Flat panel monitors become affordable

WHILE MOST computer-related items have shrunk over the years, screen size on computers has gotten larger. The traditional cathode ray monitors, in 15-in., 17-in. and larger sizes, often take up prime real estate on already crowded desks. Since space doesnt expand to fit need (at least, not yet), you might want to go the other way and condense the item to better fit the space. Enter affordable flat

WHILE MOST computer-related items have shrunk over the years, screen size on computers has gotten larger. The traditional cathode ray monitors, in 15-in., 17-in. and larger sizes, often take up prime real estate on already crowded desks. Since space doesn’t expand to fit need (at least, not yet), you might want to go the other way and condense the item to better fit the space.

Enter affordable flat panel monitors.

In the last year, the price of flat panel monitors has come down substantially enough to make them affordable for most any office. Flat panel monitors first became popular several years ago among Wall Street traders who used multiple monitors on their desks and were willing to pay extra for slim profiles.

This year’s 17-in. monitors sell for about the same price as last year’s 15-in. monitors, which have also dropped comparably. Units larger than 17 in. (e.g., 18 in. and 19 in.) are still pricey. Given the attributes of the design – with compactness, light weight, easy maneuverability, lower electromagnetic emissions, lower heat output and a host of user-friendly features – we think a flat panel monitor is a smart purchase.

Flat panel monitors come on a variety of stands. Some monitors can be tilted forward and back and/or raised or lowered to suit. Certain models include a swivel mechanism that allows the unit to switch between landscape (horizontal) and portrait (vertical) viewing. The portrait orientation can be very handy for reading or editing long documents, such as contracts and newsletters.

Viewing angle capabilities vary among models. Some have limited viewing angles that may be noticeable if more than one person is using the screen. Look for a screen that offers, at minimum, a 145-degree viewing angle.

Because the technology does not rely on an electronic gun traveling over the screen periodically to “refresh” the image, the image on an LCD flat panel monitor is flicker free. On an LCD screen, each pixel remains either on or off until it gets a command to change. One detriment in some lower-quality flat panel monitors is that a ghost image may remain visible on the screen, especially during animation or video.

Flat panel monitors are designed to work with either analog or digital signals from the computer. Some units can accept both. Analog flat panel monitors work with any computer, though there could be a bit of tweaking and set-up required to get it to work with your graphics card.

If your computer can run a digital monitor, no adjustments on the computer are necessary except brightness and contrast, because there is a direct digital feed off the graphics card. The monitor runs off the pixel clock, meaning the monitor and the video card will work at the exact same timing, without need for any data sampling. Digital monitors yield clearer pictures.

Monitors can be set to different resolutions (e.g., 640 x 768, 1040 x 768, 1280 x 1024), but each screen has a native resolution that is optimal for that monitor. If you plan to use the monitor at a specific resolution, buy one that features the resolution you want as its native resolution for crispest viewing. With 1280 x 1024, everything is smaller on the screen and there is typically little scrolling. If you need to work at a high resolution and want larger text and graphics, however, go with a larger diameter monitor. As the monitor gets bigger, the fonts get bigger but the resolution stays the same.

As substitute monitors for a 14-in. laptop, we tried out two flat panel monitors, the recently released 17-in. Samsung SyncMaster 171B, which is analog, and the 15-in. IBM T560, which is a hybrid monitor with both analog and digital interfaces. The units are not comparable, point for point.

The Samsung 171B, with a native resolution of 1280 x 1024, features a patterned vertical alignment liquid crystal screen, an innovative technology that improves viewing angle (a very wide 170-degrees) both horizontally and vertically, brightness, contrast and response time, according to the manufacturer. The unit sports an automatic save for user adjustments.

The IBM T560, recommended for set-up at a maximum 1024 x 768 resolution, features an Active Matrix TFT (thin film transfer) screen. It offers a 120-degree horizontal and 90-degree vertical viewing angle.

Each monitor swivels for switching between landscape and portrait viewing. The IBM unit has an additional pivot arm permitting a greater range of positioning for user comfort, and can even be tilted backward 145 degrees to allow someone across the desk to view the image.

Though we liked the versatility of the IBM stand because we were able to better situate it for comfort for daylong use, we preferred the larger screen of the Samsung, which gave us a wonderful picture at the maximum resolution, actually the sharpest analog image we’ve seen on a monitor.

Also, because we often look at the screen together, the wider viewing angle came in handy. Furthermore, when scrolling, the Samsung did a flawless job, never failing to keep pace.

William and Patti Feldman provide Web content for companies and write for magazines, trade associations, building product manufacturers and other companies on a broad range of topics.