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Frequently Asked Questions About LCD Monitors

Q: What are LCD monitors?

A: LCD stands for "Liquid Crystal Display". The basic components of LCD monitors are two sheets of specially treated glass with a liquid crystal solution sandwiched between them. The monitor works by sending electricity through the glass to change the color of the liquid crystal. The design attributes of LCD monitors enable them to be extremely thin (nearly flat), which means they take up much less desktop room than conventional (CRT) monitors. This space–saving feature is one of the biggest reasons for the growing popularity of LCD monitors.

Q: Is it true that LCD monitors are easier on your eyes?

A: Yes. Unlike CRT monitors, the images on LCD monitors refresh a pixel, rather than an entire line, at a time. The images on CRT monitors (as well as televisions) are redrawn at a rapid rate not usually discernable to the eye. This is why photographs of television and CRT screens don't turn out (and why when you look into a dark room brightened only by a television there seems to be mild strobe effect on the walls of the room). This refreshing of CRT screens (measured as frequency) can cause eyestrain for some people. LCDs do not flicker and often cause less eyestrain.

TFT standard LCDs (TFT stands for "Thin Film Transistor") are also easier on your eyes because they do not emit low levels of electromagnetic radiation, a field released in very small amounts by CRT screens and non–TFT LCDs. The long–term effects of exposure to electromagnetic radiation is unknown and still being studied, though one expert has advised that sitting more than 28 inches away from the monitor will greatly reduce your exposure.1

Q: Do LCD monitors consume less energy than conventional monitors?

A: Yes. In fact, they typically consume 70% less energy than a CRT. The amount of electricity required to animate the liquid crystal in LCDs is simply less than the amount needed to power a CRT.

Q: Is LCD resolution inferior to the standard (CRT) style of monitor?

A: No, not necessarily. The resolution of LCD monitors has greatly improved in the past year, and now the image quality on LCDs can be just as clear and clean as a conventional CRT. It's true that older LCDs don't match CRT monitors in resolution, but new LCDs are top–notch. LCD monitors, in fact, can have a brightness rating (of 300 nits or more) that can make LCDs easier to view in direct or indirect sunlight than CRTs.

If, however, you want to play action games and high–end gaming software on your computer, you may want to opt for a CRT. The depiction of fast–moving graphics on CRTs is still slightly better.

CRTs will often offer better resolution if you're looking to distinguish subtle shades between similar colors. These differences are more noticeable on CRT monitors because CRTs still typically have a larger contrast ratio than LCDs. Contrast ratio describes the ratio between black and white on the screen — and the larger the contrast ratio, the better subtle color differences will be displayed on the screen.

Q: How is LCD resolution measured?

A: There are four important determinants in LCD resolution:

  • Number of pixels, or dots of color. A monitor with a resolution of 1024 x 768 pixels, for instance, displays a total of 786,432 pixels on the screen. The more pixels, the sharper the screen images. (1024x768 is a solid resolution for LCDs.)

  • Contrast ratio describes the ratio between black and white on the screen. The larger the contrast ratio, the better subtle color differences will be displayed on the screen. Contrast ratios start at 200:1 and 250:1, while the best models are as high as 400:1 or 500:1.

  • The video graphics card on your computer has a lot to do with how well colors will be displayed on your LCD screen. If you're using a computer that's over two years old, there's a good chance that the video graphics card is not large enough. You should have at least a 32MB, and preferably a 64MB, video graphics card to go with your LCD monitor.

  • The brightness of the display is measured in nits, which describes the intensity, or luminescence, of visible light. The more nits, the brighter the display. LCDs commonly range between 75 and 300 nits.

Q: How can I optimize the resolution on my LCD?

A: Your LCD will operate at an ideal resolution (setting the resolution too high or too low for your monitor will yield an imperfect image). If your resolution setting gets thrown off for some reason (such as being manually adjusted by another user), you can re–set the resolution by using the diskette that comes with your LCD monitor. Start by inserting the diskette and choosing the "auto.exe" program. Next, press the i–key on your keyboard to enact an automatic adjustment.2 An important tip to remember: don't clean the display screen of your LCD monitor with glass cleaner. Screen covers on LCDs are made of plastic, which is degraded by glass cleaner. Instead, use a clean cloth barely dampened with a mixture of vinegar and water, or with a mixture of water and tiny amount of soap.

Q: How should I position my LCD monitor to avoid or reduce eye and neck strain?

A: Place the monitor 18 to 30 inches away from the front edge of your desk. Make sure you're not craning your neck up or down to view the monitor. If you are, adjust either the monitor's tilt or the height of your chair. (To adjust the height of the montior, use either a monitor riser or a swivel arm. Click to see monitor risers. Click to see monitor swivel arms.) If after adjusting your chair your feet no longer touch flat to the floor, consider using a foot rest. (Click to see foot rests.)

Q: When should I choose a traditional CRT monitor instead of an LCD?

A: This question refers back to the previous one about the image–quality of LCDs. If you want to play action games and high–end gaming software on your computer, you may want to opt for a CRT instead. The depiction of fast–moving graphics on CRTs is slightly better. Also, the contrast ratio on CRTs is usually better, so subtle shades of gray and of color in the graphics or text will be displayed "more true" on CRTs. If you're concerned about image–distortion on a CRT (caused by the curvature of the monitor glass), you can opt for a flat screen CRT.

Q: Should I buy now or wait for the next generation of LCDs?

A: Maybe last year the answer would have been wait, but now there are high–quality LCDs for between $400 and $500, and given the benefits (space–saving, power–saving, and easier on your eyes) it may make sense to upgrade to an LCD sooner rather than later.

1"Technology: A Quick Course in What They Call 'Prudent Avoidance,'" by Granger Morgan, a professor of engineering and public policy at Carnegie–Mellon University. Fortune Magazine, Dec. 31, 1990.


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