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-- by Eileen McCooey
You can do a few simple tests to check out a monitor before you buy it, says Craig Sloss, EIZO Nanao's national sales and product marketing manager. "The image on a monitor should look as crisp and clear as good laser output on a sheet of white paper," says Sloss. Here are some tips for picking the right monitor and for making the most of it once you've got it home.
Line 'em Up. Optimize the contrast and brightness on each unit you're comparing, and make sure the resolution is set for normal use-typically 800x600 for a 15-inch monitor and 1024x768 for a 17-inch monitor. Fill the screen with rows of the same letter in as small a point size as discernible-say, uppercase H in a 7-point Arial. Hide the toolbars in your word processor to see the full screen.
See if the horizontal and vertical lines making up each letter are straight, and if the character rows spanning the screen form straight lines of equal thickness horizontally and vertically.
Inspect the focus at the screen's center and around its edges. On a good monitor, the characters in all areas of the screen will appear equally crisp, well-focused and sharp. Make sure the white background is clear and uniformly pure.
Quick Flicker Check. You can check a monitor for flicker by looking slightly above or to the side of the screen rather than head on. Your peripheral vision will be better able to detect any screen flicker. For the most accurate comparisons, try to test the monitors you're considering with the same video card at the same refresh rate.
Take Time to Reflect. All antiglare coatings are not created equal. Lower-quality coatings use coarse particles that diffuse light, as if you were looking through a frosted drinking glass. Turn the unit off and angle the screen so it faces a light source. Fuzzy reflected images indicate possible diffusion, which will also degrade screen images. Or hold a sheet of white paper with typewritten text in front of a screen and see if you can read the text clearly in the reflected image. A final test: Angle the screen up toward a fluorescent ceiling light. Better-quality antiglare coatings produce a deep bluish-purple reflection, while less-costly coatings will show a white light.
It's Healthy to Vent. Make sure you give your monitor breathing room. The components generate heat that will dissipate through the side and rear vents-unless they're blocked by a wall or a tight enclosure. Adequate airflow equals better performance and longer monitor life.
Give It a Rest. Users have long debated the wisdom of turning off systems and monitors between sessions. Sloss says you should give your monitor a break. It lets the components cool and reduces the likelihood of image burn-in. You'll also save energy.