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LCD / CRT Monitors

Monitor Buying Guide Unlike the rather simple choice one used to have when buying a CRT mo...
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Monitor Buying Guide
Unlike the rather simple choice one used to have when buying a CRT monitor many years ago, the decisions that need to be made when buying a new computer monitor these days have multiplied exponentially. Since it’s safe to call CRT displays a thing of the past, this guide will focus primarily on the new LCD market that is more current for todays computers. Starting simple and going up to complex displays that can double as a home entertainment display, there really is a huge market out there for these products. Unfortunately that huge market also brings many big decisions that must be made when purchasing. To start, let’s highlight a few terms that you will see on the box of almost every display:

Response Time: The response time is the time it takes the pixels in the monitor to go from white, to black, and back to white again. This happens so fast that it is measured in milliseconds (ms). Slower response times often lead to “ghosting” during faster frame rate content like games and DVD movies. This “ghosting” will leave part of the last frame slightly visible like a ghost in the background of the current frame. Of course this is something you have to look for because it won’t ALWAYS happen during every scene, just those faster ones where the frames are changing faster than the panel can refresh the new image. You won’t have a difficult time finding monitors these days with 2ms or 1ms response times – this is where the manufacturers try to get you. If you read a detailed spec sheet of these monitors these are often referred to as GTG (grey-to-grey) response times. The reason they quote the monitors with GTG response times is quite simply because the LCD panels can refresh from grey to grey dramatically faster than they can from white to white, which is actually the ISO standard for this type of measurement. The good news is, even if they were to rate the current panels on the market at a white to white speed, they would still be plenty fast enough to keep up to current DVDs and games.

Contrast Ratio: 500:1, 1000:1, 20000:1, what do these all mean? The contrast ratio is the display’s ratio between the brightest whites and the darkest blacks. The higher this ratio is, the greater the difference between the two factors. A contrast ratio of 1000:1 would imply that the dark level is 1000 times darker than the white level. People often think that a high contrast ratio will give them a really “vibrant” image – this isn’t entirely true. Although a high contrast ratio will give much better colour representation, the vibrance of an image often comes from the panel itself and how it’s covered (glass front or not). Another marketing thing you’ll find with monitors is “dynamic contrast ratios”. These are ratios that seem impossible for a display panel to do on its own, like 30000+:1. These panels will usually have a significantly lower contrast ratio on their own but through an enhancement feature can “perform” similar to that of a higher one. How this is done is by means of a dynamic backlight that adjusts to the type of image it is displaying. For darker images it will darken itself to better contrast the colours of the image. For brighter images it will brighten, accentuating the many colour tones in the image. Although this is a nice feature, it does have its drawbacks. Images with dark and light portions often can’t take full advantage of this ability and on a computer monitor when you may be switching between dark and light windows, the backlight adjusting itself can be a noticeable nuisance.

Widescreen, standard screen, what’s the one for me?
Another of those big decisions that must be made nowadays is the ratio of your screen. Back in the days of CRT displays, your monitor was limited to a 4:3 display ratio and the most common resolutions were 1024x768 or 1280x1024. When LCDs came along, the ability to manufacturer widescreen panels came with them. Now those widescreen movies could be properly enjoyed without the black bars at the top and bottom. Both screen types are still being commonly manufactured although widescreen displays are really starting to dominate the market. Although widescreen displays give you a lot more screen area, there is a small price to pay that most people don’t think about. If you’ve ever owned, say, a 19” LCD monitor and then moved to a 19” widescreen LCD, you’ll notice that you aren’t actually gaining all that much screen space at all. Since LCD monitors use a different aspect ratio, you’re actually losing height from the display when you switch between common size monitors with different display ratios. In order to match or exceed the 1280x1024 resolution that most 17” and 19” 4:3 displays use, you must buy a widescreen model of 20” or above to at least maintain the same height that you had before. Considering most people switching from CRT to LCD will probably have screen sizes around 15” or 17”, the jump to a bigger screen will certainly be a new experience. As for which style you should buy... that's really up to you! I've come to prefer widescreen these days because it provides you with that extra side space which is great in Windows Vista with the sidebar, that way you can keep it open and not have to worry about shrinking your documents.

Interfacing
Up until a few years ago, the only real interface you would find on a monitor was the typical analog VGA input. The cables were often marked with having dark blue or black ends to them, although that was just the most common colours used to mark this cable type. Today, you're starting to see terms like DVI, HDMI and many others appearing when your looking into the technical side of that dream monitor you've been looking at. Analog VGA interfaces were just that; analog. Those cables couldn't be run over really long distances because of signal loss and they were susceptible to interference if the interfering device was strong enough. Digital signals can not only withstand much longer cable runs, but they are also much less susceptible to any type of interference. The DVI interface is quickly becoming the only interface you see on new video cards these days and monitors are quickly catching up, with most offering a DVI and an analog VGA connection (for users still on older computers). Using a DVI signal will help to maintain a digital signal path straight from your (digital) computer right to the LCD. This allows for a slightly clearer and crisper image without the interference and distortion that analog signals are subject to along the way. If you're buying a new LCD monitor and planning on using DVI, you'll want to make sure it's also HDCP supporting (almost all new ones are now). HDCP stands for High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection and is a sort of handshake between the display and content source device. This eliminates the possibility of the digital signal being intercepted mid-steam between the display and the source. With high definition content quickly washing away the old technology and new operating systems like Windows Vista starting to take advantage of HDCP, it should certainly be a high priority on your requirements list when shopping for a nice new display to make it last.

A lot of LCD monitors are starting to offer similar features as a small TV would when it comes to inputs. If you're going to be centering a media system around your new monitor, you may want to consider looking into the many other interface options that monitors have. In addition to analog VGA and DVI, many monitors are also offering HDMI, S-Video, Composite and RCA inputs. Although some models do have all those interfaces on one, most are a combination of only a few.

To Conclude:
Now that you know what all those fancy terms on monitor advertisements mean, hopefully you can make the perfect choice on your next computer display. Remember to buy what works best for you and to prepare for the future to get the most out of your new investment.

Written for TestFreaks by: Steve Blackwell of www.dreamwarecomputers.com

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