Those 17-inch monitors are nice, but a 15-incher is often just fine

Personal Computers

March 31, 1997|By Bill Husted

ALMOST ALL the information you get from your computer is presented on the screen of your monitor. And a bad monitor can leave your eyes feeling as if they've been sandblasted.

Yet, many computer users blindly accept the one that comes with a one-price-buys-all computer system. Even if you're already in that boat, the time may come when you decide to replace your monitor. Many computer users are replacing the 13- or 14-inch monitor that came with their computer with an easier-on-the-eyes 17-inch monitor or a modern 15-inch model.

The good news is that the most important test of a monitor can be done right in the store. All you really need to do is use your eyes. "The most overwhelming thing is how does it look to you," says Chuck Miller, president of Monitor Depot, an Atlanta-based retail business.

But you do need to know what to look for when comparing monitors. Miller explains that many consumers ask stores to put a photographic image on the screen. But the best test of a monitor is printed text. That's because it's easy to notice any blur when looking at type's sharp features.

"Look at the edges," Miller says. "Almost any monitor will look sharp in the center of the screen, but it's much more difficult to make a monitor that does a good job at the edges of the screen."

Obviously, colors should be rich and lifelike, but that's not generally a problem. Size and weight may be factors to consider, especially if you -- like a lot of consumers -- are considering moving to a 17-inch monitor.

"We're talking about a difference in 11 pounds or so between a 15-inch monitor and a 17-inch monitor; that means you have to consider whether the riser that your monitor sits on will support that weight," says Larry Picciano, project leader with the electronics department of Consumer Reports' tech division.

For an article in 1996, the magazine tested several monitors. Picciano says "the heaviest 17-inch monitor was about 46 pounds; the lightest 15-inch was 29 pounds. Anytime you go to a 17 you get in the 40- to 50-pound range, and that's a lot of weight."

Most people set their monitors on top of their computers, and most computers will handle this weight just fine.

Generally, Picciano thinks, most home users should settle on a 15-inch monitor as the best compromise between cost and the benefit of a large enough image on the screen.

Once you've found monitors that pass your personal eye test, you may want to consider some of the more technical specifications.

At one time, the most important measure of a monitor was dot pitch. To understand dot pitch, you need to know that images on your screen are made up of tiny dots of color called pixels. The closer together those dots are packed, the sharper the image. A dot pitch of 0.28 mm or smaller is considered good. But all but the cheapest of today's monitors meet the 0.28 mm test.

Also, check the refresh rate. That measures how fast the electron beam in the monitor paints the image on the screen. Faster is better. A slow refresh rate often results in an image that flickers. So look for refresh rates of 70 megahertz or better.

Pub Date: 3/31/97

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