Picture Perfect

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.

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This article was originally published in the May 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Picture Perfect.

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