A 1, 2, 3 for your LCD

Windows users often lust after those cool, space-saving, flat-panel LCD screens. But many of us shrink back from buying them because of their higher cost compared with traditional CRT monitors.

Windows users often lust after those cool, space-saving, flat-panel LCD screens. But many of us shrink back from buying them because of their higher cost compared with traditional CRT monitors.

LCD screens are quickly becoming mainstream now as prices have fallen precipitously during the past year. Especially in the 15 inch varieties, prices as low as $US400 per screen are now common.

This presents a challenge as well as an opportunity for users of graphical operating systems such as Windows. If you're going to be looking at one of these things for eight hours a day or more, you want to know you're getting a sharp image. Furthermore, you want to be able to tune the picture to take full advantage of your device's optimum resolution, contrast, and other settings.

Today's affordable LCDs, however, suffer from the inevitable comparison with the screens we see everywhere in laptop computers. Laptop screens tend to be sharp because they're completely digital and are tuned to the particular characteristics of the video subsystem in each portable computer. By contrast, many stand-alone LCDs are designed to convert the analogue signal coming out of a desktop computer's video board into the digital display you see before you on the flat panel.

This can lead to a disappointing experience in some cases. Even on highly rated LCD models with numerous on-board control buttons I've found that it can be difficult or impossible to achieve the sharpest display possible merely by adjusting the controls manually.

Into this picture, so to speak, enters DisplayMate for Windows, a utility long favoured by PC testers and savvy systems administrators everywhere. The new generation of low-cost LCDs is ideal for trying out DisplayMate to see how much it can improve the image quality of even a bottom-dollar device.

Ray Soneira, the president of Amherst, New Hampshire-based DisplayMate Technologies, says that LCDs have a quality called "phase" that's hard to adjust manually and can impair a screen's readability. He also says he's seen many LCDs that vary in their optimum display settings from the morning to the afternoon of the same day.

In my upcoming columns, I'll run through a number of secrets that you should know so you can get the best out of your flat-panel displays. I hope you'll find this helpful whether you already own tons of LCDs or just might acquire some in the future.

If you'd like to follow along, you can visit www.displaymate.com and pick up a copy of the utility for yourself. The basic edition costs $US79 (or $US69 if you download it), and advanced editions cost more.

And if you have your own LCD experiences, please email me so I can add them to the mix.

Brian Livingston's latest book is Windows Me Secrets. Send tips to tips@brianlivingston.com.

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