Less is more

NEC-Mitsubishi's MultiSync LCD 1960NX-BK, priced at $728, has a 19-inch screen and auto-adjustment features.

Samsung's 19-inch 192MP has a 700:1 contrast ratio and is HDTV-ready; it's priced at $829.

19- and 20-inch LCDs are thin, light and loaded with features

If your computing workload consists mainly of word processing, with a daily dose of Web surfing or e-mail checks, the 15- or 17-inch LCD monitor that comes bundled with many PCs might be all you'll ever need.

But if your work encompasses desktop publishing, serious spreadsheet development, graphics or full-motion video, you should check out a 19- or 20-inch LCD.

Why a liquid crystal display? While cathode ray tubes are durable and relatively inexpensive, LCDs offer sharp, clear images in a much slimmer and lighter format. They also consume about 60 percent less power. Best of all, prices for 20-inch and under models are beginning to drop significantly.

LCDs with 19- or 20-inch diagonal screens offer plenty of room for viewing fonts and icons as well as a larger area for high-resolution display. Professionals especially like having more space to display open windows, as well as the ability to view two full-size pages of text on one screen.

Big price spread

Because the price spread for models in the accompanying chart is considerable'from $525 to more than $1,700'it's fair to ask which will give you the most bang for the buck.

If you're budget-conscious and your requirements involve typical office tasks plus the occasional use of high-end digital peripherals such as DVD drives, scanners and video cameras, you'll likely be happy with just about any display in this guide.

Keep the following criteria in mind when shopping for an LCD monitor.

Native resolution. LCDs are fixed-matrix displays that show an exact number of pixels, such as 1,280 horizontally by 1,024 vertically. Native resolution is the optimized resolution, at which images show most clearly.
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Contrast ratio. Contrast ratio measures the difference between the brightest white and the blackest black. While many vendors boast of contrast ratios as high as 700:1, the naked human eye can't see a ratio of more than 600:1. In fact, contrast ratios of 300:1 or 400:1 are perfectly adequate in most cases.

Brightness. Monitor brightness, or luminance, is measured in candelas per meter squared (cd/m2). LCD brightness of at least 200cd/m2 is desirable; all but one of the displays in the chart offer a brightness of at least 250cd/m2. As with contrast ratio, brightness must be measured in conjunction with other factors to be meaningful.

Response time. Response time is measured in milliseconds and, in the case of LCDs, refers to the time it takes each liquid crystal in the display to twist and untwist in response to directions from the display controller. If you're using full-motion video, look for an LCD with a response time of 25 milliseconds (ms) or less.

Aspect ratio. This is the ratio of a display's width to its height. Typical PC monitors have a 4:3 ratio, where the width is slightly greater than the height. Some newer LCD displays offer an aspect ratio of 16:9 or 16:10, designed for viewing movies or HDTV in wide format. While HDTV has a 16:9 aspect ratio, a 16:10 ratio is better for computer display because it lets you display two full pages side-by-side.

Viewing angle. Historically, off-angle viewing has been a problem because of the flat design of LCD screens. LCD manufacturers have compensated for viewing angle problems with technologies such as light dispersion films, to deliver viewing angles of 170 degrees or more.

Power management. Monitors that incorporate power management capabilities can reduce energy costs by more than 40 percent, saving users a significant amount of money over the life of the product. These monitors can shift to low power consumption when not in use. Standby or sleep modes can save up to two-thirds of energy costs while monitors are idling.

Analog/digital video input. The ability to provide dual analog/digital video input is a singular benefit of the LCDs in this guide. Because CRT monitors work via analog input, video or graphics cards have been necessary to translate digital signals from the computer into analog signals that can be used by the CRT.

Unlike CRTs, LCD monitors are digital and permit a direct connection to the computer. But to provide compatibility with legacy graphics cards and computer systems, many of which do not provide a digital output, most LCD monitors still use analog 15-pin mini D-sub connectors along with Digital Video Interface connectors. Virtually all new LCD monitors have one of two types of DVD connectors: DVI-D (digital only) and DVI-I (digital or analog).

USB and FireWire. Some high-end LCDs feature fast Universal Serial Bus or IEEE 1394 FireWire connectors that connect peripherals such as keyboards, mice, optical drives, scanners, joysticks or digital cameras. When the LCD is plugged into the host computer, a long list of extra features becomes available.

Ergonomics. For the best fit of form and function, you simply can't beat an LCD. A slim, lightweight LCD can fit neatly on a corner of your desk and easily be moved on its lightweight stand. With wall or arm mounting options, you can free your desktop space entirely and put the display wherever you want it.

J.B. Miles writes from Honomu, Hawaii. E-mail him at jbmiles@starband.net.

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