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 1280×960 and you decreased it to 800×600, 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.

Gabriel Torres is a Brazilian best-selling ICT expert, with 24 books published. He started his online career in 1996, when he launched Clube do Hardware, which is one of the oldest and largest websites about technology in Brazil. He created Hardware Secrets in 1999 to expand his knowledge outside his home country.