laptop screens come attached to laptops, so that screen choice must be influenced by the other features of the machine. It is possible to switch out laptop screens, however, as long as the new screen is compatible with the rest of the machine, and some manufacturers offer the same machine with several different screen options.

Matching Screens to Use Types

Laptop screens and LCD panels do not exist on a simple linear quality scale, where the most expensive screen available is the best one for everybody. Instead screens come with a range of features and different screens work best for different people. There are three basic types of LCD screen use, and these four types apply roughly to both laptops and free-standing panels.

Basic Displays

Basic displays are suitable for people who use computers casually and at home, or who want a small, inexpensive television screen. Performance is adequate, not advanced, and the price is right. Since the technology improves every year, however, this year's advanced displays may be the basic model before long.

Professional Displays

Professional displays feature ergonomic designs, such as fully adjustable stands, and a range of performance options suitable for different industries. For example, some have excellent colour and definition for the use of graphic artists. Some professional screens are ultra-efficient, reducing both resource use and operating costs.

Multimedia Displays

Multimedia displays can attach to computers, but can also work as televisions. The focus is on watching video, viewing pictures, and listening to music. Look for multiple connectivity options, decent speakers, a multi-card reader, and a digital TV tuner, as well as a wide viewing angle. Some have 3D capability.

Gaming Displays

Displays for serious gaming also focus on both audio and video, but they are more specialised. 3D capability is more important for these screens. Gamers need speed and visual clarity, so pixel response rate is very important. The larger the screen is, the more important quality is, because slow pixel responses are more likely to create distortions in larger screens.

Looking for Quality

A good quality screen is one that is well-matched to its user. It is difficult to find a screen capable of doing everything that a screen can do well, and fully-loaded, all-around excellent screens are, of course, expensive. Instead, focus on the features that are most important to the user and maximise those. Do not waste time or money on unnecessary features.

Something else to pay attention to is that beyond a certain point, technological advancement does not add anything to function. The highest definition screens display more detail than the human eye can see, even assuming excellent vision. And not all users have excellent vision. While super-high definition is, technically higher quality, practically speaking it offers no improvement. As technology continues to improve, more screen characteristics are likely to pass the point where increased function offers no practical improvement in quality. At that point, finding quality means switching focus and looking at other features.

Looking for a Good Deal

Screens increase in price with size, screen quality, and the number of extra features, such as USB ports. A simple way to look for a good deal is to focus on the features that matter to the user and not pay for what the user does not need. Buying used, or buying an older model, is a good option for most people, as long as the screen is not so old that it has trouble interacting with other equipment. An older screen might not be as powerful as the latest screen, but audio-visual technology has reached the point that even older screens are excellent.

How to Buy Laptop Screens and LCD Panels on eBay

Buying through eBay is not difficult, but a few tips on how to find products and how to negotiate the buying process should help. Both laptop screens and LCD panels are available from UK and international sellers. You can start searching for the right screen for your needs on the eBay's home page.

Finding Laptop Screens and LCD Panels

Using the Advanced Search feature is a quick way to find a specific product, but many buyers do not know exactly what they want and prefer to browse. To see what is available, do a simple search; enter a broader search term, such as replacement laptop screens into the search box and then use the menu options to filter the results by size, brand, and other characteristics.

An LCD screen all by itself is basically a thin glass box of not much use to anyone. Screens are only important because of what they can do, and different users require them to do different things. Getting a good screen depends on finding out which screen will do exactly what the user needs it to. No one wants to pay for unnecessary features or to have to buy add-ons to get features the screen should have been able to provide.

LCD screens are designed to meet several distinct needs, including casual use, business use, multimedia, and serious gaming. Shoppers should determine which of these comes closest to their interests and then use that as a guide to find the right screen. Even for laptops, where the computer and screen are attached and screen choice is more limited, screen type can be an important factor in laptop choice. Since laptop screens are essentially small versions of LCD panels, buyers can use the same principles to select both laptop screens and panels.

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