Big and thin: PC monitors better than ever


Berlin : Chunky, heavy tube monitors appear to have reached the end of their long run as the king of the computer workspace. A hefty competition is under way among flat monitors. The goal: bigger, broader and more handsome.

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“Seventeen-inch monitors are already becoming extinct, and 19 inch has become the standard,” says Dirk Lorenz from the German consumer-testing organisation Stiftung Warentest in Berlin.

As monitors get bigger, more of them come in wide screen format. That means a 16:10 size ratio instead of the old fashioned 4:3 ratio.

Yet monitors with diagonals of 21, 22 and 24 inches are hardly rarities any more. The size translates into more display space, which can be helpful for many programmes and applications. “The larger sizes allow you to display things like tools, a small clock or a pocket calculator,” explains Stefan Porteck from Hanover-based c’t magazine.

It also eliminates the need for lateral scrolling when working with large spreadsheets. “Or you have the option to open several windows next to one another instead of switching back and forth between programmes,” Dirk Lorenz claims.

The thin screen units are now seen as having overcome their growing pains and are superior to tube screens across the board. “High specialized users like graphic designers may prefer the older monitors for their better colour gradation and finer details, but that’s about it,” Lorenz explains.

For home users, gamers and office workers, LCD monitors are more than sufficient. After all, not only do they consume less energy, produce less heat and allow for more ergonomic working, they are also particularly appreciated for their sharpness.

Just a few years ago flat screens had the reputation for offering substandard viewing angles. This is no longer the case. Stefan Porteck from c’t nevertheless recommends taking a very close look at a monitor in the store before making a purchase. He recommends trusting your own impressions over the statistics provided by the manufacturer.

“Ads are full of big numbers, both for contrast ratio and reaction time,” Lorenz says. But office workers will rarely have any use for the maximum brightness setting, and home users will not have much use for extremely short reaction times. “Your eye can’t perceive anything less than ten milliseconds anyway,” says Lorenz. For gamers, however, fast switching of the images is crucial, since otherwise the quick-moving objects may show tails.

Even so, reaction time by monitors is measured in various ways. One process might measure the switch from shades of grey to other values, while another benchmark might measure the switch from black to white. Each benchmark naturally brings different numbers. The size of the display can also impact the quickness of the reaction time, with large displays slower than slow ones.

Another area that has seen much improvement is contrast. “Modern LCDs are so contrast-rich that you can work with them even in brightly lit spaces,” Porteck says. 500:1 is the benchmark value – “that’s more than enough,” Lorenz says.

Contrast and colour are in fact two characteristics that should be checked carefully at the store: are shades of grey visible during dark film scenes, or does everything look properly black? Do skin colours appear natural, or do they look too glossy?

Anyone looking to buy a new monitor should also consider ergonomics. “When working, you should be looking at the monitor surface as vertically as possible, as if you were looking at your face in a mirror,” says Wolfgang Jaschinski from the Institute for Occupational Physiology at the University of Dortmund. The user should test out the monitor by tilting it. “The monitor should be positioned so that no reflections appear on it.”

That is not always so easy with many modern displays. “The manufacturers have made the switch to glossy displays,” Lorenz says. They look lighter and more brilliant and look somewhat snazzier. “But they reflect light, which can be very disruptive.” The eye becomes confused if it has to focus both on the display and its own mirror image.

The front part of a monitor is not the only part worthy of inspection. It’s important to have a glance at the sides too. “If you’re buying a monitor right now, you should look for a digital DVI port,” Porteck says.

Units possessing only an analog VGA input are outdated. Details like USB hubs, integrated card readers and loudspeakers may also make a monitor more valuable to the user, Lorenz notes. “Before you make the purchase, you need to think about what you need the monitor for.”