Power on

The lowdown

What are they? Monitors for power users are fairly large-screen displays with fast pixel clocks, high resolutions and bright screens with good contrast and color management capabilities.

How do CRTs and LCDs differ? CRT monitors are bigger and heavier but cheaper. LCD monitors are lighter and more flexible but cost more.

Which is better? The consensus is that CRT monitors provide superior overall image quality and color saturation, both for text and graphics. LCD monitors provide superior screen brightness and contrast, and are flicker-free in their native resolutions. Because LCDs are thinner, weigh less and often come with wall or arm attachments, many power users prefer them to heavier, bulkier CRTs.

Must-know info? The technology for aperture grille and shadow mask CRTs is relatively static, but the technology for LCDs is steadily improving. There will always be room for high-resolution CRT displays, but market demand for lightweight, high-resolution LCD screens with small footprints continues to grow, and manufacturers are responding with LCD products that will soon meet the requirements of most power users.

IBM's T210H, a 21-inch LCD, has a 2,048- by 1,536-pixel native resolution. It's priced at $5,929.

Samsung's SyncMaster 1200NF is a 22-inch, aperture grille CRT, with a 2,048 by 1,536 maximum resolution at 75 hertz and a USB hub. It's priced at $699.

Big-screen CRT and LCD monitors can meet demands of heavy-duty users

You don't have to be a graphics designer, mapmaker or photo editor to consider yourself a power monitor user. When I spend 10 hours or so in front of a screen researching material, even I fall into that category, and that's when I need a monitor capable of rendering razor-sharp images at high resolutions.

As this guide shows, a high-performance monitor doesn't have to take a huge chunk of cash out of your budget. Plenty cost well under $1,000; units of $2,000 or more are rare.

Big-screen CRT displays have been around for a long time and could be your best choice if especially high resolution, excellent color saturation and a favorable price-to-performance ratio are your primary considerations. But a sleek LCD monitor with a small footprint, extra-bright screen and wonderful color contrast might be best for many applications, especially when desk space is at a premium.

CRT monitors work by emitting beams from an electron gun at the back of their picture tubes. The beams excite colored phosphors painted on the inside face of the tubes, causing them to glow. The picture tubes have to be fairly large to house their components, and this accounts for the bulk, weight and footprints of most CRTs.

It's a twister

LCD monitors use fluorescent backlights, a series of color filters and a thin layer of liquid crystal between two sheets of fine glass substrate. When an electric charge is passed through the crystals, they twist in ways that either block the filtered light or allow it to pass through to form an image on the display. The underlying technology makes LCDs lighter and thinner than CRTs. Most take up relatively little space and a wall or arm mount can keep it off your desk entirely.

Before you lock either type of monitor into your sights, consider the following trade-offs.
Size. A 21-inch CRT monitor typically weighs 60 pounds or more and occupy a lot of desktop space. An 18.1-inch LCD display is 8 inches thick or less and weighs less than 20 pounds. Advantage: LCDs.

As for screen size, a 19-inch LCD, measured diagonally, gives you exactly 19 inches of viewing area.

A 19-inch CRT, also measured diagonally, gives you about 18 inches of viewing area because the bezels that hold the picture tube in place take up some of the view. Advantage: LCDs.

Resolution. CRTs are designed to manage many resolutions with good to excellent image quality provided the refresh rate is high enough. LCDs are designed for a single, or native, resolution and this must be carefully matched to the capabilities of the host computer's graphics card. Advantage: CRTs.

Viewing angle. CRT screens can be viewed from almost any angle. LCD screens are best viewed head on, although many newer models allow up to a 170-degree viewing angle, both horizontally and vertically. Advantage: CRTs.

Pixel density. The dot-pitch specification for CRTs is a measurement of how closely the dots, or subpixels, are packed together on the screen.

Typical high-end CRT displays provide a 0.25-mm or lower dot pitch. LCD monitors don't generally provide as tight a pixel density as CRTs, but in most cases they compensate by providing greater screen brightness and higher contrast ratios. Advantage: CRTs.

Brightness. Monitor brightness is generally measured in candelas per square meter, cd/m2. The fluorescent backlighting of LCD technology provides superior screen brightness; many new LCD displays have ratings of 300 cd/m2 or 400 cd/m2. Most CRT monitors are rated at 150 cd/m2 to 200 cd/m2. Advantage: LCDs.

Contrast ratio. A monitor's contrast ratio is the difference between its whitest whites and blackest blacks. This is another strong point of LCDs. Look for at least a 300:1 contrast ratio for rich colors and excellent gray scaling. Advantage: LCDs.

Color saturation. CRT monitors use a broader range of the color spectrum than LCDs. Advantage: CRTs.

Flicker. Regardless of its resolution, a CRT monitor must provide a fast refresh rate of at least 85 hertz for flicker-free performance. LCD monitors are designed to run at a slower refresh rate, about 60 hertz, and flicker is never a problem. Advantage: LCDs.

Digital visual interface. Both LCD and CRT monitors typically use a standard analog VGA interface to connect to a host computer. Many newer LCDs also come with a DVI option that produces a better picture if connected to a computer via a DVI port. The DVI-I interface supports both analog and digital signals. Advantage: LCDs.

Power consumption. An LCD display will consume about half the power of a typical CRT. Advantage: LCDs.

User safety. Although almost all monitors conform to the Swedish Board of Technical Accreditation's MPR-II standard or the Swedish Confederation of Professional Employees' TCO '99 standard for regulating harmful electromagnetic, magnetic and electric field emissions, LCDs emit less radiation and magnetic fields than CRTs. Advantage: LCDs.

Theft protection. Because they are larger and heavier, CRTs hold an inherent advantage over LCDs when it comes to the issue of theft. LCDs make attractive targets for thieves and should have a Kensington lock or other mechanical protective device. Advantage: CRTs.

Price. Most of the 21-inch and larger CRTs in this guide are well under $1,000. Although a few 17.4-inch and 18.1-inch LCDs have broken the $1,000 barrier, larger units can cost twice that amount. Advantage: CRTs.

Whether you buy a CRT or LCD monitor depends on the weight you give to each of the above categories. If overall image quality, color saturation and price are paramount, a CRT is probably your best choice. If you are willing to sacrifice a small degree of image clarity in favor of screen brightness, contrast, flicker-free performance and flexible display placement, you'll likely choose an LCD display.

J.B. Miles of Pahoa, Hawaii, writes about communications and computers. E-mail him at jbmiles@gte.net.

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