Buying Guides -- Monitor

"I've been staring at my computer for hours" is an often heard refrain, normally uttered in a zombie-like state. Of course, it's actually the monitor you are "staring" at, but for many of us the monitor is the computer. The right monitor should offer good image quality and a sizable viewing area while comfortably fitting your desktop space. Picking a monitor which combines these traits means you'll want to learn the basics about monitor features and technology. After a quick lesson, it'll be easy to choose a monitor that makes everything from spreadsheets to space aliens eye-popping and easy to read.

Types of Monitors

The most prevalent type of monitor today is the cathode ray tube (CRT). Despite its rather sci-fi sounding name, a CRT is the same as the picture tube inside your TV. They work by firing beams of electrons at phosphor dots on the inside of a glass tube. The phosphors in a CRT are chemicals that emit red, green or blue light when hit by electrons. These monitors are capable of multiple resolutions, give the best look to full-motion video and provide better control over colour calibration for graphic artists.

On the down side, they hog a lot of room and weigh more than several sacks of potatoes. You can get more compact CRTs called short-depth or short-neck monitors which are a couple of inches shallower than regular CRTs. Unless space is a primary consideration, most people buy a CRT display because they offer good performance at an affordable price.

In the opposing corner are flat panel displays or LCDs (liquid crystal displays) commonly used in laptops and fast becoming popular as desktop monitors. Their major selling points are a slim profile and light weight. A CRT can be deeper than it is wide, whereas a LCD with a base is only about a handspan deep. No heavy lifting required with a LCD; they weigh less than half the average CRT. LCDs require half the power of CRTs and emit much less electromagnetic radiation which can interfere with other electronic devices.

In the screen of a LCD monitor, each pixel is produced by a tiny cell which contains a thin layer of liquid crystals. These rod-shaped molecules bend light in response to an electric current. It's the same display technology that resides in your digital watch but more sophisticated.

LCDs tend to be clearer than CRTs which can suffer from convergence or focus difficulties. Their improved clarity means that even small LCDs can display higher resolutions than the corresponding sized CRT. They also make small text easier to read. Unlike CRTs, LCD monitors have only one optimal resolution. At lower resolutions, the screen is redrawn as a smaller area or all the pixels in the image are blown-up to fill the screen. The latter solution can make images look jagged and blocky so be sure the resolution of the LCD is the resolution you want to use.
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