Everything You Need To Know About LCD Monitors
By Gabriel Torres on July 22, 2008
Liquid-crystal displays (LCD), in the past restricted to notebooks, are now a reality for desktops. The three greatest advantages of this type of video monitor compared to traditional tube-based monitors (a.k.a. CRT, Cathode Ray Tube) are the use of less space on the desk (especially 17" models or bigger), less power consumption and 100% flicker-free, even with a refresh rate of only 60 frames per second (60 Hz). In this tutorial we will explain everything you need to know to make the right choice when buying a new LCD monitor.
The most important thing you need to know about LCD technology is that LCD panels have a fixed resolution. This resolution is called “native resolution,” “maximum resolution” or simply “resolution” and you must configure your desktop to that resolution, otherwise three things can happen, depending on the model of your monitor:
1. The image won’t be “sharp;” it will be blurred. You will see lots of squared areas, without any definition.
2. The monitor will centralize the image in the new resolution, reducing the image size and inserting a black frame around the image. For instance, if your LCD native resolution is 1280x960 and you decreased it to 800x600, this means there are 480 pixels left horizontally (1280 - 800) and 360 pixels left vertically (960 - 600). The image will be centralized and there will be 240 black pixels above and below the image and 180 blank pixels on the sides of the image.
3. The monitor will try to stretch the image in order to not show the black area around of the image, filling the whole screen. This is done through a technique called interpolation, which isn’t 100% perfect and thus you will feel that the image has better quality (definition) when the screen is configured at its native resolution, even though the elements on the screen (e.g., icons, letters, etc) will be smaller. In general you will feel that the image is slightly out of focus (blurred) when the monitor is not configured in its native resolution.
Because of this inherent characteristic of LCD panels you will have to choose an LCD monitor that has a resolution that you are comfortable with. The higher resolution isn’t always the better. With higher resolutions you have more space on your screen (in other words, more stuff will fit the screen at the same time) but icons and letters will be smaller. So for the average user a monitor with a higher resolution doesn’t always translate into a better product, it will largely depend on the application. If you only use your computer to browse the internet, write e-mails, use spreadsheets and word processing you will probably want to stick with a monitor with a lower resolution, because they are cheaper and won’t make your icons and letters to become very small. But if you run professional applications like video and image editing, then you will probably want a monitor with higher resolution and screen size.
If you are a gamer, you must buy a monitor that matches the resolution you want to play, otherwise the game will look like “blurred.” In other words, configure your game to run at the display’s native (i.e., maximum) resolution. All gamers know that when you increase the game resolution the performance lowers (because there will be more pixels to be drawn on the screen). If your game is running too slow, that means it is time to upgrade your video card. You can decrease the game resolution but, as we are explaining, you will hurt image quality.
Screen size – which is the screen size measured diagonally in inches – has nothing to do with resolution. I.e. a bigger screen does not guarantee a higher resolution. In fact, it is very common to see big LCD monitors with resolutions that are lower than the ones used by smaller units. If you see a big monitor being sold cheaper than a smaller display you can bet that the smaller unit has a higher resolution that the big display. This doesn’t mean that the smaller display is better than the bigger one; it will depend on the application. People looking for more space on the screen (e.g., image and video editing) will prefer a monitor with higher resolution (even if it is a “small” monitor) while “normal” users may want to enjoy a bigger screen at a lower resolution, since the lower resolution will keep the icons and letters at a good size. Of course the “lower” resolution here is in comparison with the “higher” resolution used by the other displays.
It is always worth mentioning that you can increase the size of the icons and letters on Windows’ Control Panel.
Aspect Ratio is the ratio between the horizontal and the vertical sides of the monitor. CRT monitors and the first (and cheaper) LCD monitors have a 4:3 (i.e., 1.33) aspect ratio, meaning that the horizontal side has a length that is 1.33 (4:3) times the vertical side, and that the vertical side has a length that is 0.75 (3:4) times the horizontal side. Currently “widescreen” aspect ratios are becoming more popular, with 16:9 or 16:10 aspect ratios.
In the table below we list the most common aspect ratios and the most common resolutions for several aspect ratios. Monitors with different aspect ratios can usually at resolutions from other aspect ratios by adapting them.
15:9, 5:3 (1.66)
On this page we will explain the main features found on LCD video monitors and how to interpret them: