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Now you see it
…on your brand new widescreen monitor

02/23/12
By John Andrews jandrews@hippopress.com



Rumors abound that the next iPad is imminent, and that its screen will have four times as many pixels as the current one, giving it stunning crispness and true high-definition capability.

I don’t want to talk about that. Rumors are rumors, and while they often end up being true, they’re not true yet. So let’s talk about something else with pixels: computer monitors.

When I set up an old desktop PC to record some music last year, I was suddenly in the market for a monitor — two of them, actually. For a while now, new monitors have only been available in a widescreen format. Their 16:9 width-to-height aspect ratio matches that of HDTVs.

Well, I didn’t want that. An older 4:3 monitor would give me more vertical space to work; if I really wanted to stretch out horizontally, I could span my desktop across two monitors next to each other.

There are two measurements of size that matter: resolution and area. Comparing resolution is fairly easy; the specs on a monitor will tell you if it supports 1280 x 720, 1920 x 1080, 1600 x 1200 or whatever. Multiply the numbers and you get the total number of pixels you have to work with. (Those amount to 921,600, 2,073,600, and 1,920,000, respectively, by the way.)

The other measurement monitors advertise is the diagonal size. Unfortunately, a widescreen monitor and an older, more “square” monitor might both say they’re 19 inches. It takes a bit of middle school math, but it soon becomes clear that the 4:3 monitor has more area (about 173 square inches) than the fancier 16:9 widescreen (about 154 square inches). This makes intuitive sense if you take it to its logical extreme: a 1-inch-high monitor can still have a diagonal size of 19 inches but it won’t have much area.

All of this is moot if you’re not considering a used or refurbished monitor (or just one that’s been stuck in a stock room for five years). Newer monitors do offer lower power consumption, better color reproduction and increased contrast ratios. In fact, LED monitors do all of that even better than LCD models. Usually, anyway.

Just like flat-panel televisions, LED monitors are really just a different kind of LCD monitor. It’s only the backlighting that’s different; traditional LCD screens use fluorescent lighting, while LED screens use, well, LEDs. It’s not guaranteed that an LED monitor will perform better than an LCD, because fluorescent LCD screens are more mature and have had more tweaks and improvements engineered into them over the years. In general, though, an LED screen will use less power and just plain look better. And cost more. Duh.

One thing you do need to be careful about when you spot an LCD or LED monitor deal? The resolution. Bargain hunters will see a ton of 20-inch monitors out there for less than $100, but most of them are 1600 x 900. Not bad, but it’s nice to have the option to step up to full HD, 1920 x 1080. You can either pay a bit more for a non-bargain 20-incher or pay a bit more for a larger size that also has greater resolution.

Or get a laptop. Or an iPad.

Save some screen real estate for twitter.com/CitizenjaQ.






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