Flat is Where It's At

...but flat-screen monitors are too expensive, right? Check out the latest CRTs for a pleasant surprise.
Magazine Contributor
8 min read

This story appears in the April 2000 issue of Business Start-Ups magazine. Subscribe »

If you yearn for a skinny Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) flat-panel monitor but can't justify spending the big bucks, how about settling for a standard Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) monitor with one of the best features of a high-ticket LCD: a flat screen?

For less than half the price of a 15-inch LCD ($1,100 average street), you can get a 17-inch CRT with a virtually flat display starting at $299 (street). No tiny footprint here, but you will get flat-screen technology at an affordable price.

In basic terms, flat-screen CRT technology incorporates a flat glass display with a flat aperture wire grill as part of the tube. The benefit? It eliminates the "fishbowl effect" found on curved viewing surfaces and yields a richer, brighter picture.

"Every CRT manufacturer has switched to flat-panel technology for most of its models, while LCDs are a mere 3 percent of the total monitor market," explains Bob O'Donnell, displays research manager for IDC. "Why pay a lot of money if you can get something a lot bigger at a third of the price?"

Although flat CRTs are just as bulky as their curved-glass predecessors, some now feature smaller depths. Panasonic is among the few manufacturers who've successfully shaved a few inches off their monitors; the PanaSync SL75 is only 15 inches deep (compared to the 17-inch average). The new CRTs are just as heavy, too, with the average flat model weighing in at a hefty 40 pounds. (Contrast that with the typical 8-pound LCD.) CRTs are also unable to match the flicker-free performance of LCDs. But the high refresh rates of the newest models have largely solved this problem-most CRTs now have refresh rates exceeding 70Hz, the minimum for a solid image.

The bigger displays of the new CRTs mean multitaskers can now have more windows open simultaneously and see them better. You can chat online, read your e-mail and have a spreadsheet open off to the side all at the same time. You also won't need to scroll up and down a 17-inch screen as frequently as with a smaller screen, and today's flat-screens reduce almost all reflection. That's worth noting, because a good portion of eye fatigue-one of the most common workplace complaints-results from the reflections on monitor screens. "If you wear glasses, any kind of glare contributes to stress, and any kind of stress in the eye area makes you squint, contracting your muscles," says Mark Dziekan, a product manager for NEC, whose entire line of 17- , 19- and 22-inch CRTs is now flat-screen. "This contraction moves along to the back of the head and then to the neck and into the back, sending you home one awful mess."

Reading from a flat panel is more natural than reading from a curved surface, because your eyes don't have to compensate for the curving. "A straight line is actually a straight line on a flat CRT, unlike curved glass, which can give a bowing effect," says Alan Petersburg, global manager for IBM's visual products. Petersburg considers a 17-inch monitor a good choice for entrepreneurs with space considerations because a typical 19-inch monitor is larger and requires more desk space. Case in point: Although IBM's 19-inch G96 CRT has a smaller depth from front to back than most competitors, it's also wider and taller.

When it comes to the flat CRT technology, keep in mind that FD Trinitron, DiamondTron and DynaFlat are among the top tube designs for ensuring images remain uniformly bright and clear. "If you're working on fairly complex applications, you need clarity, an exact replication and crisp definition, not something that's fuzzy in the corners," says Fred Garcia, director of marketing for Samsung. Samsung's 17-inch SyncMaster 700IFT flat CRT monitor, which features an exceptionally short DynaFlat tube, takes up less space than most other 17-inch CRTs.

Details, Details

Built-in speakers are available on some models but aren't especially popular, according to some analysts, because they add to the monitor's width. Audiophiles and teleconferencers seem to prefer detachable speakers that can be unplugged and put away when not in use.

On the other hand, ViewSonic says its multimedia M70 with built-in speakers is popular with entrepreneurs who conduct frequent videoconferencing sessions, play music at work or need onboard speakers for educational use. The M70 has a flicker-free resolution of 1,024 x 768, an 87Hz refresh rate, and connectors that include video in, audio in, microphone in/out and headphone out.

Other factors to consider when buying a flat CRT monitor:

  • Depending on the amount of time you spend in front of your PC, buy the best quality monitor you can afford.
  • Use on-screen menus and controls to fine-tune colors when working with graphics. For instance, Sony's MultiScan CPD-E200 has more than 20 controls, including horizontal and vertical convergence, zoom and pincushion, which corrects any bowing-in distortion. If your office lighting changes with the sun's position, on-screen menus make it easy to alter brightness and contrast.
  • An adjustable tilt and swivel base is useful if others share your computer.
  • Those who produce graphics should consider high-resolution models. (Resolution is expressed as the number of pixels horizontally and lines vertically that you see on-screen.)
  • Check out refresh rates, which affect flicker. The rates are measured in the number of Hz at which the monitor and video adaptor pass the electron guns of the tube from the top of the display to the boom. A refresh rate of 75Hz is considered average and adequate for a resolution of 1,280 x 1,024.
  • Don't waste money on extended warranties. If your new monitor is up and running, there's hardly anything that can go wrong with it. If one fails right out of the box due to shipping damage, a bad tube or poor picture quality, the standard warranty provides you with a replacement. When the monitor eventually dies, you may as well bury it. Also, check for ongoing support in the form of new versions of video drivers.
  • Plug-and-Play (PnP) is a favorite feature because it saves time and effort. No fussing with jumper settings, switches or video drivers-PnP software does it all for you. A high-speed USB port for peripherals is a common extra and is usually free on high-end models.
  • Some flat CRTs have a display without a flat aperture grill, so check the specs. Although Princeton's AGX740 costs only $299 (street), it does use a Trinitron aperture grill. These grills are composed of vertical wires as part of the tube and produce ultra-high resolutions and pristine color. Other manufacturers use "shadow masks," metal screens inside the tube that determine color. Ask the salesperson to give you a demo so you can see if there's any distortion.
  • Specifications don't always translate into reality. Monitors with the exact same specs can display different images on-screen. Again, since a monitor is your main interface into your computer, ask for a test of the monitor-take it out of the box in the store, hook it up and compare it to others.

Shopping List

AcerView 79g
Manufacturer: Acer
Phone: (800) 379-2237
Maximum Resolution: 1,600 x 1,200
Refresh Rate: 160Hz (76Hz at max resolution)
Input/Output Ports: Standard, optional USB
Special Features: On-screen menu, setting saver, auto-sizing, optional external speakers
Street Price: $429

Apple Studio Display
Manufacturer: Apple
Phone: (800) 538-9696
Maximum Resolution: 1,600 x 1,200
Refresh Rate: 85Hz (60Hz at max resolution)
Input/Output Ports: Standard
Special Features: Multilingual on-screen menu, tilt/swivel base, translucent casing
Street Price: $499

Compaq P700
Manufacturer: Compaq
Phone: (800) 345-1518
Maximum Resolution: 1,600 x 1,200
Refresh Rate: 120Hz (70Hz at max resolution)
Input/Output Ports: Standard, optional USB
Special Features: Multilingual on-screen menu, tilt/swivel base, zoom function
Street Price: $459

Manufacturer: IBM
Phone: (800) 722-2227
Maximum Resolution: 1,024 x 768
Refresh Rate: 85Hz
Input/Output Ports: Standard
Special Features: Multilingual on-screen menu, tilt/swivel base, lockable controls
Street Price: $299

Diamond Pro 710
Manufacturer: Mitsubishi
Phone: (800) 843-2515
Maximum Resolution: 1,600 x 1,200
Refresh Rate: 1,600 x 1,200
Input/Output Ports: 75Hz
Special Features: On-screen menu, PC- and Mac-compatible
Street Price: $399

NEC MultiSync FE700
Manufacturer: NEC
Phone: (888) 632-6215
Maximum Resolution: 1,280 x 1,024
Refresh Rate: 120Hz (66Hz at max resolution)
Input/Output Ports: Standard
Special Features: Optional multimedia capabilities
Street Price: $299

PanaSync SL75
Manufacturer: Panasonic
Phone: (800) PANA-SYS
Maximum Resolution: 1,280 x 1,024
Refresh Rate: 180Hz (85Hz at max resolution)
Input/Output Ports: Standard
Special Features: Multilingual on-screen menu, tilt/swivel base
Street Price: $379

Princeton Graphics AGX740
Manufacturer: Princeton Graphics
Phone: (800) 747-6249
Maximum Resolution: 1,600 x 1,200
Refresh Rate: 85Hz
Input/ Output Ports: Standard
Special Features: On-screen menu, PC-, Unix-, and Mac-compatible
Street Price: $299

SyncMaster 700IFT
Manufacturer: Samsung
Phone: (800) SAMSUNG
Maximum Resolution: 1,600 x 1,200
Refresh Rate: 85Hz (76Hz at max resolution)
Input/Output Ports: Standard, Plug and Play
Special Features: On-screen menu, shortneck design, PC-compatible, free Mac adaptor
Street Price: $299

MultiScan CPD-E200
Manufacturer: Sony
Phone: (888) 315-SONY
Maximum Resolution: 1,600 x 1,200
Refresh Rate: 85Hz (60Hz at max resolution)
Input/Output Ports: Standard, Plug and Play
Special Features: Multilingual on-screen/help menu, zoom function, PC- and Mac-compatible
Street Price: $380

ViewSonic M70
Manufacturer: ViewSonic
Phone: (800) 888-8583
Maximum Resolution: 1,280 x 1,024
Refresh Rate: 87Hz (66Hz at max resolution)
Input/Output Ports: Standard, Plug and Play
Special Features: On-screen menu, multimedia, speakers, mic/headphone jack, PC- & Mac compatible
Street Price: $299

Jill Amadio is a freelance writer in Newport Beach, California, who has covered technology for 10 years.

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