Tuesday, January 20, 2009

LCD Monitor Buyer's Guide: Winter 2008-2009

Tips for selecting ergonomic computer monitors ...

"This article should not be viewed as a brief review of all monitors. It is beyond my power to describe all the available models even in two lines per each. Fortunately, most of them can be described as “yet another regular monitor,” so there is no reason why they should be somehow singled out in the crowd. If you need just a regular LCD monitor, you are likely to be satisfied with the very first model you see. Below I will try to give you a brief description of the current state of the market (so that you could get a notion of what is understood by a “regular monitor”) and name a few models I consider the most interesting and noteworthy. The choice of the specific model is up to you, of course.

Now that I’ve begun talking about the problem of choice, I want to spend some time answering another frequent question, “what should I look at when shopping for a monitor?” The answer splits in two: what to look at when choosing a particular model and how to check out a specific sample.

First of all, a good monitor must comply with some functionality and ergonomics requirements. I think this is even more important that the specifications such as response time and contrast ratio. A DVI interface is highly desirable even for models with low native resolutions and obligatory for resolutions above 1680x1050. A HDMI input will do, too. These interfaces are electrically compatible, so it takes just a cheap adapter to convert one into another.

The stand should provide screen height adjustment. If it does not, you must make sure that the screen is not too high. The eyes should be at the same level with the top edge of the screen to tire less. For example, ViewSonic’s monitors often have too tall stands.

Ideally, the monitor’s controls are located on the front panel of the case, their labels painted with contrasting color for good readability. Otherwise, you’ll have to find the necessary button by touch when you want to adjust brightness, for example. By the way, the option of quick brightness adjustment (with a press of a single button) is very handy, but most manufacturers combine it with some color enhancement feature. The good exception is Samsung with its two strictly separated technologies MagicColor (for higher color saturation) and MagicBright (for selecting different levels of brightness). It is also desirable to have quick access (with a press of a button) to the option of smooth adjustment of brightness.

As opposed to the buttons, the Power indicator must be inconspicuous. You won’t like a super-bright blue LED located in the bottom center of the front panel if you work under dim ambient lighting.

As for the specifications, you can follow this rule: if you don’t know exactly how the particular parameter is measured and what it means, you should just disregard it. Odd as it may sound, this rule works because the monitor makers often adjust the methods of measuring the parameters of their products in such a way as to produce prettier numbers. In one case, the practical difference may be inconspicuous while the specified values differ a lot, but in the other case, the difference may be big while the values are similar. Some parameters may refer to specific applications of the monitor only. So, unless you know exactly what the specific parameter means, you should trust your eyes rather than base your choice on the specification. You can also look up in our theoretical articles or consult with experienced users about a particular parameter if you think it important."    (Continued via X-bit labs, Oleg Artamonov)    [Ergonomics Resources]

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