BOOT CAMP ARCHIVE 2002

  

 

BOOT CAMP 240 (27/08/02)

 

MICE, KEYBOARDS AND MONITORS, part 3

 

In the third and final part of this short series on the basic input and output devices that came with your PC we’re concentrating on monitors. It’s one of the most important components in a PC system yet many people spend more time choosing their next mouse mat than making sure they’ve got the right monitor.

 

The wrong monitor can make your PC difficult, tiring and uncomfortable to use, it can give you a headache and neck ache and waste valuable desk space, not to mention pose a health hazard and pollute the environment, but first a little about the various options.

 

Essentially there are two kinds of PC monitor in widespread use, those with picture tubes, based on the century old cathode ray tube or CRT and flat-screen liquid crystal displays or LCDs. CRT monitors are big and heavy, they get hot, they attract dust like magnets, emit varying levels of electromagnetic radiation and when they reach the end of their working lives they pose a real disposal problem. On the plus side they are relatively inexpensive, generally reliable and image quality can be excellent.

 

Flat screen LCD monitors for desktop PCs have only been available, in quantity, for the past five or six years but until recently were horrendously expensive. However, new manufacturing plants and more efficient production methods has led to dramatic reductions in price and now they’re only around 50% to 100% dearer than CRT displays in the popular 15-inch size range. The main benefits of LCD is the huge space and weight saving, they consume relatively little power, emit little waste heat or harmful radiation and the ‘softer’ display can be easier on the eye. Points are deducted for cost – especially on screens larger than 17-inches where the choice is also a great deal smaller -- and fact that they’ve still got a little way to go to rival the best CRTs in terms of image quality.

 

The chances are your PC came with a basic CRT monitor, probably with a 15 or 17 inch screen, which is usually fine for general home and office use but if you’re going to be stuck in front of the thing for hours on end, day in day out, you might want to think about upgrading.

 

Size is the main consideration, if you spend most of your time sitting at a desk working on word processor documents and the occasional web surfing session then a 15 to 17-inch display is usually sufficient. For graphics-based applications and games the usual rule of thumb is the bigger the better and you should be thinking in terms of a 17 or 19-inch screens, or larger, in which case your choice will be mostly confined to CRT models. You must be careful and read the small print when checking monitor screen sizes. The critical factor is ‘visible screen area’, which is the diagonal measurement, in inches, of the actual image, and for the most part that’s what you’ll see on LCD monitor specs. However, traditionally TV and CRT monitor manufacturers quote tube size first, which can be misleading because this relates to the external dimensions of the picture tube, and not the picture area, which will usually be a good deal less.

 

Monitor image quality is dependent on a number of factors and not just the display technology but one reasonably reliable indicator is ‘dot-pitch’, how small and tightly packed the ‘pixels’ are on the screen. That translates as the amount of fine detail and to some extent a screen’s ability to render colours accurately. The smaller the dot pitch the better but it’s not necessarily a major concern when looking at documents and web pages, however, on larger monitors used for displaying complex graphics and moving video it can be vitally important. The current range is between 0.22mm for the best CRTs and 0.29 for most LCDs and cheaper CRTs.

 

Most monitors nowadays can handle a very wide range of display resolutions and refresh rates – the way the video output from the PC is formatted – but it’s always worth checking, particularly if you are using specialised applications or games that use non-standard display settings.

 

A lot of monitors, and this is especially true of LCD models, have extra facilities, including built-in speakers and a microphone, several models also have USB ‘hubs’, which can be convenient for plugging in digital cameras, keyboards and mice.

 

For most users changing to a LCD monitor will be a rewarding and worthwhile exercise. Apart from anything else it will allow you to reclaim vast acreages of desk space and you may even find that those headaches you used to get after a long day in front of the screen will disappear. A good monitor can also save you money. Monitors tend to last at least twice as long as the PCs so the next time you upgrade your computer, rather than buying a complete package you may be able to negotiate a useful discount by leaving out the bundled monitor.

 

Next week – speakers and soundcards

 

JARGON FILTER

 

PIXEL

Picture-element; on a display device the tiny phosphor dots or active liquid crystal elements that are used to create an image. The greater the number of pixels the greater the amount of detail

 

REFRESH RATE

The number of times per second the image on a monitor screen is ‘redrawn’. Refresh rates of below 75 Hz can produce a noticeable flicker (domestic TV’s have a refresh rate of 50Hz0.

 

RESOLUTION

A measure of how much fine detail a video screen can display. To change the setting on a Windows PC go to Start > Settings > Control Panel, select the Display icon and the Settings tab

 

TOP TIP

How many times have you forgotten to switch the PC off at the end of the day? Maybe you leave it running to collect emails, carry out a defrag or you just want to make sure the kids don’t sit up all night playing games. The solution is this excellent little freeware program called Power Off. It does just that, you set the time when the PC will automatically switch itself off, it can be scheduled for daily operation or any day of the week, it’s highly configurable, it can be set to log off, reboot or lock and it very easy to use. The download is just 246km and it works with all versions of Windows, you’ll find it at: http://users.pandora.be/jbosman/applications.html

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