The Wide World of Monitors

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More of the Big Picture

Standard vs. wide screen: Take a step back--will a wider screen necessarily give you more for your money? Connery suggests a relatively simple calculation aid to figure out your bang for the buck. "A 20-inch monitor with a standard 4:3 ratio and a native resolution of 1600 by 1200 has around 1.92 million pixels [and can be found for as low as $180]. But 20-inch wide-screen LCDs with a 1680 by 1050 native resolution [start at around $200] and display about 1.76 million pixels," he concludes. Using those prices, the 20-inch monitor with a 4:3 ratio has the better price per pixel.

But the productivity benefits of a wide-screen unit can't be underestimated. You can open two documents or Web pages side by side, and better manage large spreadsheets or apps with floating toolbars. Wide screens are appealing for watching movies without black bars at the top and bottom, too.

LCDs get a wider color palette: Traditionally, graphics pros have preferred CRT monitors, partly due to their ability to represent up to about 85 percent of the NTSC color space (the main benchmark for color matching between things such as the printed page and electronic displays). Most flat-panels, on the other hand, have managed only about a 72 percent color representation.

Two major advancements in LCD technology are changing such color-gamut limitations. First, the standard backlights used for LCDs, called CCFLs (cold cathode fluorescent lights), have seen improvements; many vendors have been implementing new CCFLs that can allow for a 92 percent color representation.

Second, other backlight sources such as colored LEDs (light-emitting diodes) are being explored as alternative backlights for desktop monitors. The use of RGB (red, green, blue) LEDs as a backlight source can improve the color representation to about 125 percent of the NTSC color standard. Wide-color-gamut displays are already available and include Dell's 27-inch UltraSharp 2707WFP and NEC's 25.5-inch viewable MultiSync LCD2690WUXi. A handful of RGB-LED-backlit monitors have also begun to appear, but color-matching the hundreds of RGB LEDs is still costly and labor-intensive, keeping prices for such displays quite high.

Meanwhile, Sony has released an 11.1-inch OLED (organic light-emitting diode) LCD TV in Japan, but Connery tells us that we aren't likely to see large-volume production of desktop LCD monitors with the technology for another four to five years, mostly because of their high cost of manufacture.

Something to look forward to in the more immediate future: Dell's $1199 Crystal display, an innovatively designed 22-inch wide screen with capacitive touch controls, an integrated Webcam and microphone, and speakers built into its 4mm ultraclear tempered glass. The Crystal is set to be unveiled in January at the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show.

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