I need a new(er) monitor....
April 28, 2007 6:56 AM   Subscribe

I need advice on buying a new monitor for my PC. I am a complete beginner. So, Monitor 101?

I currently have a Sony Multiscan 20se-v, from 1992. Yes, it's 15 years old. Still works though. However, it's absolutely huge, and very very heavy. It's also starting to flicker, and go in and out of focus a bit, which is a pain when watching a film.

I want one of these new fangled thin ones, that I see in all the banks. However, I have no idea what to look out for when buying. I need to know what things like TFT and LCD stand for, and what the differences are. I hear that the new thin ones have a lower contrast ratio? I hear they use less electric? I hear that sometimes you get a pixel go duff, and you can fix it by having a pretty multicoloured pattern on the screen? What's the best make to go for? The best model?

Please treat me like an imbecile when explaining this stuff. Alternatively, websites that explain the concepts but that don't try to sell me stuff would be appreciated.

It's going to be quite a bit of money (comparatively) that I'm going to be spending, so I don't want to make an expensive mistake.
posted by Solomon to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Tom's Hardware has reliable reviews of computer parts, but check the articles to make sure they're not outdated. They can also get technical, which is a bad thing if you're hardware-illiterate like me.
CNet's Reviews have also been very good to me.
A technology for building the LCD screens that are commonly found on laptop computers. TFT screens are brighter and more readable than dual-scan LCD screens, but consume more power and are generally more expensive.
-CNet's definition of TFT

I hate to just throw out links, but that's what I'd read if I wanted to purchase a monitor. I don't know too much about hardware, but I know where to get the info.
posted by theiconoclast31 at 7:16 AM on April 28, 2007

Dell has a wonderful range of monitors that you should definitely look at. They're pretty high-quality and are comparatively low-cost. I'm using the 2007WFP and I absolutely couldn't recommend it more. Although I think I would go with the 24" model the next time, given the funds.
posted by kdar at 7:49 AM on April 28, 2007

Best answer: Some photo professionals and people very concerned with being able to tune their monitors for accurate color still prefer CRT (or at least that was true a couple of years ago).

LCD does consume less power than CRT.

CRT used to be a lot cheaper, especially at large sizes, but that difference is vanishing.

Older LCD monitors had issues with response time: if the screen changed from light to black, it would take noticeable time for the brightness to fade. Current monitors have gotten pretty fast.

You can get stuck or dead pixels on an LCD, that'll be a blemish in your picture. Color-cycling can sometimes help, but is no guarantee. Buy with a warranty, and check the details -- they'll typically address a problem only after some number of dead pixels.

Most CRT monitors accept only an analog signal. Most current LCD monitors accept a digital signal. That tends to result in a better picture.

Some people these days are buying LCD TVs with digital inputs and using them as monitors and report being happy with it -- I haven't tried it.

On balance, I wouldn't consider a CRT these days. I've been happy with my Dell 1905FP, and I've been trying to invent excuses to get the 24". If the price were to drop another couple hundred dollars to $450ish, I'd probably be there in a flash.

Note that you need a pretty good video card to drive a large monitor (and make sure you have the right kind of output.)
posted by Zed_Lopez at 9:31 AM on April 28, 2007

Best answer: Dell makes some pretty solid monitors and they're generally pretty cheap, so if you have no qualms about buying a Dell product (my experience is their customer service is shit; YMMV) then their monitors are pretty good choices. Other names to look out for include Samsung (I'm using a Samsung monitor right now) and Viewsonic. Apple too, I guess, though for the past couple of years at least, Apple's been sourcing their LCD panels from the same place Dell does, so you're paying a hefty price premium for the shiny enclosure and maybe slightly better monitor electronics.

TFTs are actually just another name for LCDs these days. The vast majority of LCD screens out there are TFT LCDs, so really you don't have to think about it unless you're buying an extraordinarily cheap/old monitor and the specs don't say TFT.

I don't know if newer LCD screens use less power than old LCD screens, but they definitely use much less power than CRTs (and give off less heat as well).

Things to watch out for: what's the listed resolution for the monitor? Unlike CRTs, LCDs have discrete pixels. That means there's only one resolution where the picture is crystal clear, and all other resolutions look a bit blurry because the monitor has to interpolate the image across a set number of pixels. (Technically it's a bit more complicated than that, but you get the idea.) Keep this in mind if you decide to go to a store to look at their monitors; store personnel aren't always the brightest of the bunch and will often set their perfectly good 1280x1024 displays to show a 1024x768 image, making the monitor look much worse than it actually is.

What's the colour depth? If you're not a design professional or picky about how many colours your monitor shows, you can probably ignore this. But note that there's a difference between a monitor that can "show" 16.2 million colours and 16.7 million colours; the first is generally a 6-bit colour depth panel and the other is an 8-bit panel. Obviously, the 8-bit panel will reproduce colours more accurately. But I've got a 6-bit panel on my desk right now and most of the time I don't notice the lower colour depth. Again, YMMV.

You already know about contrast ratio, so I'll leave that one. The last thing to be concerned about is viewing angle. Again, unlike CRTs, LCDs have an optimum viewing angle; if you face an LCD screen head on, you'll get a perfect picture. But as your angle to the screen changes, the picture dims and the colour starts to shift slightly. The higher the effective viewing angle, the better. The nice thing about this is you can easily check this in a store; just walk off to the side of the screen and note when the picture starts to turn weird. Note that most LCD screens have fairly decent horizontal viewing angles but piss-poor vertical viewing angles—something to keep in mind if you like watching movies on your computer in bed, like I do.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, I'm using a Samsung SyncMaster 940B. I don't think they make them any more, mainly because most screens are widescreen these days. The first day was scary because the colours were all reddish and everything was too bright and I thought I'd made a huge mistake, but after some tweaking and (possibly?) some time with the screen on to break it in, everything turned out fine. I'd recommend the higher-level Samsungs in a heartbeat, but as always, read your reviews first. AnandTech is my personal first stop, but Tom's Hardware and c|net are good stops too (though c|net is aimed at the general consumer and so their reviews are sometimes less than thorough).
posted by chrominance at 10:21 AM on April 28, 2007

Best answer: LCD means "liquid crystal display." all those thin monitors you see are LCD monitors. TFT, as someone noted above, is one way that LCD monitors are manufactured. you get a nice picture with it, but it's more expensive and consumes more power.

I'm going to go with the dell recommendation, as well. I've got their 20" widescreen lcd and i love it. i'd recommend getting the next larger one, though, just because at the larger sizes they come with component video input so you can also hook a dvd player or video game console up to it and get a nice picture.

here're really the only things you need to think about when buying an lcd:

1. refresh rate: this is how fast the monitor draws frames, basically how fast it flickers to show things to you. lcd refresh rates are measured differently than crt refresh rates. the crts are measured in hz, so a 60hz refresh rate flickered 60 times a second. the higher the number the better. for lcds on the other hand, its measured in miliseconds (ms) between flickers. so a 12ms refresh rate means the monitor shows a new frame to you every 12 ms. this being the case remember: a LOWER refresh rate on an lcd monitor is better. If you play video games at all, try to get under 12ms at least, aim for something like 8. if you don't game, it's not as important.

2. contrast ratio: lcds have a smaller contrast range than crts, (which means the blacks aren't as black and the whites may not be as white. mostly the lack of contrast is in the blacks, though) but if you get a nice enough one you won't notice it. aim for contrast ratios above 1000:1. really nice ones are 3000:1 and maybe higher.

3. input: how does your monitor receive its signal? your crt, being 15 years old, uses d-sub vga cables to connect to your computer. this isn't a bad cable, but modern monitors use dvi cables, which are digital and a much stronger signal. If your graphics card can support dvi connections, get a monitor that does, too. the difference can be staggering. if you graphic card does not, then you'll need an adapter (very cheap) if the monitor comes with only dvi to convert the dvi cable to vga. many monitors come with both cables. the dvi cable will have a white connector, the vga will be blue.

4. the things chrominance mentioned above, as well.

When it comes to dead pixels, this is a hit or miss proposition. Sometimes it happens, and there isn't a whole lot you can do. Most manufacturers or retailers will let you exchange for a new one free of charge IF you have a cluster of dead pixels close together. but if you just have one that's either always on (white all the time) or always off (black all the time) or some other variation (always red, blue or green) then you're going to have to learn to live with it. I have an always on pixel somewhere on the monitor I currently use, and I honestly don't see it 99% of the time. I don't even remember where it is precisely. There is not, to my knowledge, any kind of pattern you can display on the screen that will fix broken pixels.

the last thing I'd mention is to visit tomshardware, anandtech (both of which are linked to in above comments) epinions.com and pricegrabber.com to see what other people think of particular manufacturers and monitors. the best way, in my opinion, to find out if a particular model or brand is good for you is to see what random people who own that model or brand have to say about it. reviewers always get sent good product that's been vetted by the manufacturer to make sure it's not a dud. real people can tell you how often people seem to get busted ones delivered to their door, or if there's a particular feature that drives them up the wall in daily practical use.
posted by shmegegge at 10:47 AM on April 28, 2007

Best answer: I mean this in all seriousness: if you are running a monitor from 1992, no matter how good it is, anything you buy will be lightyears better.

There are two basic computer display technologies: CRT and LCD.

CRT is what you have now. Modern CRTs are much better than your ancient monitor, but still work basically the same way. They'll have a maximum supported resolution, but they'll happily display lower resolution very cleanly; they do analog scaling, and do a dynamite job. CRTs are also the most accurate method of reproducing color at the moment. If you are doing any kind of serious work where color accuracy matters, you need to stay with CRT.

Most folks these days are going with LCD. The color fidelity isn't as good unless you spend a LOT of money. And the black levels aren't quite as good as a CRT's. But the resolution is generally higher, and the display is extremely crisp and sharp, resulting in less eyestrain. LCDs have hard-sized pixels, meaning that they can't scale the same way a CRT can, but the modern panels have good scaling engines, and do such a good job you can barely tell.

If you buy a CRT, you can basically just plug it in and use it like your old monitor without thinking about it much.

If you buy an LCD, you have to make sure that A) it has a DVI port (LCDs with only regular VGA-ins suck), B) your video card has a DVI port, and C) your video card can drive the LCD at its native resolution. Given those three things, you should be happy with practically anything.

Dell does some very good LCD monitors; that's one of their best product lines. I'm typing this to you on a Dell 2405, a slightly-older 24" widescreen LCD. It's one of the best single computer purchases I've ever made.

If you really wanna get geeky, you can look into the differences between PVA and S-IPS screens, which are the two main variants of LCD. But for most people, it's really not terribly important. Ars Technica has good forums that will likely have all the info you could possibly want.
posted by Malor at 12:06 PM on April 28, 2007

Best answer: I won't overthink it for you or make you read alot. Here's my advice:

1. get a widescreen LCD monitor
2. buy from HP, Viewsonic, or Sony
3. Find the largest diagonal screen size you can afford (these numbers are on the price tag)

Any monitor you settle on that adheres to all three above points will be a great, multi-purpose, no-fuss, vivid monitor.
posted by cowbellemoo at 1:29 PM on April 28, 2007

If you're buying a widescreen LCD (which you should IMHO), I think you should buy at least a 20". A 19" monitor will either give you too small of a resolution or the picture will be really small.
posted by !Jim at 1:57 PM on April 28, 2007

I'd go for one of the Dell 20" or higher LCDs as they are true 24 bit panels rather than 18 bit panels, which affects colour. You can do some research on panels used by companies. The other reason for Dell is, if you're patient, visit the site everyday and the monitors will go on sale, sometimes at rather significant price drops.

I had one 2001FP develop a green line across the display (vertically). Called Dell, did some quick tests over the phone. They shipped me another one right away.

As others said, you'll need a video card with at least one DVI output (get a card with 2 outputs if you anticipate adding another monitor in the future.)

I do colour work for print fairly frequently and have no problems with LCDs that are actually 24-bit.
posted by juiceCake at 2:53 PM on April 28, 2007

I'll simplify for you too. Go to dell.com. Buy the biggest LCD you can afford. Done.

(For extra credit, you also want to use a DVI cable to connect your computer to your monitor, rather than the old VGA cable you are probably using now. VGA is analog, DVI is digital. DVI will look very very sharp on your new LCD. If your video card is several years old you won't have a DVI connector on the back of it, in which case VGA will work fine until you upgrade your computer some day.)
posted by Nelson at 1:14 AM on April 29, 2007

+nth for Dell here as well.

Regardless of what you think of their desktops and/or laptops, Dell TFT monitors are generally excellent - I've got a 19" ultrasharp which I use alongside a 17" Acer TFT and they're in a different league, quality-wise - the Dell blows the Acer away.

Like Zed_Lopez I'm trying to come up with an excuse to buy a 24" Widescreen version, too...
posted by Nice Guy Mike at 2:41 AM on April 29, 2007

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