42" TV as monitor: good idea?
August 20, 2010 6:57 PM   Subscribe

I'm considering buying a 42" television to use as a computer monitor. I'm not sure whether I'd (a) put it across the room from me, (b) put it directly in front of my face, or (c) be better advised to give it a pass. Your advice?

I have the opportunity to spend $330 to buy a used 42" TV (1024p x 1024p) (this one) that can be used as a computer monitor.

1) Is it a good idea to use such a screen as an ordinary monitor, 3' from my face, in order to enjoy 4x the screen real estate I'm used to?

2) Is it a good idea to position such a screen about 12' from where I sit, so that I can switch back and forth between staring at it and staring at my ordinary monitor just 3' away, in the hope that varying the distance between the screen and my eyes will reduce eyestrain?

(I realize this would involve lowering the resolution. What I'm imagining is that this setup would give me pretty much the same effective view and screenspace as a regular monitor perched 3' away; the only difference would be that the physical screen would be at a different distance from my eyes. Am I right?)

3) Is this a price/quality I'll be able to beat if I'm patient and look around for a few weeks or months?

4) In light of your similar experiences, what problems or issues am I not anticipating?

- I use my computer about 12hr/day for reading, word processing, and Excel + 30 min/day for viewing video.
- I know almost nothing about this market; talk to me like I'm an idiot.
- I don't intend to use the TV as a TV -- just as a monitor.
- I've seen these similar questions, but I imagine the market has moved on in the last 9 months (right?), and I'm interested not only in "will this work?" but also "will this help my eyes?" and "what am I not considering?".

I appreciate all input -- thanks, guys.
posted by foursentences to Technology (23 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: This line:

I use my computer about 12hr/day for reading, word processing, and Excel + 30 min/day for viewing video.

...would have been clearer had I written:

Every day, I spend about 12 hours using my computer for reading, word processing, and Excel; and an additional 30 minutes using my computer to view video.
posted by foursentences at 6:59 PM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I use a 26" LED LCD as my computer monitor. I tried a 32" TV for a while, but it was too big for me. I think a lot of it had to do with too much light bombarding my eyes. It was bright.
posted by GnomeChompsky at 7:13 PM on August 20, 2010

Best answer: 1 - 1080p = 1920x1080 at 42inches, that's really not a lot of pixels per inch.

2 - burn in is going to be a huge issue with a plasma display with anything that stays in place on the screen - ie windows taskbar, desktop icons, etc.

3 - Anecdotally, I've got friends who've done the 'bigass-tv-as-monitor' thing and they all go back to more reasonably sized monitors before too long.

Personally, I much prefer to have multiple smaller (ie 17-20") monitors as opposed to one giant one.
posted by jjb at 7:20 PM on August 20, 2010

Best answer: I would strongly recommend against using an HDTV as a computer monitor, especially if you're going to be sitting 3 feet away from it, staring at it for 12 hours a day. The resolution is much too low. The picture is going to look horrible, a lot like blowing up a low resolution photo. You're actually going to have less actual screen real estate than with a PC monitor.

Also, the resolution of the monitor you linked to is not normal. I'm not even sure you're PC's video card would be able to run it. Even if you did somehow get it to work, the display would most likely be distorted.

There are much better options out there for $330. You may be able to find a 32" monitor for that price. This should get you started in your search.
posted by Capa at 7:20 PM on August 20, 2010

Do you value resolution? Because a 1024x1024 screen is less real estate than a 17" monitor which is 1280x1024. So you'll have the quality of a 17" screen that takes up the space of a 42" one. I've never much understood the desire to use TVs as computer monitors as the pixel density is exceptionally low.
posted by msbutah at 7:21 PM on August 20, 2010

On non-preview what capa and jjb said.
posted by msbutah at 7:21 PM on August 20, 2010

Best answer: I would caution you against doing this unless at least one of the following is true:

a) you are willing to use this tv just as a tv if it doesn't work out
b) you can test your machine with this tv before purchasing it
c) you desire to use your computer from the normal tv watching distance

I have no first hand experience with this setup, but recommend this for the following reasons:
- refresh rate. Although you _probably_ will be fine at a standard HDTV refresh rate, I would be worried that anything except a high quality monitor will cause eye strain after 12 hours of usage.
- resolution. At that size you really want a much higher resolution. IMHO 1920x1080 is on the low side even for a 24" monitor (I notice that the amazon link says 1024x1024 which is totally crazy and sounds like a typo). You are not going to get 4x the pixel real estate, just a 4x bigger image, unless your tv supports a much higher resolution than the ones advertised.
- size. Having worked in front of a 30" monitor (ie 6"-18" in front of my face on my desk) I am pretty comfortable saying that bigger is not always better. It was great in terms of real estate (and that monitor was 2560 x 1600), but it was bigger than my field of view. I basically split it into two halves vertically and worked that way. I thought 2x24" monitors would have been better, but my mac laptop supported only 1 external monitor.
posted by Phredward at 7:24 PM on August 20, 2010

I suppose it might depend on your age but I would find it a strain to have to focus my eyes back and forth between 3' and 12'. Also, I've experimented my 46" as a monitor and found it was uncomfortable because to have to far enough away to view the whole thing comfortably, I needed my glasses (which I don't like to wear all the time).
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:26 PM on August 20, 2010

I use my 40" TV as a monitor and a TV. I have it set up in my living room, so it's probably about 7' or 8' away, and there's definitely some resolution issues you have to accommodate with this kind of set-up.

I'm seriously nearsighted, so reading is actually usually much more difficult for me on the big screen, and I have to zoom in quite a bit before my eyes can focus properly, but, that said, I do tend to experience less eyestrain than I used to with my old monitor. It just requires a lot more experimentation than it used to.

Part of this is because I keep my resolution pretty high and just zoom into web pages and documents as needed, but this does mean that negotiating folders and menus usually requires a bit of squinting and guesswork on my part. It's not a big deal for me, since I'm generally doing the same old stuff by rote, but if you're having to adjust settings and jump in and out of menus all the time, you'll probably need to lower your resolution a lot if you want to be functional. Lowering the resolution definitely makes things more readable, but it also tends to make them look downright terrible. This is also true if the monitor is right in front of your face.

In the past, I've used multiple smaller monitors to get the same big-ass monitor effect, and I definitely prefer that set-up more, but a slipped disk had me flat on my back for awhile, so this is the set-up I ended up with, and I'll probably go back to a normal monitor display eventually. Especially because you don't plan on using the screen as a TV, I don't think I would recommend it.
posted by Diagonalize at 7:30 PM on August 20, 2010

I use my 46" 1080p TV as my computer monitor, with a wireless mouse and keyboard setup that I can use from my couch -- and yeah, it's great! Like me, you might find it REALLY disorienting for the first few days, especially if you're used to 13-17" laptops and 21"-or-lower LCDs; watching movies or playing Xbox for a couple hours at a time was one thing, but as a heavy-duty computer user it was a pretty big, and even headache-inducing, adjustment at first, but I'm so used to it now that I could never go back (I still use my 15" laptop, but almost exclusively only for writing; it still weirds me out to try to do much intimate writing on the big screen). It makes all the daily computer stuff a bigger and more fun experience.

Definitely run it at max resolution -- LCDs just look much sharper and clearer in their native resolution -- but I'd say start out by keeping it at as much distance as you can while still being able to make out the screen, and don't let yourself sit too close for too long until you're really used to it. You might want to try turning the brightness and contrast down a bit from the maximum, at least during the adjustment period (I still don't keep mine at full brightness, but my eyes just get tired more easily now than they used to). As far as interfacing, I couldn't get by without Firefox's full page zooming (I presume Chrome et al also has this), and I highly recommend something like XBMC as an interface for your music, movies, photos etc that's optimized for hi-def TV use.

Good luck and enjoy!
posted by Noah at 7:32 PM on August 20, 2010

We do this in my library's student study rooms. For my own use it would drive me crazy. I would suggest 2 or 3 "normal" size monitors. I use 2, one that is 24" and one that is 15". I am considering adding a third 15" one
posted by fifilaru at 7:34 PM on August 20, 2010

Best answer: This doesn't answer your specific question, but I have had to deal with a 42" (Sony) plasma monitor that has a native resolution of 1024x1024. In order to get it to work properly as a computer monitor, it needs to be fed a 1368x768 signal at 85 Hz. This, needless to say, is non-standard, and getting a video card to output this sort of signal requires either Powerstrip or a good bit of jiggering. Either way, not that much fine. I'm not certain that this particular plasma display would have the same issue as the Sony, but it's something to consider.
posted by hoboynow at 7:45 PM on August 20, 2010

Argh. "Not that much fine"="Not that much fun."
posted by hoboynow at 7:46 PM on August 20, 2010

Best answer: 1024x1024 really is a crazy stupid resolution for something in a 16:9 aspect ratio. That means that pixels aren't square which means every website will look extremely distorted in the browser because everyone designs for square pixels. Besides, at that size the pixels will practically be the size of lego bricks. That you say "in order to enjoy 4x the screen real estate I'm used to" is very worrying -- you are not getting 4x screen real estate here. Screen real estate comes from increasing resolution while keeping DPI constant. You are not increasing the resolution at all (in fact you're probably reducing it) only lowering DPI to a ridiculously small value.
posted by Rhomboid at 7:46 PM on August 20, 2010

I use my 46" 1080p TV as my computer monitor, with a wireless mouse and keyboard setup that I can use from my couch -- and yeah, it's great! Like me, you might find it REALLY disorienting

Me too, but it's a little too freakin' huge. Even 8' away on the couch it's kind of overwhelming. I still use it for stuff like a Flickr slideshow, but tasks like reading/composing email or posting here are just not that great, and I wanted to love it.
posted by fixedgear at 7:58 PM on August 20, 2010

maybe if you get a video card that has two outputs and just used the tv for video or photos or maybe even mp3 players with those funky visualizations.

And then keep a second monitor for day-to-day work.
posted by Bonzai at 8:45 PM on August 20, 2010

Me too, but it's a little too freakin' huge. Even 8' away on the couch it's kind of overwhelming. I still use it for stuff like a Flickr slideshow, but tasks like reading/composing email or posting here are just not that great, and I wanted to love it.

Yeah, I consider email and commenting as part of "intimate writing" as I mentioned; writing, and text-based stuff other than websurfing, just never worked for me on the big TV. (I can't read long web articles on TV either; I copy most of them over to my Nook.) But I'm not a big emailer or poster; on an average day, 95% of my computer use is very visual-centric -- websurfing, working in Photoshop, playing games, watching YouTube/Hulu/etc. (I sit about 8'-10' away.)

Anyway, for *my* purposes it works great, but on second thought I have to admit that I wouldn't recommend it so enthusiastically to someone whose computer use is primarily text-centric like the OP's seems to be. (Still, nothing to lose by giving it a good try, is there? Different strokes, etc.)
posted by Noah at 8:47 PM on August 20, 2010

Best answer: See this question.

Basically, with a widescreen format but 1024x1024 pixels you have rectangular pixels instead of square. The TV figures things out so the that things look correct when playing TV/Video content. But if you try to use it as a monitor your computer won't know it's got rectangular pixels so you'll end up with the same problem the guy in the other thread did, with the image oddly stretched and there probably won't be a fix for that (at least nothing easy). So don't get this TV if you want to use it as a monitor.
posted by 6550 at 10:45 PM on August 20, 2010

1024x1024 will be terrible.

You can fine new, 42", non generic 1080p displays for $450ish.
posted by wongcorgi at 11:49 PM on August 20, 2010

Don't do it. In order to actually see text clearly, you'll need to zoom all websites, and it funks up the formatting. And it's way too bright and big. If your at a pc 12 hours a day, you need to think about the future of your eyes. But if you must do it, make sure your pc is outputting DVI or HDMI.
posted by glenno86 at 4:47 AM on August 21, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks very much -- all your answers have been very helpful to me. The risk of burn-in, the dangers of unusual pixel shapes, and the likelihood that at close ranges the screen would simply be larger than my entire field of vision resolve this decision for me.

Bwithh, in principle I love the idea of projecting my screen onto the ceiling above my bed, but I'm pretty sure that if I implemented that, I'd spend 20 hours a day lying in bed and would need to spend the other 4 working out and getting my spine realigned.
posted by foursentences at 2:33 PM on August 21, 2010

A photo/painting/monitor viewing fundamental I've heard of in the art business...

Any rectangular image has an optimal viewing distance of whatever it's corner to corner diagonal is. Therefore, a 4 x 6 inch photo print is best viewed 7 inches away from your eyes; my 19 inch monitor that I am using to type this is in fact, just about 19 inches away from my face.

You'll probably be happiest with your 42 inch screen... 42 inches away from your eyes.

I am not sure why this is, probably something the classical painting masters from centuries ago worked out along with the rule of thirds and other composition fundamentals.

Try it, especially the next time you look at a large painting on the wall, and you may find this to be true.
posted by No Shmoobles at 3:29 PM on August 22, 2010

That resolution is not high enough - I tried something similar with a 42" plasma a couple months back (1024x768) and it was horrible - I relegated it to a bedroom and haven't even hooked it up to cable again.
posted by jkaczor at 9:31 PM on August 24, 2010

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