Flat panel monitors have now replaced bulky Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) displays. CRTs have met their demise similar to 8-track tapes and vinyl records. When we get a flat panel monitor, what is important other than low-cost?
Personal Computer monitors have evolved from the early green screen and color monitors sold with the IBM PC into interconnected high-resolution color multi-monitors. In my computer there are four wide-screen high-resolution monitors. What does high-resolution mean?
The first IBM PC color monitor had high 640 by 200 and low 320 by 200 resolutions. In contrast the monochrome green display’s resolution was 720 by 350. The resolution is the number of dots wide by the number of dost high. Monitors soon moved to 640 dots wide by 480 dots high.
The Europeans had studies that showed amber (reddish colored) monitors were less stressful to view over long periods of time. This just goes to show how when governments regulate something that the regulations are quickly out paced by technology. How many of you have ever seen an amber monitor? Today virtually all monitors (aside from the 15-year old monitor on my OS-2 Private Branch Exchange voice mail server) are color monitors.
Early color monitors started out with 16 colors. This worked for highlighting cells in spread sheets, but did a crummy job of displaying color photos. Photos and videos need millions and millions of colors to properly display the subtle shading in photos and videos. If you want to test your color TV or monitor check out how it displays low-light images. These really test the TV or monitor. Often you can spot the lines between the few shades of black in the image. Newer monitors and TVs with high contrast ratios do a better job of displaying low light images.
The monitor resolution that started at 640 by 200 went to 640 by 480 (this is the VGA – Video Graphics Array resolution), 800 by 600, 1024 by 768, 1280 by 1024 and my favorite 1600 by 1200. As soon as I could afford it I got the 21-inch 1600 by 1200 display because it permitted me to see a full 8.5 by 11 inch page of paper displayed on the monitor. This brought meaning to the phrase “What You See Is What You Get” – WYSWIG. Truly I was in hog heaven with that display.
Then the first Thin Film Transistor flat panel displays arrived. These were columns (the width) and rows (the height) of thin transistors that powered phosphorescent liquid crystal squares producing red-green-blue colors. They were 12-inch diagonal and had a native resolution of generally 1024 by 768. A display of lower or higher resolution could be displayed on such monitors, but the low resolution images tended to appear larger and ever so slightly blurry and the higher resolution images spilled outside the frame of the display. These monitors were square monitors that ran off low power transformers. I still have some TFT square monitors that I use today. The square flat panels moved from 1024 by 768 to 1280 by 1024, and then for me to 1600 by 1200. I remember waiting patiently for the price on ViewSonic 1600 by 1200 monitors to go from about $350 each to $200 each where I purchased them for my first dual monitor computer. The bad thing about two monitors is once you start using them, you never go back to one monitor.
It was not long before wide-screen liquid crystal display (LCD) monitors arrived. These monitors are wider than they are high. Square monitors may no longer be sold. The wide-screen monitors had resolutions of 1440 by 900, 1600 by 900, 1600 by 1024, 1680 by 1050 (a very popular resolution for modestly priced monitors) and 1920 (sometimes 1980) by 1200. There are higher resolutions for wide-screen monitors with much higher price tags.
Now selecting a monitor starts with budget. What can you pay for each one? Is it around $100 to $150, $200 to $250, or $300 and up? In my case it is back to waiting for prices to drop again.
Next comes the resolution or how much can be displayed on the monitor. More dots or pixels (picture elements) the more can be displayed. You see more of a desktop on a 1920 by 1200 display than on a 1440 by 900 display. With the lower resolution display you must manipulate and maneuver the image more to work on it. When writing, you may be constantly changing from displaying the top if the page which you are writing to the bottom of the page.
Physical size also weighs in the selection. A 20-inch diagonal monitor with a 1680 by 1050 resolution has let us say sixteenth-inch high characters. A 24-inch diagonal monitor with the identical resolution say would have characters slightly larger say two sixteenths-inch high (in reality about 20% larger not twice as large). Larger monitors with higher resolution are always better. So now I wait for the 30-inch 2560 by 1200 monitors to get close to a $250 per monitor price point. It will be a long wait. Unfortunately for me it appears that most all the 27-inch monitors have a maximum resolution of 1920 by 1080.
Contrast ratio, number of colors, and refresh speed all effect the display of images and video. A high contrast ratio is better for low light image displays, more colors permit better shading of objects which displays a more life-like picture, and faster refresh rate makes the display respond quickly to image changes keeping the high action videos crisp and clear. These parameters may be important if you play video games and want a more life-like game.
Flat panel monitors are LCD (liquid Crystal Display), DLP (Digital Light Processing), or plasma displays. LCD and DLP use back-light lighting to produce the display. This back-light was based upon fluorescent lighting technology. Florescent lights last a long time, but not for ever. Some do not last long at all (maybe a year). Their design life is roughly 10 years. I had an old Sony flat panel TV that ran about 8 or 9 years before it quit. Some laptops have monitors that fail after one or two years. The newer technology is to provide back-lighting for flat panel displays with Light Emitting Diodes (LED). LEDs use very little power and last forever (well almost). They require less physical space than fluorescent lighting. This means that the new thing monitors use LED back-lighting.
Sometimes all the display specifications are published and many other times they are not. Good inexpensive all round monitors are 20-inch to 24-inch diagonal with a resolution 1680 by 1080. The cost here should be from $100 to $200 sometimes under $100.
Often these flat panel monitors are advertised as 1080p monitors. This means 1080 lines of vertical resolution and a progressive (the fastest) refresh rate. A 1080i display with 1080 lines of vertical resolution and an interlaced – refreshing every other vertical on each refresh pass. This can result in a blurry display of fast motion video or ghosting of the display as the mouse pointer and Windows are moved. Progressive (1080p) display refreshing – refreshing every vertical line on each refresh pass – is the more prevalent type of refreshing found in flat panel TVs and monitors. Progressive refresh is needed to have crisp full motion video in action videos and movies.
Never become a nerd because when it comes to monitors the $1,000 plus 30-inch 2560 by 1200 monitors are the only ones that improve your current computer system. Unfortunately at this time one of those monitors costs more than the combined cost of the four 24-inch 1920 by 1200 monitors on my current computer. So I am waiting for prices to drop again.
Pete the Nerd
“Your Friend on a Technically Challenged Planet (c)”
(c) P D Moulton