LCD prices drop within reach

Eizo Nanao's L350 has a 15-inch screen, 1,024-by-768 resolution and can sit on the desk or be wallmounted. It's priced at $506.

Top: Samsung's SyncMaster 570v TFT has a 15-inch screen and 1,024-by-768 resolution, and works with Macs or PCs. It's priced at $310. Below: Viewsonic's VA800 has a 17.4-inch screen, 1,280-by-1,024 resolution and works with PCs and Macs. It's priced at $656.

LCD vs. CRT monitor is a much closer call these days

If you haven't taken LCD monitors seriously as an alternative to traditional CRT monitors, it's time to explore the possibility.

Two years ago the only people who got LCDs were those with enough clout to demand and get the latest tech toy.

The reason was pretty obvious. Year 2000 fever had just depleted everyone's budget so badly that we are still feeling it today, and a 15-inch LCD monitor then cost about $1,000. That was four to five times more than a CRT monitor that had a comparable viewing area and, in many ways, superior image quality.

Back then it was a real stretch to make a cost-of-ownership argument that an LCD monitor was no more expensive in the long run than a large, hot, power-hungry CRT monitor.

But today, choosing between LCD and CRT monitors is a much closer call, mostly because the price of a decent-quality LCD monitor has dropped dramatically.

An Environmental Protection Agency Web page looks at LCD's rising popularity. It quotes statistics from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory that about 740,000 flat-panel monitors are sold each year in the United States for home use and about 1.5 million for office use. The lab predicts those numbers to reach 3.6 million and 5.8 million, respectively, by the year 2005, an increase of 386 percent in residential and 287 percent in office use.

This means that, given the normally long time frame required for government purchases, LCD prices are likely to be considerably lower by the time the procurement process is complete, and you should factor that into any long-range planning. CRT monitor prices likely won't drop much'they're already inexpensive'but the production numbers for LCD monitors are still relatively low, and many manufacturing volume efficiencies are yet to be realized.

When comparing the numbers between types of monitors, the most important difference between CRTs and LCDs is diagonal measurement. A 15-inch LCD screen really has 15 usable inches of diagonal space, but it takes a 17-inch CRT screen to provide about the same viewable area.

The difference between 15-inch LCDs and 15-inch CRT monitors is dramatic, with between one-half and three-quarters of an inch at the outside of the tube being unusable.

But many monitor vendors advertise them based on the outside corner measurements of the picture tube rather than the actual viewable area. By contrast, an LCD panel can be made with 90-degree corners and used to the very edge.

A game of inches

A direct size comparison is easy between different flat-panel monitors. But that's not true either between different CRTs or between CRTs and flat-panels. While most CRT monitor vendors exaggerate their screen size, some exaggerate more than others.

A single inch is a much more important difference than it might seem. A true 15-inch diagonal LCD screen may have 25 percent more usable display area than some CRT screens advertised as 15-inch.

Dot pitch sizes aren't really comparable between CRTs and LCDs. The only real way to decide if one monitor is superior to another with similar specifications is by testing them.

The accompanying chart can narrow your choices, but only by seeing them side-by-side can you make a truly informed decision.

And, speaking of narrow, LCD monitors still have relatively narrow viewing angles. Many LCDs can be rotated from portrait to landscape, but horizontal and vertical viewing angles are often very different, so this might not be very useful.

The advantages of an LCD:
  • Small footprint to save desk space

  • Light weight makes them easy to move

  • Less glare than most CRT monitors

  • Less power consumption and lowered heat generation

  • No potentially harmful radiation

  • Smaller viewing angle to protect sensitive data.

The disadvantages:
  • Smaller viewing angle makes it difficult to share information

  • Inferior image and text resolution

  • More expensive

  • Any built-in speakers are tiny and of poor quality.

Graphs from the EPA comparing 17-inch and 19-inch CRTs to the same size LCD monitors can be found at:$File/LCDCosts.jpg.
To summarize the charts, the total electrical costs (air conditioning and monitor draw combined) for LCDs are about half that of CRTs. The EPA estimates the yearly cost difference to be only about $10 to $20, but over a five-year lifespan that can just about equal the difference in purchase price between a 15-inch LCD and a 17-inch CRT monitor.

John McCormick is a free-lance writer and computer consultant. E-mail him at [email protected].

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