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Monitor Woes

I decided to finally replace the ageing CRT monitor of my desktop PC, after having repeatedly put it off over the last few years. This CRT monitor, a 17" Samsung Samtron 75E, had served me remarkably well for over 11 years. When its display started to blur and intermittently turn yellow (cured by a hard whack on its side), despite a couple of repairs that seemed to initially fix the issues, I knew it was time to say good-bye to it. Since it is nearly impossible to buy a CRT monitor these days, I set out to buy an LCD monitor. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be an affordable LCD monitor good enough to replace my old CRT monitor and I had to ultimately settle for a less-than-perfect replacement LCD monitor.

LCD monitors are an instance of technological progress giving us something that isn't better than what it replaces (CRT monitors) in all aspects and yet that has won because most people just don't care. (Solid-state drives seem to be doing the same to hard-disc drives.) They will no doubt eventually improve and the improvements will surely become affordable over time, but in the interim we are left with something that isn't a perfect replacement and that is a disappointment for those of us who do care.

I like LCD monitors for their slim profiles and light weight compared to CRT monitors. I like them for their pixel-perfect displays, greater viewing-area for the same diagonal-size and generally lower power-consumption. Their DVI-D and other digital input ports allow for more accurate display of images compared to analogue VGA input ports in CRT monitors. However I don't like the bad colour-reproduction capabilities of the affordable LCD monitors based on Twisted Nematic (TN) panels and the quite noticeable degradation in display-quality as you look at them from a little to the side or above (i.e. not perfectly orthogonal to the plane of the panel). LCD monitors based on In Plane Switching (IPS) panels seem to be much better at colour-reproduction, but are not quite affordable yet. (If you want to know more about the technology behind LCD panels, read the excellent articles on this topic available from TFT Central.) I particularly do not like the red-blue colour-bleeding that I see when sub-pixel hinting of text (known as ClearType in the Windows world) is enabled with  LCD monitors, whether it is Windows or Linux.

Another disturbing development is the near-universal trend towards bigger wide-screen monitors, that too with a 16:9 aspect-ratio and a "Full HD" resolution of 1920x1080, coupled with decreasing pixels-per-inch (PPI) as the same or lower resolution is spread over a greater display-area. This trend truly baffles me - it is as if all that people do (or seem to care about) on their computers is watch films. A 16:9 aspect-ratio is too narrow for almost every other purpose, be it browsing the web or writing document or reading e-mails. For a given diagonal-size, this aspect-ratio provides the least viewable area among the commonly-seen aspect-ratios (calculate it yourself if you don't believe me). Seen another way it provides the least vertical space for a given horizontal size of the display area. For example, given a horizontal resolution of 1280 pixels, you get a vertical resolution of 1024 with 5:4, 960 with 4:3, 800 with 16:10, 768 with 5:3 and 720 with 16:9. I personally prefer 4:3, though I admit that 16:10 is useful in some coding and system-administration scenarios. The decreased PPI makes text less sharp and therefore more tedious to read.

I set out to buy an affordable 17" LCD monitor with a 4:3 or 5:4 aspect-ratio (known among the vendors here as a "square" monitor), a DVI-D port for video-input and a decent PPI. This turned out to be surprisingly difficult and a frustrating exercise spread over three weeks. Despite the claims on vendors' web-sites, when it comes to affordable LCD monitors the vendors in Bangalore seem to only have 16:9 aspect-ratio monitors, that too with only VGA input ports. 17" seems to be a thing of the past. Only Dell India seems to still sell a 5:4 aspect-ratio 19" LCD monitor (the Dell P190S) that meets my criteria, though I would have preferred its now-discontinued 17" brother, the Dell P170S, which provides the same resolution in a smaller display-area and therefore a slightly higher PPI.

So this is the monitor that I ended up buying. It claims to be able to show 16.7 million colours, though I find the colour-reproduction less than satisfactory (but not very bad) when compared to my Samsung Samtron 75E. The picture is as sharp as I expected and the monitor frees up a lot of space on my desk. I was able to find a vendor willing to buy my old CRT monitor for a small price, freeing me from the worry of disposing it off.

This LCD monitor would do until the time technology makes better monitors more affordable.

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