InStore Checkout

It's important that you evaluate a monitor yourself before buying it. The characteristics that are important to a reviewer may not be important to you, and vice versa. Unfortunately, most computer stores feature eye-catching graphics on their display monitors, not the sorts of images that you' ll be using on the display. We tend to look at graphics differently than we do text and icons, and these types of displays emphasize different aspects of a display's design. Therefore, if at all possible, I recommend locating a store that will hook a monitor up to a computer running a GUI environment, and evaluate the monitor in this context. It's not terribly important that the computer be running Linux; despite some cosmetic differences, the characteristics with which you're most concerned can be evaluated from any OS. You should, however, try to run the display at the same resolution and refresh rate you intend to use. Two monitors may perform quite similarly at 800x600, but show substantial differences at 1280x1024. A single monitor may perform quite differently at different resolutions, as well.

I recommend you look for certain specific characteristics in the monitors you evaluate in the store, such as

• Sharpness How sharp are the images, particularly text?

• Brightness The display should be bright, and the monitor should have controls that allow you to adjust the brightness within a broad range. You should also check that the brightness is even across the entire display. If the monitor is hooked up to a Windows computer, use the Display item in the Windows Control Panel to adjust the background color, as shown in Figure 14.5. Adjust the background color both to something light and to something dark, and judge how even the color is across the entire display.

Chapter 14

Figure 14.5

Select Desktop in the Item field, and then pick a new color in the Color field to change the desktop's color.

Figure 14.5

Select Desktop in the Item field, and then pick a new color in the Color field to change the desktop's color.

• Contrast You should be able to adjust the contrast up or down, and fix it at a comfortable level.

• Flicker Even at the same refresh rate, two CRT displays can produce different amounts of flicker because of differences in their phosphors. You should only try to evaluate flicker when the monitor is running at the refresh rate you intend to use. Look for flicker in your peripheral vision, when you look directly at a corner of the monitor, or slightly away from it.

• Distortion Do rectangular shapes (such as windows) look rectangular? Do windows retain the same proportions as you move them around the screen? Monitors often contain controls to let you adjust for geometric distortion, so don't judge until you've located 14 and adjusted these controls.

• Color balance Do colors look reasonable? You might want to bring a high-quality dig- ^ itized photo with you on a floppy disk to help judge color balance. Again, a monitor's T controls often let you adjust this feature. R

• Misconvergence The electron beams fired by a monitor often miss their marks slightly, particularly in the corners of the display. This problem, called misconvergence, causes red or blue halos to appear around sharp lines.

• Moiré Moiré patterns are patterns of apparent light and dark that emerge when two fine arrays of lines are placed atop one another. You can see moiré patterns by taking two window screens (the kind from a building's windows, not computer windows) and placing one atop the other. In computer monitors, moiré patterns are undesirable. You're unlikely to spot moiré in a store demo unless you bring a graphic file that's composed of

Part III

fine patterns, such as a checkerboard pattern where each square is one pixel in size. On a moire-free monitor, such a display looks like a shade of gray. On a moire-prone monitor, this pattern will appear uneven in brightness, and may shimmer if you move it around the display.

• Screen flatness Monitor manufacturers today strive to make their screens as flat as possible. LCD monitors have completely flat screens. Aperture grille displays are flat vertically, but curve in the horizontal dimension. Shadow mask displays curve both horizontally and vertically. For both aperture grille and shadow mask displays, the extent of the curvature varies from one model to another. Unfortunately, very flat screens have a tendency to suffer from other problems, such as misconvergence, although this correlation is far from perfect.

• Control layout The trend today is for minimalist controls—just two or three buttons, plus a power switch. A monitor with few controls can be confusing, but so can a wide array of tiny buttons with tiny labels. Spend some time with each monitor's controls and judge for yourself which one is easiest to use.

• Dead pixels LCD monitors often have pixels that simply don't work. Ideally, you want a monitor with no dead pixels, but you shouldn't expect to get such a monitor. Note that the number of dead pixels on a store's display monitor may not match the number on the device you purchase, so ideally you should check this out on the monitor you buy, not the display sample.

• Size and weight You can get size and weight information from most monitors' specification sheets, but it's useful to see them in stores. Monitors often take up more or less space as they're pivoted on their swivel bases, so be sure to take this fact into consideration if you have limited space for the monitor.

Unfortunately, you're not likely to be able to perform all these tests on any monitor until after you purchase it. For this reason, and because CRT monitors are so heavy—and therefore expensive to ship—I recommend buying monitors locally, and from a store with liberal return policies. If you bring a monitor home and find it's a dud, you can cart it back to the store without paying $50 or more to ship it back.

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