Simple Guide To Buying A Monitor

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Picking a monitor can be a daunting task, LCD, CRT, response time, aspect ratio, brightness, contrast ratio and resolution what does this all mean? To help you understand the technology we produced this guide.

CRT Or LCD Monitor?

The classic computer monitor uses cathode ray tubes (CRT)(shown on the right) to project the image onto the display screen. CRT monitors have traditionally been deep and bulky, resembling a TV set, eating up valuable desk space and standing out like a sore thumb. Still, they take up an awful lot of desk space. Because of the way the screen refreshes, if you spend a lot of time looking at the monitor, your eyes will start to feel fatigued by the CRT flicker

Efficient, stylish liquid crystal display (LCD) screens are the most popular models today, shown on the left. This slim monitor has a small footprint and is less tiring for your eyes. LCD displays use LCD pockets embedded in the screen and colour filters to display images. Light shines through the crystal pockets, which open more or less depending on the image. Most LCD displays now use a Thin Film Transistor (TFT) screen. TFT provides excellent image quality, colour and sharpness, along with a wide viewing angle, so the image is still viewable even if you're not right in front of the screen. Finally, LCD displays are much cooler and more energy efficient than CRT. If you insist on a CRT display, consider a flat screen model. This should not be confused with a flat panel monitor, like an LCD. Flat screen CRTs are still CRT displays, but the screen is flat instead of curved, reducing image distortion and reflection.

Monitor Uses

General home use - You want to keep an eye on the bottom line, but also want a monitor that can keep up with whatever you need to do. TFT LCD screens are becoming less expensive all the time, and performance is improving, particularly for video and games. You may want to consider monitors with DVI (Digital Visual Interface) inputs, audio/video inputs and even speakers, in case your monitor is used for other purposes, like DVD playback.

Work - If you use your computer for work, look for a monitor that can be adjusted for viewing comfort and is easy on the eyes, like an LCD. A large screen is also a good idea, in case you need to look at multiple files at once, or want to examine an entire spreadsheet.

In the classroom - Students usually find themselves lacking in two areas: space and money. A good display can be found in all price ranges, but consider a thin LCD with a small footprint, so you still have room to open your textbooks on your desk. A monitor that displays games well is also a good idea, because school life in not all about hard work.

Photography - Photographers need accurate colours and high resolution. CRT displays still do well in these areas, but new technologies are being introduced to TFT LCD displays that improve their performance as well. If you do a lot of image editing, a larger display will come in handy when you enlarge your images.

Video and games - Image quality and fast motion response time are key here. Many newer advances in LCD technology have made huge improvements in the screens' ability to display motion smoothly. Look for a fast response time and a large screen to bring you deeper into the action, for a more vivid gaming experience.

Adjustability - Many monitors can be tilted and swivelled for comfortable viewing. A few LCD models can even switch between landscape and portrait modes. If you want to get your LCD off your desk entirely, look for a model that can be mounted on the wall.

Audio - Some monitors have built-in speakers or headphone jacks. The headphone option is smart, but the built-in speakers often deliver fairly poor sound quality.

Widescreen displays - If you tend to work on documents side by side, or want to watch DVDs in their full, widescreen splendour, look for a 16:9 aspect ratio monitor so the widescreen video image isn't "letterboxed" and shrunken to fit a narrow screen.

Connections - Some monitors have USB connections so you can plug your keyboard or mouse straight in, to cut down on the tangle of cords behind your computer. Other models now include wireless connections, so you can get rid of the cables completely when using a compatible PC. Monitors with a DVI input can take advantage of enhanced graphic cards, and let you keep a pure digital signal from your computer through to your screen, avoiding quality issues that can sometimes arise in converting from digital to analog and vice versa.

Monitor Sizes

Monitors range from 15 inches to 30 inches or more and come in standard and widescreen formats. LCD screens are very thin and light, ideal for offices where space is at a premium, while CRT displays need a pretty significant body to house the inner workings. For a wider screen, that can mean a depth of two feet or more. Thin LCD monitors are also well suited for multiple monitor set-ups. These are great if you have to run a number of applications or files at once and need to be able to see everything. Your PC's video card will have to be able to use multiple monitors for this to work.


When you're looking over the spec sheet on a monitor you're thinking of buying, some points are more important than others.

Response time - This refers to how quickly the monitor's display technology can react to a change in the image being displayed. The faster the response time, the better, especially for gaming and video. A good response time is in the range of 4 to 25 milliseconds.

Aspect ratio - This number tells you how the screen is laid out. A 4:3 aspect ratio means the screen has a width to height relationship of four to three, like a regular TV set or CRT monitor. A widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio is wider, like a movie screen.

Brightness - Brightness, sometimes called luminance, can mean the difference between a good viewing experience and great one. Brightness is measured in candelas per meter squared (cd/m2), sometimes called nits. Look for brightness above 150 cd/m2 for CRT and above 200 cd/m2 for LCD.

Inputs and outputs - Many monitors have a choice of either digital or analog inputs. These come in handy when you want to connect other equipment, like game systems, or watch video on your computer. Digital connections like DVI can carry more data than analog. Remember that LCD monitors are digital devices, so an analog input would require converting the digital signal from the computer or other source into analog, then back.

Contrast ratio - Contrast is the difference between the levels of the brightest whites and the darkest blacks. A contrast ratio of at least 300:1 is needed to display colours and shades of grey well, although some monitors have ratios of up to 1000:1.

Resolution - Resolution is the amount of detail you can see on the screen. The screen is made up of tiny squares called pixels, and the more pixels on the screen, the better the resolution. A higher resolution will make edges of text and images appear smoother. If you can see individual pixels, you're either sitting too close or you need a higher resolution monitor. Aim for a resolution of at least 1280 x 1024 pixels.

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