BOOT CAMP ARCHIVE 1998

  

 

BOOT CAMP 051

MONITORS, PART 1

What do you consider is the most important feature of your PC?  Is it processor speed, the size of the hard disc drive, maybe it is the amount of memory? The answer is none of the above. The monitor is the component that links your brain to the computer and ultimately determines how easy -- or otherwise -- it is to use.  You could have the fastest, most up to date machine on the market, stuffed with the most powerful software, but if the display is the wrong type or set up incorrectly, your PC's performance, your ability to use it and your comfort will all be compromised.

In an ideal world your monitor will be the one that best suits your specific needs, unfortunately -- in this country at least -- it doesn't work like that. Most PCs are sold as complete systems and whilst PC vendors offer a bewildering range of specifications and configurations, the choice of monitor -- if indeed you get one -- is generally limited to the size of the screen. This week we'll show you how to get the most out of what you already have, in part two we'll look at some of the alternatives.

Until recently most systems were supplied with 14-inch monitors as standard, the average size has since crept up to 15-inches but even that should be considered a basic minimum. The simple rule of thumb -- if space allows -- is the bigger the better. Incidentally, if you take a ruler to your screen -- assuming it is a 14 or 15 inch model -- you will find that the actual visible screen dimensions (screen sizes are measured diagonally) is nowhere near that. The size quoted by manufacturers and dealers is the exterior dimension of the picture tube; 15-inch monitors typically have a display of 13-inches or less.

The first job is to make sure you have the right resolution and colour settings. Resolution is a measurement of the number of picture elements or 'pixels' that go to make up the display, the more there are the sharper the image that appears on the screen. Normally this is set automatically by Windows 95 and 98 during the initial installation, according to the capabilities of the monitor and the PC's graphic display card (or the display circuitry on the motherboard), but mistakes can be made. On a 14 or 15 inch screen, connected to a PC used for typical home and office applications like word processing, desktop publishing, paint and draw programs, Internet surfing and moderate games use, the usual setting is 800 x 400.

Resolution is usually set using from the Control Panel (Start - Settings), double click on the Display icon and select the Settings tab (see Tip of the Week for a simpler way...). There you will find a slider marked 'Screen Area', with the current value displayed. If you change the setting -- by moving the slider -- you can see the effect it will have on the display in the little monitor. Increasing the resolution setting produces a finer, more detailed image, so if you are using a larger screen -- 17 to 19 inches say -- a higher setting makes up for the bigger picture area. The other setting you can play around with on the Setting tab is colour depth. The most suitable value for most applications is High Colour (16-bit) and True Colour (24-bit). Unless you are experiencing problems with your current setting or applications frequently report that the value needs to be changed, it is best left alone.

Clicking on the Advanced button on Settings will bring up contain a number of additional adjustments, depending on the type of monitor and graphics card this may include a facility to change the monitor's refresh rate. Basically this determines how many times each second the image is drawn on the screen. Some people are aware of a 'flickering' effect on their screen, and this can be especially annoying on larger displays. Flickering normally only occurs when the refresh rate is 75Hz or below, 85Hz is the optimum value for most people using 14 to 17-inch screens. Larger displays, especially if they're to be used for demanding graphics, moving video or games software may benefit from a higher setting, though again this will be determined by the capabilities of the monitor and graphics card. Before you change the refresh rate it is a good idea to consult the monitor's instruction manual as an incorrect setting could cause problems. If you experience frequent display glitches it is worth adjusting the graphics acceleration setting on the Performance tab, though you may find that a really slow setting makes games action appear jerky.

When you are satisfied with the settings you should adjust the monitor's own picture controls. It's a good idea to allow the monitor to warm up for at least 30 minutes before doing this as picture size brightness contrast and colour (if applicable) can take time to settle down. Start with picture geometry, open your most frequently used application or a blank word processor document and use the monitor controls to change the size and shape of the display so that it fills the screen. Leave a border a couple of millimetres wide at the edges so that scroll and tool bars do not disappear off the top or sides. Most monitors also have a degauss button, you may find this helps 'clean' up the screen if it has developed colour patches or 'stains', caused by nearby electrical devices or magnetic fields from loudspeakers.

Brightness and contrast settings are a matter for personal taste and the ambient lighting conditions but avoid an over bright display if you can as this may result in discomfort. It is far better to do something about the position of your desk, the screen or the room illumination than to try and compensate for an indistinct picture by winding up the brightness.

 

Next week -- Monitors part 2, bigger, wider, flatter…

 

JARGON FILTER

DISPLAY CARD

A plug-in adaptor card or circuitry incorporated into the motherboard that converts digital information into an analogue video signal that is fed to the monitor

DEGAUSS

Literally de-magnetise. A coil around the outside of the picture tube induces a collapsing magnetic field that eradicates any magnetic build up on metal components inside the tube

GEOMETRY

The size and shape of the display on a monitor screen. Most monitors have controls to alter the vertical and horizontal position and the linearity of the top and sides (sometimes called trapezoid adjustment). Some model also have a tilt control, to ensure the display aligns with the edges of the screen, to compensate for the Earth's magnetic field and local influences

REFRESH RATE

Like a TV picture, the display on a PC monitor is 'redrawn' may times each second but our eyes and brain perceive it as a single continuous image. If the image is redrawn less than 75 times a second some people may perceive a slight flicker 

 

TOP TIP

You can change the resolution setting on your PC quickly and easily from an icon in the system tray using a freebie utility called QuickRes. It is part of the PowerToy suite of Windows tools developed by Microsoft (PowerToys also includes the very useful Tweak.UI). It can be downloaded free of charge from the Microsoft web site, (http://www.microsoft.com), it moves about a bit but you can usually find it using the Search facility. Alternatively check out the utilities sections on magazine cover-mount CD ROMs, several of which include PowerToys every month. To load QuickRes every time your PC boots up put it into the StartUp group by clicking Settings, then Taskbar and Start Menu, select the Start Menu tab, click on add use the Browse button to locate QuickRes.exe. To get rid of it use same procedure but this time use the Remove button.

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