Here's The Skinny

Flat-panel computer monitors could be the solution to your desk-space problem.
Magazine Contributor
5 min read

This story appears in the January 1998 issue of Business Start-Ups magazine. Subscribe »

Losing weight businesswise can mean cutting fat from your budget, letting employees go, or lightening up those bulky computer monitors taking up huge amounts of desk space. Fortunately, at least as far as your office equipment is concerned, svelte times are just around the corner--or wherever the closest computer store is located.

The newest computer monitors are mere inches deep, freeing up as much as a foot or more of space over traditional cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors. Called flat-panel or lead crystal display (LCD) monitors, they are skinny enough to be wall-mounted like a mirror or set on your desk.

Size, weight and power needs are all reduced substantially with the use of LCD color monitors--although we can't say the same about their price. Some manufacturers sell LCDs for as much as $10,000, but we found several for small-business owners that range from $1,749 to $3,195. While costs are still a drawback, as with all new technologies, prices are expected to tumble in direct proportion to LCDs' popularity and availability. Remember, too, the prices on our chart are manufacturers' list prices; so-called street prices can be as much as several hundred dollars less for these monitors.

"The development of desktop LCD monitors has been driven by the laptop market where customers demand lightweight, clear, bright display screens," says Bill Finch of Milwaukie, Oregon-based flat-panel display monitor manufacturer DBI Inc. "They are great space-savers, and I believe they'll get even thinner and less expensive in a few years."

Flat-panel monitors are basically two pieces of glass, a backlight, printed circuit boards, plastic housing and a power supply. In contrast, CRT monitors house a very large cathode ray tube. LCDs' flat screens and greater diagonal viewable image allow more screen to fit into less space. ViewSonic's VP140 LCD, for example, has a 14-inch viewable area that is larger than the viewable area of a traditional 15-inch CRT monitor, while using 90 percent less desk space and weighing only 12.1 pounds, compared to 39 pounds for a typical CRT.

The technology behind LCDs is transmissive; that is, they don't emit light as traditional CRT monitors do.

An LCD is hooked up the same way as a standard monitor, operating from a standard video port, and draws power from standard line voltages. Some LCDs are compatible with Macintosh computers, PCs, Power Mac systems and workstations. While NEC's flat-panel monitors are analog (as are all CRT monitors), some brands of LCD monitors are digital but equipped with a built-in device for conversion (if you need to convert back to CRT for compatibility reasons). If the monitor you're considering buying is not so equipped, you'll need a separate graphics or interface card if you want to convert.

In addition to their slender profiles, LCDs offer benefits for health-conscious consumers: They don't radiate electromagnetic rays like CRTs, magnetic emissions and X-rays are greatly reduced or eliminated, and most newer LCDs meet more stringent European requirements regarding radiation. Most U.S. hospitals and medical clinics, aware of radiation emissions from CRTs that can disrupt magnetic imaging medical equipment, have used LCD technology for years; this has persuaded manufacturers to either build in blockers or incorporate LCD technology into their display screens.

"That crackle you sometimes hear when turning off your CRT monitor is the static electricity that has built up because of the electromagnetic energy," says Finch.

Several LCD monitors carry the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Energy Star logo, indicating they meet or exceed the EPA's international standard for energy efficiency. LCDs conserve energy by lapsing into a sleep mode when not in use or automatically shutting off after a period of inactivity, usually 15 to 30 minutes.

The svelte LCDs also owe some of their slenderness to the fact that instead of a row of control buttons found at the base of CRTs, they have on-screen menu selections for adjusting various functions such as contrast, horizontal and vertical positioning, fine-tuning, and color tuning.

Flat-panel monitors enjoy several other distinct advantages over CRTs:

  • LCDs are comparable in brightness--if not more bright than CRTs.
  • LCDs are flicker-free.
  • Many LCDs are equipped with built-in software that makes them multilingual, with on-screen adjustment menus in English, Spanish, French, German and Dutch.
  • Most models have mounting options. Compaq's TFT500, for example, comes attached to a standard base, baseless for wall mounting or clipped to a flexible metal "arm" that can be mounted on any table-like edge.
  • LCDs consume 30 percent to 50 percent less energy than CRTs.
  • An LCD with a 10-inch display screen can weigh as little as 3 pounds, while a 14-inch CRT can weigh up to 25 pounds.
  • LCDs have almost no glare, while some CRTs require anti-glare filters or devices.

Features to look for in an LCD monitor include a lock-out function to prevent changes to screen settings, color controls for users' individual preferences and high resolution rates for image sharpness.

One last word of advice: NEC's experts recommend that you situate your monitor so you look down at it, rather than up. This allows your neck to fall into its natural, ideal position.

Jill Amadio is a writer in Newport Beach, California.

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