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The eyes have it when picking a monitor

As with most computer equipment, monitor prices have been dropping in recent years.
[Times photo: Cherie Diez]

By DAVE GUSSOW, Times Technology Editor

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 15, 1999

No matter how much you invest in your computer's power, the quality of the monitor can make a world of difference in how you enjoy your computing.

A few years ago, ads touted PC prices with "Monitor not included" in small type. Now, most systems come with a monitor. However, that doesn't guarantee it's a good one.

"Any monitor that comes with the same brand as the vendor that's making the PC is probably going to be okay," said Tracey Capen, PC World magazine's executive editor for reviews. "Some of the smaller brands will pick up monitors where they can find them and those you sometimes have to watch out for."

Buying a monitor isn't complicated, but it takes more knowledge than just choosing one off a shelf.

"Monitors are really tough because we see good models and we see models that are not so good, even from the same vendor," Capen said. Manufacturers can offer high-end and low-end lines, and "The image quality can vary a fair amount between them."

Consumers should make sure the monitor will meet their needs: a larger, high-resolution monitor for people who will be doing heavy-duty graphics or photo work, for example.

A good monitor should last through a couple of generations of PCs, so think of it as an investment. Stay away from monitors that curve slightly toward the corners. Generally, the flatter the screen, the better.

Here are a few terms to know when looking at a monitor:

Dot pitch: This is a measure of the display quality. The lower the number, the crisper the image. For example, .25 dot pitch is better than .28.

Refresh rate: This measures the speed with which a monitor redraws what is displayed. It is measured in hertz (75Hz means the monitor redraws the display 75 times per second). The faster the refresh rate, the less the monitor flickers.

Viewable area: A screen is measured diagonally, and the viewable area is about an inch smaller than the total size of the monitor (a 15-inch monitor, for example, has a viewable area of about 14 inches). A 15-inch monitor was the widely accepted standard for computer non-professionals a few years ago; now a 17-inch screen is most common and many systems feature 19-inch screens.

Prices for monitors have been coming down in recent years, and recent ads had 17-inch, .28 color monitors for about $250. Flat panel monitors have become more popular because of their style and space-saving design. But they have price tags starting about $1,000, a figure some think may increase a bit because of a parts shortage.

"I wouldn't recommend a flat panel unless you have money to burn," Capen said.

However, the sharpness and clarity of a flat panel are stunning, with the added benefits of taking less room on your desk and less electrical power. A 15-inch LCD monitor has the same display space as a 17-inch conventional monitor.

For consumers shopping for monitors, Capen said a simple step will help.

"The best thing is to just look at it," Capen said. "Some will do better with text, some will do better with graphics."

-- Times correspondent John Torro contributed to this report.

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