What Matters When Shopping for an LCD Display?

Answered by Jay Nelson, Editor and Publisher, Design Tools Monthly

Each time our company goes to buy a new LCD display, we're confused by the broad range of "specifications". What really matters when comparing displays?

When shopping for a new display, here are some issues to consider:

First, almost all manufacturers ship their displays with the blues, reds and brightness set too high, to make them stand out in a retail store environment. If you don't calibrate them, they'll look wrong forever. At the very least, invest in an $89 Huey Pro from Pantone, which you can share among several displays. (See my previous Q&A for details on that.)

Viewing Angle
The claimed "viewing angle" (which is almost always 160—170 degrees) is defined as the angle where the contrast ratio drops below 5:1 or 10:1, depending on the manufacturer. This makes the number meaningless. You'll need to examine the display yourself, or rely on a respected reviewer, if you need to view the display from an extreme angle.

Response Time
A response time of 10ms (milliseconds) or less will show smooth motion. Higher than 20ms may show smearing. Almost all recent displays have a response time of 10ms or less.

Size vs. Resolution
Size isn't necessarily related to resolution. Resolution determines the amount of data you'll be able to see on screen. Size determines how large that data appears to you. For example, all 17-inch and 19-inch displays show 1280 x 1024 pixels -- the pixels are just bigger on the 19-inch displays. Similarly, all 20, 21 and 22-inch displays show 1,600 x 1,200 pixels. Again, the pixels are bigger on the bigger displays. ("Widescreen" models have different pixel counts, but the same concept applies.)

A larger display in the same pixel range is important for people who have less than perfect vision, or who simply want to see the user interface elements at a larger size. Menus, palettes, and even the cursor is bigger on a 22-inch display than on a 20-inch display. This may translate to less fatigue and greater efficiency for the user.

If it were up to me, I would go for the largest display in the pixel range that shows as much of the interface as you need for the most common tasks to be performed. While there are plenty of sources for buying displays, over time I've found that Dell's website has a good selection of the highest quality and lowest priced displays available. They don't carry every model in a company's product line — just the ones they think are best. This makes choosing a particular model much easier.


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