Wider is not Always Better (and Other Monitor Tips)

Marcel BrownAs more and more monitors are being sold in the widescreen format, I thought it would be a good time to discuss a few tips on buying monitors. A common misconception is that a widescreen monitor is bigger than a “standard” monitor of the same size. For example, many people think that a 19″ widescreen will be bigger than a standard 19″ monitor and therefore purchase the widescreen. Widescreen is newer so it must be bigger and better, right? Not always.

Widescreen really means that the screen is shaped in a different proportion. Standard monitors are also called 4:3 monitors, which means the screen is shaped in a 4 to 3 ratio of width to height. Widescreen monitors come primarily in one of two ratios, 16:9 and 16:10. Extrapolated down to compare with a 4:3 screen, 16:9 is equal to 4:2.25 and 16:10 is equal to 4:2.5. As can be seen by comparing the ratios, some height is sacrificed on a widescreen display as compared to a standard screen of the same size rating.

Put into real world terms, common 19″ standard LCD monitors have resolutions of 1280 x 1024. Common 19″ widescreen LCD monitors have resolutions of 1440 x 900. As this shows, compared to a standard monitor, a widescreen gains 160 pixels of horizontal resolution, but loses 124 pixels of vertical resolution. Users who are shopping monitors should look at one size higher than they may be used to because of this. A 20″ LCD widescreen will give the same “feel” on a vertical scale as a 19″ standard LCD. This is because common 20″ widescreens are 1680 x 1050 resolution.

Speaking of the 20″ widescreen, I would actually recommend that you step up to a 22″ widescreen, but NOT a 24″. Why, you may ask? Most common 20″ and 22″ widescreen monitors use the same resolution of 1680 x 1050. Given the same resolution, a larger screen will seem magnified as compared to the smaller screen. This is certainly good for those people who don’t have perfect eyesight. However, most common 24″ widescreens use a resolution of 1920 x 1200. Besides the additional cost of the 24″ monitor, most people don’t need that high of a resolution. The higher the resolution, the smaller everything looks on the screen. This can be compensated for in the operating system, but many people don’t know this and simply set their monitors to lower resolutions. This can look bad on most monitors, as LCD displays are designed to operate at their highest resolutions. The moral of this story is to look at resolution as well as size when comparing monitors. Bigger isn’t always better.

If you care at all about the quality of the picture displayed on your LCD monitor, make sure you get a monitor with a digital input (usually referred to as DVI). Even if your current computer does not support DVI, your monitor may outlast your current computer. Your next computer will almost certainly have DVI output. You could also purchase an inexpensive video upgrade for your current computer to add digital capability. Digital LCD monitors look much sharper than LCD monitors that only support analog inputs.

Make sure to compare the warranties of monitors. Most monitors only come with a 1 year warranty. Some brands come with 3 year warranties. A common brand that comes standard with a 3 year warranty is Acer.

Finally, when shopping for monitors, make sure you actually get to see the monitor in person. There is no substitute for actually seeing a monitor with your own eyes. And ask the salesperson to make sure the computer is set to the monitor’s optimum resolution.

If you’ve read this far, your head may be spinning, and I don’t blame you! With all the advancements in monitor technology over the last few years, things have become more complicated. But don’t fear, if you have any questions, please let me know and I’ll be sure to help you get a good monitor for your money.