Bright and Glossy Notebook Screens, Part 1

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Are bright, high-gloss notebook screens harder on your eyes than conventional, matte-finish notebook LCDs?

I'll answer that question in a minute. First, a little background.

In Praise of Glossy Screens

The new generation of bright, glossy notebook screens began appearing in 2003. Compared to traditional anti-glare, matte-finish LCD screens, high-gloss screens have a higher contrast ratio. They're noticeably brighter and produce crisper, more vibrant images. And they can be more easily viewed from the sides.

Today, bright, high-gloss screens are found on notebooks from Apple, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Sony, Toshiba, and others. Each computer manufacturer uses a different marketing name for its bright screen technology. For example, Sony calls its high-gloss screens "Xbrite"; HP's is called "BrightView"; Toshiba's is named "TruBright," and so on.

I've owned two notebooks with bright, high-gloss screens: HP's dv1000 and more recently, Sony's Vaio VGN-TXN19P ultraportable. I love the crispness, brightness, and clarity of these notebook screens. You can't beat them for making an impression on others. My partner and I gave a business presentation to a potential client using the HP notebook. The client raved about the screen and, I believe, paid a little more attention to the presentation as a result.

Unlike matte-finish screens, you can read bright, high-gloss screens fairly well in direct sunlight. I spent several hours on a recent warm, sunny afternoon, working on my Sony Vaio notebook at an outdoor cafe. If you've got to work, that's the way to go.

But these screens certainly have their detractors. For example, Deborah Hovey of Fredericksburg, Virginia, writes that the "annoying reflection" on her high-gloss screen is "painfully distracting." Deborah adds: "I've even been using my old laptop rather then breaking the new one (with the high-gloss screen) out!" Deborah's e-mail was similar to others I've received from readers complaining about the glare and reflection.

But Are They Good for You?

So the inevitable question arises: Do bright, high-gloss screens put more strain on your eyes than traditional LCDs because of the glare and reflection?

When asked this question, Thomas L. Steinemann, doctor of Cornea and External Eye Disease for MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland, responded he was "not aware of anything different" regarding the impact on vision of high-gloss screens compared to traditional LCDs. Previous studies on the impact on vision from computer screens have failed to show any danger, he added.

Most eye-related problems associated with computers have to do with how screens are used, rather than the screens themselves, Steinemann wrote. For instance, improper height and positioning of a monitor, or reading fonts that are too small, can cause eye discomfort. Also, many people blink less and stare more when viewing a computer screen, he added, resulting in dry eyes. The solution is "frequent breaks and use of artificial tears."

A recent Harvard Medical School newsletter about eye care from had this to say about computer use: "Although using a computer will not harm your eyes, staring at a computer screen all day will contribute to eyestrain or tired eyes. Adjust lighting so that it does not create a glare or harsh reflection on the screen. Also, when you're working on a computer...it's a good idea to rest your eyes briefly every hour or so to lessen eye fatigue."

Next week: A guide to the top notebooks with bright, glossy screens, plus tips for making those screens more comfortable to view.

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