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130 - Tips About Monitors

It used to be the only choices you had to make in buying a monitor were what size and what brand. Today, you have a bigger choice to make. Should you be considering one of the new "flat panel" monitors to replace your old CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) monitor? The answer is, maybe.

It turns out there are pros and cons to each. This week, we have two tips for you. First, there are some buying tips to help you decide between these two technologies. You may be surprised at how well the older CRTs stack up with the new flat panel monitors. Following that, there is a Tip for CRT Users, about how to adjust your monitor properly.

First, the Monitor Buying Tips -

Flat Panel advantages -

  1. Saves space - They do save a lot of space (depth) on your desk.
  2. No Flicker - They tend to be easier on the eyes as they aren't subject to "flicker" as CRTs are.
  3. They use less power and run cooler.
  4. No adjustments to make - The screen has no adjustments you need to make.
  5. Dazzle your friends - Show them that you are running cutting edge technology!
    (Just threw that one in - We know you don't care about that.)
  6. Screens can be set back farther, to a comfortable reading distance, even in work spaces where the depth is limited.

Flat Panel disadvantages -

  1. They are still relatively expensive.
  2. You lose some choices for screen resolution, including my preferred resolution of 800x600.
    Most flat panel screens are optimized for 1024x768. At this resolution, I find the text size to be inconveniently small, forcing me closer to the screen and making "aiming" my mouse pointer more demanding.

    Here's my point on this. I see this as a classic case of "more" not being better. The original idea behind offering higher resolutions for computer screens was to get more data on the screen at one time. When this can be useful is when you are working with things like large spreadsheets (Excel) or blueprints. For most people, that rarely (or never) happens. So, why would you want to squint at screen images all the time, just for the sake of the rare occasion when you want to see more columns on a spreadsheet? Running my screen at 800x600 (the next setting lower than 1024x768) gives me a comfortable reading and picture viewing size. For the once-every-two-years that I want to view a big spreadsheet, I change the resolution on the fly and change it back when I'm done.

    The problem with flat panel monitors is, you have lost this option. They don't work the way CRTs do. Because flat panels distort images at other than the "optimized" size, manufacturers have to make a choice. They choose a compromise size of 1024x768, hoping it will satisfy most of the consumers. They still allow you the standard Windows option to change your screen resolution, but if you choose any screen resolution other than the "optimized" size and you are likely to find that the text being displayed on the screen is distorted. This does not happen on standard CRTs.

    Note - In case you are wondering why this would not be a problem with the new flat panel TV screens, it is. They too have an optimized sizes and the TV manufacturers are being less than candid in not mentioning this limitation to consumers. The distortion is harder to see on larger screens and when viewing images instead of text, so they will get away with this for a good while.

  3. Due to the way flat panel technology creates colors, color rendition is not as accurate as when an image is viewed on a CRT screen. If you like to view family photos, CRTs are the better choice.
  4. Difficult to view the screen from an angle.
    Laptop users can tell you, varying your viewing angle even slightly causes the screen image to fade. This in inconvenient when trying to show someone something on the screen. Showing two people something is even more difficult.
  5. Flat panel screens are not as fast as CRT screens. This means that they do not display moving images nearly as well as CRTs do. That includes video clips the contents of windows as they are being moved.

Standard CRT advantages -

  1. Lower price - Under pressure from the new technology, CRT prices are truly attractive now, often running just one third that of similar sized flat panel displays.
  2. Clear text at any resolution - CRTs will run any screen resolution without distorting text.
  3. Superior Color - CRTs have a technological advantage which allows them to produce millions of colors accurately. This is not the case with flat panel displays. For photo viewing, CRTs have a clear advantage.
Standard CRT disadvantages -
  1. They take up a lot of desktop space (depth) and the larger the screen size, the more space they take.
    In work areas with limited depth, CRTs often end up being too close to the user for comfortable viewing.
  2. They use more power and generate more heat
  3. .
  4. For best viewing, you should adjust them initially and periodically, though most people ignore this requirement entirely, not even realizing that it can be done.

Now, the Tip for CRT Users - How to adjust your monitor

At a minimum, all monitors come with some way to adjust the height, width, and horizontal/vertical centering of the image on your screen. There are usually many more adjustments than that, but these are the ones you will care about. The problem is, you almost never see the same controls on two monitors, even if they come from the same manufacturer. What I'm going to tell you here is what to look for. I generally try to do these adjustments whenever I work on your computers, so if you're a current customer, I've probably already done this for you.

One more thing.
This is another one of those things that is involved to describe in writing but which takes next to no time to actually do. Most monitors can be adjusted in one or two minutes. If you are experimenting with how it works, maybe you'll spend fifteen minutes doing it. It really isn't that hard and I've tried to tell you exactly what you are looking for with each step. Give it a shot. You paid for a big monitor, so why not use all of it!

How do you tell if you even need an adjustment?
If your monitor is adjusted properly, a maximized screen will come VERY close to filling the entire visible area of the screen without cutting off any of the edges of the window. You should be able to see just a sliver of black around the top, bottom and sides of the screen image. Any more than that and you should adjust the screen.

Now - two quick notes.

Note 1 - If you know what a maximized window is, skip reading note 1. If not, start by opening a program such as Word. Look in the upper right corner of the open window and notice the three square buttons. The center button will show a symbol of either one or two boxes. Two boxes is what you want. If it just has one, point to it and click on it. You can click on this center box as many times as you want, to see how the two symbols look. Just be sure to leave it showing the two boxes. Two boxes is the maximized window setting.

Note 2 - You will notice that whenever you change screen resolutions, these adjustments are messed up at the new resolution setting. Make the adjustments for the resolution you plan to use all the time. For me, that's 800x600. When I switch to 1024x768, it's only temporary and I just ignore the adjustments because I'm going back to 800x600 shortly and don't want to have to do them again.

How do you do the adjustment?
First, we need to figure out how the controls work on your monitor. Some monitors hide the controls behind a flip-out panel. Some have the controls as buttons below the monitor screen. The number of buttons can vary from two to five. Yet another variation I have seen has a fairly large knob that you can turn and which also acts as a switch when you push in.

The key is knowing what you are looking for. One of the buttons will open up a small window on the screen. This will be a menu of adjustment choices. The menu might have labels but it definitely will have symbols. The symbols you are looking for are those with a rectangular box (representing the computer screen). I recommend that you stick to the following four adjustments to start with. These four will show you how the adjustment process works and then you can try some others if you wish. Just start with these. They are:

Control for: Symbol:
Horizontal size (width) Rectangle with a double-headed arrow pointing left and right.
Horizontal positioning Rectangle with a smaller rectangle shown off to one side.
Vertical size (height) Rectangle with a double-headed arrow pointing up and down.
Vertical positioning Rectangle with a second smaller rectangle positioned off to the top of the first.

What you are going to do with each of these controls is a two step process. You first have to select the control you want to adjust. Then, you change the setting for it while watching the effect on-screen, as you make the change.

Here's a tip - When you select any one of these adjustments, it displays a number between 0 and 100. Changing the adjustment always involves either raising or lowering this number. Write the number down before you make a change. That way, you can always change the adjustment back to where you started from, in case you mess something up.

Let's do the adjustments in the same order as the table above, starting with Horizontal Size.

Step 1 - Select the adjustment to make. Experiment with your controls to see which one scrolls you through the various adjustment symbols. There may be instructions on the adjustment window, to tell you which buttons are for which purpose. Barring that, if you have buttons, try the ones with up or down arrows to scroll through the symbols. Usually, one button will scroll and a different one will select the item. If you have a monitor with a knob on it, turn the knob to scroll through the symbols and push the knob in to make the selection. Once you see how to scroll and select, select the Horizontal Size symbol.

Step 2 - Make the adjustment. Selecting the adjustment will cause a number from 0 to 100 to appear. Write it down. Now use the up or down buttons to raise or lower the number. If you have the knob type of control, turn the knob to raise and lower the number. Raising the number will make the window wider. Lowering the number will make it narrower. The window will tell you which button to hit to exit from that setting. Knob users will push the knob in to exit.

You will likely find that the window reaches one side of the available screen before the other. That's okay. It needs to be centered before you can finish, so now, repeat the same steps but with the Horizontal Positioning adjustment, until the image is centered. You can go back and forth between the two horizontal adjustments until you have it centered and as wide as the window will go without clipping any of the window on either side.

Now, repeat the process with the two Vertical controls.

That's it. There is usually a way to save the settings, making it easy to restore them should you feel the need later on. I usually don't even bother with this, but feel free. You should have a note now about what your original settings were and there may also be a control to restore the factory settings if you need to. Don't get too nervous about any of this. It's pretty difficult to mess it up badly. As for the rest of the adjustments, you can experiment. I sometimes adjust brightness and contrast. You can select "degauss" from time to time. It de-magnetizes the video tube, which restores the video tube to its best operating condition. I have never personally had much luck with adjusting color settings, but if you be sure to write down your original setting numbers, you will always be able to get back to where you started (worst case fall back plan).

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