How can I try out computer monitor magnifiers?
January 23, 2013 9:21 AM   Subscribe

I believe we have a need for two to five computer monitor magnifiers where I work, some for laptops and some for desktop monitors.

I'm thinking something like these.

The difficulty is that they will need to be demonstrated to the acquiring manager and proven effective before any purchasing happens.

Are there any stores that carry these items in the Central Valley in California? If not, is there any way to have several options shipped that can be tried and returned without obligation?

Mounting mechanisms, the amount of magnification, quality, and price all seem highly variable, and there won't be buy-in until/unless it's shown to work.

Also: I've never seen these in person. Are they uniformly terrible, or do they actually help a great deal?
posted by jsturgill to Shopping (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Honestly, monitors are so cheap, I can't see how these would be a good idea.

I mean, sure, you could spend $50 to take an existing 15" monitor and make it bigger, or you could spend $129 and buy a whole new montor that is 23".

Then again, if you have to do this 5 times, that's $250 (for magnifiers) vs $650 (for monitors), so I guess a lot depends on your budget.
posted by gregvr at 9:47 AM on January 23, 2013

Most modern operating systems support text scaling. Unless you've got a very specific use case in mind, you're better off just getting a bigger monitor.
posted by schmod at 9:57 AM on January 23, 2013

Those are undoubtedly Fresnel lenses and they'll make the screen look blurry and grainy and make text harder to read, not better. Really not optimal at all except for perhaps viewing full screen video where detail is unimportant.
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:09 AM on January 23, 2013

Yes, Step 1: Bigger monitor. Step 2: Learn to use the building in scaling/size adjustments within the OS.
posted by TinWhistle at 10:10 AM on January 23, 2013

Response by poster: These responses are not helpful. Please do not keep suggesting larger monitors and tweaking the OS settings.

I am open to other solutions to the problem, but big monitors and changing text scaling settings are not solutions. Those are in place already and insufficient for a multitude of reasons. OS scaling is not a panacea.
posted by jsturgill at 10:31 AM on January 23, 2013

To answer your question, then, yes, they are terrible. But you seem to be focused on them as a solution, so I guess we're all wondering why magnification is the solution when bigger monitors and OS scaling are not, so maybe informing of us of those reasons and your use case would get you better answers.

Granted I've only seen one or two, but it was incredibly awkward to use and it magnified only the middle of the screen, so if you wanted to see the corners, you had to move your head and crane your neck to see parts that aren't on the screen.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 10:38 AM on January 23, 2013

Yup, they're all terrible, or at least I've never used a good one. They make your neck hurt from holding your head just so to see the part of the screen you want.

If you're open to other solutions, maybe you could tell us more about the specifics of your case and we'd be able to come up with something.
posted by echo target at 10:43 AM on January 23, 2013

Response by poster: These people require serious visual accomodations.

There are business constraints that require a minimum resolution.

OS scaling is a poor solution and causes conflicts with some poorly coded applications.

We have large (20, 21, 22 inch) monitors already. We tweak these things as much as we can, and it's still a difficulty for them.

I'm trying to see what other steps can be taken beyond that.

The next step in monitors would be 27" monitor, possibly running at something less than it's full resolution. That would be a very expensive step. What else is there?
posted by jsturgill at 10:50 AM on January 23, 2013

I work with blind and low vision computer users. Have you considered an onscreen magnifier, such as zoomtext?
posted by stenseng at 10:55 AM on January 23, 2013

Can you give some more specifics about what you're trying to accomplish? What's your OS? Which of your apps don't scale? What monitors are you using right now? How/why have you been able to get by so far without these magnifiers?

Text scaling has gotten a ton better in recent versions of Mac OS and Windows, and magnifying applications are traditionally used to fill the rest of that gap for visually-impaired users. While it may have been true a few years ago, currently you shouldn't ever need to run your monitor at anything less than its native resolution.

The largest screen magnifiers only go to 19", and the optical quality of the Fresnel lenses on those enlargers is simply godawful. I'm honestly a little surprised that the 19" models are even remotely usable.

It really sounds like you've already made up your mind about purchasing these items. You're going to need to be a lot more specific if you want good recommendations for accommodating visually impaired users.
posted by schmod at 11:08 AM on January 23, 2013

Also, in reference to stenseng's response, if your users are looking for minimal magnification, try ZoomText Express, a $50 program that will magnify up to 2x. My business provides adaptive technology recommendations and only works with visually impaired computer users and I would definitely recommend this program over using the Fresnel lenses.

Fresnel lenses are notoriously bad solutions for magnifying text. While they will magnify the text some, they reduce the contrast and brightness of the screen (which is a big problem for a lot of impairments and the magnification only works well in the middle of the screen. As you get to the edges, the text gets harder to read.

You may have other resources available in your area to help you find and acquire solutions for anyone who is legally blind (which is not the same as totally blind). I'm located in the Bay Area, but do work in the Central Valley. MeMail me or send an email to my profile email address if you'd like to talk to me about options that may be available to you.

One thing I would be concerned about is trying to meet the needs of several users with a single solution. Visual impairments occur on a wide spectrum and solutions, especially in ADA covered work environments, should be assessed on a individual basis. What works for one person may not work well at all for another.
posted by rsclark at 11:30 AM on January 23, 2013

Oh, one more thing. ZoomText and ZoomText Express are available in trial versions that you can try to see if they work for your users.
posted by rsclark at 11:33 AM on January 23, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks rsclark.

I probably would have more relevant answers if I'd framed it as a request for information about accomodations for visually impaired computer users.

I think people are all like, "Hey! Try this obvious thing!" When what I'm interested in is, "What else can we do besides the obvious things?"
posted by jsturgill at 11:40 AM on January 23, 2013

Is Windows Magnifier of any help?
posted by sageleaf at 11:47 AM on January 23, 2013

Response by poster: Windows Magnifier is hit and miss. It confuses some of them.
posted by jsturgill at 11:50 AM on January 23, 2013

>The next step in monitors would be 27" monitor, possibly running at something less than it's full resolution. That would be a very expensive step. What else is there?

A television. A cheap LCD television at either 720p (if that meets your minimum resolution needs) or 1080p. Lower would actually be better as it would appear larger on the same size screen.

32 inch, 36 inch, even a 42 inch if it'll fit on the desk.
posted by NoAccount at 12:52 PM on January 23, 2013

One of our clients has a 42" LCD on his desktop, and I believe it is only 1920x1080. He's very vision-impaired (cannot drive), but this combined with a high-contrast color scheme does the trick for him.

I'm an office supplies retailer. We sell the fresnel screen magnifiers. Most of them are returned to as unusable or "it looked worse with it than without." The ones for laptops are even worse, because the fresnel lens magnifiers make the already finicky viewing angles for most laptop LCDs even tighter. Move your head outside the sweet spot and it's really quite awful.

Our solution instead is to sell larger LCD monitors with the lowest native resolution we can find. Running an LCD monitor at its non-native resolution makes everything blurry, which just compounds vision-impaired problems. But if you go 1920x1080 instead of 2560x1440, the text will generally appear larger, without the blurriness from a forced low resolution. We've also noticed sharper, better results with end-to-end DVI, rather than analog VGA monitors. (No VGA-to-DVI adapter nonsense)

In your situation, I would not even consider projectors, as they bring a whole slew of other problems to the table that will hurt more than they help.

I'm sorry you're not exactly getting the answers you're wanting, but the screen magnifiers really are quite awful, and aside from that or on-screen (software) magnifiers, about the only other way to get a larger viewing area or make text appear larger is to go with a bigger display. :\
posted by xedrik at 1:32 PM on January 23, 2013

Having said all that, if you're dead set on trying out some magnifiers, contact your local independent office supplies dealer or computer shop. They've probably got a couple covered in dust in the back room somewhere that they'd let you try or would sell at a discount, since no one wants them. Even if they're not the proper size for what you need, you'll still get an idea of what the result would be.
posted by xedrik at 1:36 PM on January 23, 2013

Response by poster: There will be some training coming up, so hopefully we can work more with these people one-on-one to find some combination of high contrast themes + software magnification that works for them.
posted by jsturgill at 3:29 PM on January 23, 2013

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