Once you hook up an LCD flat-panel display to your office PC, you'll wonder how you ever got along without it. If you've already got one, you know what we're talking about. If you don't, now's a good time to find out. Many 15-inch LCD displays have broken through the $500 price point and are headed for $400. They're not just cool gadgets anymore; they're cool business hardware.
Yes, you'll pay more than you would for a standard monitor, but you'll get more desk space and have a better viewing experience. Flicker-free LCDs are less punishing on the eyes, so your employees will thank you, and OSHA certainly won't mind. Your electricity bill won't suffer under the load of these power misers, either.
Size matters. Well, screen size matters. Fifteen inches may sound small by today's 17-inch-and-up CRT standards, but the viewing space of a 15-inch LCD is roughly equivalent to a 17-inch monitor. For certain graphics-heavy or legal-sized-sheet applications, you might need a larger monitor. At $800 and $1,000 (all prices street), respectively, the 17-inch ViewSonic VE170 and 18-inch NEC-Mitsubishi MultiSync LCD1830 are about twice the price of a 15-inch LCD. But you'll get improved graphics and more viewing space.
Next detail: analog or digital? Most of the displays in our "Shopping List" on the following page feature analog inputs. What's funny about that is that both computers and LCDs are digital creatures. But most PCs have analog graphics cards to handle regular CRT monitors. Quite a bit of conversion has to happen to get the digital computer to talk to the digital flat panel through an analog input. Theoretically, this causes degradation in the signal and image quality.
A digital input signal, like that on the $599 15-inch Apple Studio Display, doesn't have to jump through those hoops. For a while, though, you may still have to move up in price to get either a straight digital connection or the increasingly common dualanalog/digital models. Make sure your computer has a digital graphics card that will support it all. The dual-input EIZO Nanao FlexScan L371, for example, costs more than $700. Alternately, the analog-input Acer FP581 has room for an optional USB interface.
Start off with our "Shopping List." We focus on the sweet spot-15-inch displays with standard resolutions of 1,024 x 768. Although these flat panels support lower resolutions, using them at less than optimum resolutions can make text a little fuzzy and graphics a little chunky.
Nothing beats a test drive of an LCD monitor at its full resolution, so visit your local retailer. Expect sharp text, clear and bright colors, and graphics that jump off the glass. See what controls are accessible on the front of the monitor and what requires you to summon onscreen menus. Some LCDs, like the $369 Samsung SyncMaster 570vTFT and the $400 NEC-Mitsubishi MultiSync LCD1530V, feature one-touch auto adjustment for quick fixes.
Industry watchers know that the flat-panel market is extremely fickle when it comes to prices. Fluctuations in supply and demand drive costs up and down, so if the right monitor comes along at a price that settles well with your budget, grab it.
I'm writing this column on a Samsung SyncMaster 570vTFT test model, and I don't look forward to giving it back. Try one yourself and get hooked.