Performance monitors

Samsung's SyncMaster 1100DF is a 21-inch CRT with 2,048- by 1,536 resolution and a 0.20 dot-pitch rating, priced at $485.

ViewSonic's $630 VG900b is a 19-inch TFT LCD with 1,280- by 1,024 resolution and a 600-to-1 contrast ratio.

Want the best in a CRT or LCD? Here's what's looking good

Until very recently, the right monitor for graphics design, computer-aided design, and video or photo editing was usually a 19-inch or larger CRT with good resolution, a fast refresh rate and plenty of user-selectable on-screen display options.

This still holds true to a large extent, but flat-panel LCD technology has improved so rapidly that you might consider a lightweight LCD monitor for your high-end work, even if it costs more than its heftier CRT counterpart.

In fact, 2003 may be the year when overall sales of LCDs overtake those of CRTs.

In addition to the specifications and technologies that underlie LCDs and CRTs, there are other factors to consider when making your choice of the most important peripheral attached to your PC or Mac.

For example, what applications are you using, how much room do you have in your work area, and how much do you want to spend?

Large LCD monitors weigh much less than CRTs and take about 20 percent as much desk space. As for price, a few fairly high-performance CRTs can be bought for under $500, and for $1,200 or more, you can buy the CRT monitor of your dreams, such as the 21-inch Artisan Reference Color System GDA-C520K from Sony Electronics Co. and the 22-inch MultiSync FP2141SB-SV from NEC-Mitsubishi Electronics Display of America Inc.

In the middle price range'$500 to $800'are some excellent CRT models that would keep all but the most discerning professionals happy for years.

Though LCDs are still priced significantly higher than CRTs, a growing number will provide excellent performance for a good price.

Many choices

Want the biggest and the best LCD to date? Try Apple's 23-inch HD Cinema Display or CTX International Inc.'s 23.1-inch H2300. You're going to pay around $2,000 or more for an LCD of this size and quality, but you'll be in love with it as soon as it comes out of its (very large) box.

There are literally hundreds of good CRT monitors from which to choose. But there are only four CRT manufacturers in the world'Hitachi Computer Products America Inc., Mitsubishi, NEC and Sony'so don't expect any particular brand to blow the others out of the water.
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While shopping for a high-end CRT, keep in mind the following:
Screen type. There are two main designs: shadow mask and aperture grille. Shadow mask displays use a metal sheet with hundreds of perforated holes to help focus the electron beam onto phosphors painted onto the inner surface of the screen. Aperture grille tubes direct electron beams through an array of thin vertical wires. All of today's versions have flat faces, which help render undistorted images and reduce glare.

FD Trinitron screens, originally developed and patented by Sony, are variations of aperture grille tubes, and are known for their crisp images and bright, rich colors.

Dot pitch and stripe pitch. Dot pitch, measured in millimeters, is the diagonal distance between two phosphors of the same color in a shadow mask CRT. Stripe pitch is the horizontal distance between two phosphors of the same color in an aperture grille tube.

In theory, the smaller the number'0.24, 0.23, 0.22'of the dot or stripe pitch, the sharper and clearer the image on the screen will be. But though advertisers herald these figures, they are actually less valuable as quality-of-image measurements than we are led to believe. In the final analysis, a better measurement of display quality is how it looks to you when you turn it on.

Resolution and refresh rates. A CRT monitor's resolution is measured by the number of pixel dots horizontally and vertically, such as 1,600 by 1,200. Generally, the higher the resolution, the better your monitor's performance, but there is an important caveat.

A screen's refresh rate is determined by how fast the vertical images on the screen can be cleared and is measured in hertz. Even with a high resolution, a CRT with a refresh rate under 70 hertz will produce a visible flicker that will disturb your eyes and concentration.

So, if your 19-inch CRT display provides a maximum resolution of 1,600 by 1,200 dots per inch, it may appear to be a high-end model, but if its refresh rate is less than 70 hertz it won't make you happy when managing high-end applications.

Because LCDs using high-image-quality thin-film transistors (TFT) are built around a distinctly different technology than CRTs, it would be reasonable to expect a different set of criteria to measure their relative performances.

Native resolution. Unlike CRTs, LCDs use a matrix of thousands of separately illuminated pixels to display their images, so a direct comparison of resolution between the two technologies isn't possible.

With LCDs, the best resolution is fixed, or native, depending mostly on the display's size. Accordingly, a 1,280- by 1,024-dpi native resolution will look fine on most 19-inch LCDs, and a resolution of 1,600 by 1,200 dpi will do nicely for most 20- and 21-inch models.

Contrast ratio. Contrast ratio is the difference between the brightest white and the darkest black an LCD can produce. Typically, the contrast ratio of high-end LCDs is between 350-to-1 and 600-to-1. Contrast ratios above 600-to-1 are worthless no matter what vendors say because they are invisible to the eye.

Brightness. Brightness is measured by the amount of light that comes from an LCD displaying white, and is expressed as candelas per square meter (cd/m2). Most LCDs emit brightness of at least 200 cd/m2, and high-end versions generally have a brightness level of 250 cd/m2, which is more than sufficient for most purposes. In contrast, most CRTs average about 100 cd/m2.

Viewing angle. With liquid crystal technology, brightness drops and color fades as you move from side to side of an LCD. For single viewers, this isn't generally a problem, but for several viewers trying to see the image on a large, 21- or 22-inch screen, it can be.

This problem doesn't exist with CRT technology.

To stay competitive, most LCD manufacturers have developed techniques for improving the horizontal and vertical viewing angles of their screens, generally to a maximum of 170 degrees either way.

Response time. Response time, measured in milliseconds, refers to the time it takes for each color pixel in an LCD to respond to the commands it receives from the display controller. High-end LCDs have shorter response times than less-expensive units, meaning that images can be changed faster and with less ghosting.

By now it should be apparent that no set of clear-cut rules should govern your choice between LCDs or CRTs. I recently made the transition from a 19-inch CRT to a 15-inch LCD screen and couldn't be happier with the switch. But I'm a writer, not a graphic artist or computer-aided design engineer, so some performance parameters aren't particularly obvious to me.

LCD manufacturers have made great strides in accurate color rendering, but they haven't yet caught up with CRT technology. Graphic artists or video editors seeking exquisite colors and superfine details may still want to trade desk space in favor of a high-end CRT.

But for desktop publishing tasks, where working with text and a limited number of graphics and photos is required, a large LCD would make most users quite happy.

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

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