One of the most important considerations when buying a computer is the monitor. After all, you'll be staring at it day in, day out, and if you don't like what you see, it could mean trouble. In the past, choosing a monitor was simple: Product features were uncomplicated, model choices were limited, and the basic technology was relatively easy to understand.
These days, though, it's not an easy decision to make. Rapid developments in cathode ray tube (CRT) and liquid crystal display (LCD) monitors have made selecting the right monitor a process fraught with a mind-boggling array of choices. More than size and price, you must consider your office space requirements, employee usage and more. The good news: Prices are coming way down for both types of monitors. And that means you can be choosier when it comes to decision time.
New Bag Of Tricks
Although flashy LCD monitors have gotten a lot of press recently, CRT monitors are also making big strides. By far the cheaper option, today's CRTs offer a lot of monitor for your money. An ample 17-inch monitor, like the FlexScan FX-C7 from EIZO (http://www.eizo.com), has a street price of $619, roughly half the cost of similar-sized LCD monitors.
Other recent CRT developments include new space-saving designs with shorter backs; models that come with Universal Serial Bus ports; and flat-screen CRT monitors that, like LCDs, have no visible curvature or distortion thanks to current flat-tube technology.
Screen size remains the main advantage to buying a CRT monitor. If you or your employees need to view detailed documents, such as spreadsheets, and desk space isn't an issue, moving up to a roomy 17-inch or larger CRT monitor will take away a lot of your eyestrain for a reasonable price.
The biggest monitors on the market aren't always ideal in office environments, however. "CRT monitors that are 14, 15 and 17 inches are still the most popular for businesses today," says Rob Enderle, vice president of Giga Information Group, an information technology advisory and market research firm based in Norwell, Massachusetts. "Anything larger has a hard time ramping up mainstream [support] because it takes up too much space. [19 and 21-inch] monitors are used primarily in engineering firms and homes."
Another big consideration when buying a CRT monitor is resolution. Typically, resolution is displayed as the number of dots (or pixels) across by the number of lines down, for instance, a 1,024 x 768 resolution. The higher the maximum resolution, the sharper (though smaller) the image displayed on-screen. In addition, you should consider dot pitch (or pixel pitch), which is the distance between each pixel (typically anywhere from .28 to .51 mm). A smaller dot pitch means a crisper image.
You'll also want to evaluate a CRT monitor's refresh rates (experts recommend 75 Hz or higher), brightness levels, contrast ratios, antiglare options and special control features.
Here's The Skinny
While LCD monitors have a reputation for being not only pricey but designed for use in high-end business environments, they're currently making significant inroads into small businesses. One reason LCD, or flat-panel, monitors are going mainstream: a dramatic drop in cost. Some 17-inch models have dipped below the $2,000 mark, and 15-inch LCD monitors for under $1,000 can easily be found. Although that's still more than what you'd pay for a similar-sized CRT, there are many benefits to LCD monitors that make them an attractive, sensible solution.
The most recognizable benefit is LCDs' space-saving flat design. With an average thickness of approximately three inches, they're ideal for growing businesses where office space is a concern or for workers needing to free up desk space. What's more, their lightweight design makes them easier to transport. Flat-panel monitors typically weigh less than 14 pounds; heftier CRT monitors can weigh 45 pounds or more. Sharp, clear images with almost no distortion, lower power consumption, brighter displays, better viewing angles and virtually nonexistent emissions are other key benefits to using LCD monitors.
"When employees spend hours in front of a computer, the concern about radiation becomes much stronger," Enderle says. "LCD monitors make sense if you have a strong concern about emissions."
They also make sense from the standpoint of your employees' visual health. "LCD monitors don't flicker like CRT monitors do, making them much easier on the eyes," Enderle says.
Any small business with tight quarters, a rapidly growing office environment or employees that work long hours in front of their computers should consider purchasing flat-panel monitors. They're very useful when working with specific business applications as well: Many LCD monitors can be easily rotated for portrait view, making them ideal for word processing, desktop publishing, data entry and Web surfing.
When evaluating LCD monitors, you'll need to decide whether to choose an analog or digital model. Although flat-panel monitors are inherently digital, until recently, most LCD monitors were designed to work with graphics cards outputting an analog signal. Therefore, the monitors are designed to convert the analog signal into a digital form, often resulting in a degradation of image quality. But some digital flat panels support new digital standards that directly transmit the signal to the panel, offering superior image quality without degradation. Keep in mind, however, an additional graphics card that supports the digital monitor may be required.
Because LCD monitors are inherently flicker-free, refresh rate isn't as important, either. In fact, most LCD monitors work best at lower refresh rates than are recommended for CRT monitors.
In terms of resolution, while CRT monitors are flexible and can support lower resolutions than their maximum resolution, LCD monitors support what's known as their native resolution. LCD monitors display best only in their native resolutions, so keep this key difference in mind. Finally, when in doubt, go with a well-known brand.
Choosing the right monitor is actually more of an art than a science. After considering all the specifications, pricing, and office space and business application issues, the best way to decide is simply to rely on your eyes. If you can, line up the two types of monitors side by side and compare their quality, ease-of-use and comfort. In the end, seeing really is believing.
ViewSonic's VPD150 Digital ViewPanel supports new digital standards so there's no traditional analog-to-digital signal conversion, which commonly results in a degradation of image quality. The VPD150 multimedia LCD monitor offers a 1,024 x 768 native resolution, a wide 140-degree horizontal viewing angle and a 15-inch viewable screen. PerfectPortrait software (included) allows for easy viewing when the monitor is rotated 180 degrees, making it ideal for users working on legal or word processing documents.
VPD150 Digital Viewpanel
A 1,280 x 1,024 native resolution and large 18.1-inch screen make NEC Technologies' MultiSync LCD1810 an impressive option for those who don't want to compromise on viewing size or quality. A pivot capability allows for viewing in either portrait or landscape mode; one keystroke quickly toggles the screen image from landscape to portrait. Additional features include a universal security slot and wall or arm mounting options.
Optiquest's V73 17-inch CRT monitor delivers good performance in typical small-business computing environments. It has a maximum resolution of 1,280 x 1,024, a .26 mm dot pitch and a 87Hz refresh rate (in 1,024 x 768 resolution). The V73 includes a SuperContrast screen treatment for more precise colors as well as antireflection and antiglare screen treatments. Easy color and screen adjustment controls round out this very affordable solution.
V73 CRT Monitor
If you're looking for an affordable, no-frills LCD monitor, consider Samsung's 13.3-inch SyncMaster 330 TFT model. Its ultra-sleek, space-saving design takes up only one-third of the desk space that traditional CRT monitors do. It has an adequate 1,024 x 768 native resolution (at 75Hz) and a .26 mm dot pitch. Additional features include a zoom control to expand screen images up to eight times their normal size, a multimedia stand with built-in stereo speakers and a microphone for true audio/video performance, and a functional design for quickly and easily detaching the monitor from the base for wall mounting.
Syncmaster 330 TFT LCD Monitor
Giga Information Group, (408) 987-2765, http://www.gigaweb.com