Windows XP / Beginners

Choosing a new monitor

Once upon a time, CRT (cathode ray tube) screens ruled the roost: They were hot enough to fry an egg; prone to flicker and wavy lines; and the big ones weighed as much as an elephant. A big elephant. Nowadays, CRTs have one big advantage over flat-panel LCD (liquid crystal display) screens: They're cheap.

Evaluating CRT versus flat-panel monitors

Flat-panel LCD displays, the kind you see on laptop computers, have become more popular than desktop CRT monitors in the last few years. They have several inherent advantages over conventional CRT monitors:

  • With no bulky CRT inside, they are much lighter and occupy less space.
  • They use less power.
  • The image is very sharp, straight lines always look perfectly straight, and color convergence is perfect.
  • Because their images persist longer than those of a CRT, they don't flicker.

They also have some disadvantages, many of which aren't obvious at first blush:

  • Although the prices keep coming down, LCD monitors cost considerably more than comparable CRT monitors, and the price discrepancy will probably be with us for a long time to come.
  • Few LCDs have screens larger than 17 inches or resolutions greater than 1280 x 1024 (for details on screen resolution, see the next section). Bigger screens cost a lot more.
  • If you play games or work with fast-moving images, make sure that you can put up with a specific LCD's refresh rate before you buy it. LCDs are notorious for not keeping pace with some games, turning crisp images of, oh, smashing taxi cabs into mushy blobs of smashing taxi cabs. Come to think of it, maybe there isn't all that much difference.
  • The manufacturing process frequently produces screens with dead pixels. A dead pixel shows up as a black spot (or some other nonmatching color) in the image. Most manufacturers consider an LCD display functional if it has no more than three dead pixels, but a single dead pixel may drive you crazy, especially if it sits near the middle of the screen. If you look at a screen and immediately notice its dead pixel(s), pass it by.
    Warning If you buy a flat-panel monitor and one or two or three pixels suddenly die, you can do precious little about it.
  • An LCD can be difficult to read from certain angles, particularly far off the screen's axis. This can be a problem if several people have to watch the computer screen at once.
  • LCDs tend to reproduce colors less accurately than CRTs, which makes them less suitable for working on photographs and movies.
  • The longer image persistence that makes LCDs flicker-free has a down side: If you use applications that produce rapidly moving images, such as games and Windows Movie Maker, the movement tends to blur.

Digital Video Interface

CRT monitors live in an analog world: They're controlled by signals that vary in strength, much as a television attached to a Nintendo gets driven by three cables controlling the Red, Green, and Blue colors.

LCD monitors, on the other hand, are all digital, all the time. Internally, they control each dot on the screen with 1s and 0s, on and off, just like your computer.

The video card was invented specifically because the bits inside your computer needed to drive an analog monitor. The video card translated 1s and 0s inside the computer into varying-intensity red, green, and blue dots on the screen. In short, video cards served as digital-to-analog converters, feeding signals to CRT monitors.

Times have changed. It doesn't make any sense at all for the video card to translate bits into an analog signal, only to have an LCD monitor translate the analog signal back into bits. That's the crux of the Digital Video Interface plugs: Eliminate the video card middleman.

More and more LCD monitors come equipped with DVI plugs. More and more video cards come equipped with DVI ports. Unlike the old D-shaped VGA plugs, which have 15 round pins arranged in 3 rows of 5 each, the much larger and more rectangular DVI plugs have a single flat pin and (usually) 24 round ones, in an asymmetrical pattern.

If you have a choice, go with DVI. It's faster, more reliable - and the pins are less likely to get crunched when your ham-fisted cousin starts switching around monitors.

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