What to look for in a Monitor

Written by KingJackal aka Sam Evans

There are many things to consider when lining up monitors. There are the more obvious attributes such as size, but often these are less important than people think. Less obvious characteristics such as dot-pitch can also play a large part in the enjoyment you'll be able to get out of your screen.

Size

The size of the monitor is the most obvious aspect. The bigger, the better - and the more expensive. Unless you're really trying to go cheap, I wouldn't recommend anything less than a 15". If you want to do a lot of gaming, programming or spreadsheet work you should be using at least a 17". For DVDs, go for the biggest screen your money will buy you. Otherwise, buy a large TV and a graphics card with TV-out capability, and output to that for movies.

If you take out a tape measure and look over monitors, you'll soon think everybody is trying to rip you off. The inches measurement given for CRT monitors IS a diagonal measure - but of the actual tube, not the visible area of the tube. Some of the tube is hidden behind the bezel, hence the aparently too small screens. There is also some difference in visible area between some models that are the same 'size'. For example, Proview make several 17" monitor models, one of which has a visible diagonal of 15.1", while another model has 15.7" visible.

Why buy bigger? Just because bigger is always better - well, not quite. Bigger screens won't strain your eyes so much, as they eliminate squinting. The extra area also allows you to have more windows open at once and visible. The amount of scrolling you have to do is substantially reduced as well.

Dot Pitch

Dot pitch is far too undervalued as a monitor attribute. It is the main reason for my having the monitor I do have. Most monitors have a dot pitch of around 0.26. Cheaper ones may use a 0.27 or even 0.28 dot pitch, while better monitors will have dot pitches of 0.25 or even 0.24. I would recommend getting a monitor with a 0.26 or lower dot-pitch. Monitors with a dot pitch of 0.25 are very clear, while those with one of 0.27 tend to be blurry when run at higher resolutions. Bear in mind that a 21" monitor with a 0.27 dot pitch will still be far clearer than a 15" monitor with a 0.24 dot pitch at the same resolution.

All CRTs show their pictures via a grid of dots. The distance between the dots is known as the dot pitch. It is given in mm. The smaller, the better - as smaller dots mean more detailed pictures can be shown (and the same picture will show up sharper). Imagine the monitor is a pointilistic painter - making it's images out of thousands of tiny dots. Obviously, if the monitor only has a brush that paints 1cm dots, it can't make very detailed images clear. However, if it uses a 1mm brush, finer detail can easily be added.

A clearer screen will sure save your eyes from strain. It'll also allow you to actually use all the higher resolutions that your monitor supports. Some cheaper monitors may be blury at higher resolutions - even ones they support. It all depends on if they have got the dot pitch to back up the claims. Your eyes really will thank you for getting a clearer screen.

Brand

Branding is a subjective quality of a monitor - and one that you probably needn't consider much. Personally, if two monitors have different length warranties, I'd ignore the brands and just notice the warranty periods. Good brands to look out for include the following ( in NO particular order ):

    • IBM
    • Philips
    • Viewsonic
    • Sony
    • Illyama
    • Hitatchi

There are also brands that are rather mediocre, neither an asset nor a liability:

    • Proview
    • Dell

Good brands occasionally trip up and release bad monitors. And sometimes poor brands manage to get a good monitor out the door. Though with some brands you just about can't go wrong. Many good brands (such as Illyama) are hard to come by in New Zealand, but brands like Philips and Viewsonic are generally easy to find.

A good brand of monitor will ensure good service if anything goes wrong. It'll also often allow easier re-sale.

Maximum Resolution

An important feature to consider if you like opening lots of windows at once. High resolution support needs to be teamed up with a good dot pitch to keep the picture clear. A rough guide for the highest comfortable resolution for any size screen is as follows (not all screens can do these resolutions, and some go higher - but these extra supported settings are often useless for humans):

    • 15" - 1024x768
    • 17" - 1280x1024
    • 19" - 1600x1200
    • 21" - 1920x1440
    • 24" - 2048x1536+

These are maximums, however. You may find it much easier to look at a screen that is running at a lower resolution.
Resolutions are measured in pixels, horizontal then vertical. Most resolutions are in a 4:3 ratio, though monitors normally support several 16:9 (anamorphic widescreen for DVDs etc) resolutions as well. Some monitors will also show native TV resolutions (which are different to normal PC resolutions).

If you're doing a lot of spreadsheet or CAD work, or just often have lots of windows open - then high resolution monitors are a must. Realise however, that more isn't always better. A 15" that can do 1280x1024 is pointless - the picture will be so small that you'll be squinting to read it, even if it is clear.


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