Ken Colburn: When it comes to buying a new display for your computer, there are both technical and nontechnical considerations that are pretty important.
Q. Buying a new liquid-crystal display monitor for my computer is getting very confusing with all the connectors and specs that get thrown at me. What should I be looking at to comparison-shop? - Adam
A. When it comes to buying a new display for your computer, there are both technical and nontechnical considerations that are pretty important.
The first is your desk space, especially the height of the monitor if it must fit under a shelf or cabinet. So be sure to measure your space to start.
The next nontechnical consideration is viewing angle. Some cheaper displays can have a small viewing "sweet spot," which means that colors and contrast can get washed out as your viewing angle changes. This is especially important for anyone who will use the display for presentation purposes or for those who like to gather a group around the computer to view Internet or other video content.
Make sure to also check how flexible the adjustments are for the stand (swivel, tilt and height).
Display Size and Shape
From a technical perspective, start by deciding whether you want an older 4-by-3 (square) aspect ratio or a newer 16-by-9 (widescreen) aspect ratio display. If your computer is more than 4 to 5 years old, it might not have a video card that is capable of supporting a widescreen display in its "native" resolution, which can cause degradation in the quality of what is displayed.
The newer widescreen displays are optimized to display today's video content in its proper resolution (no stretching or cramming of images into the older square resolutions) and can allow side-by-side displays of documents on larger displays. They're also better at displaying "widgets" that are common with Windows Vista and Windows 7 (via the sidebar) without crowding the rest of the screen.
Some widescreen displays are designed to pivot from landscape to portrait mode, which is excellent for those doing page layout work in documents or graphics programs.
This spec is important but has been completely overblown by many manufacturers as a marketing tool. Contrast ratio refers to the difference between the whites and blacks in the display, with the higher the ratio the better.
Look for contrast ratios in the 400-to-1 to 600-to-1 range, as anything above that is likely difficult to perceive and may be overstated (for reference purposes, a movie theater display is generally 500-to-1). And ignore any spec that is called "Dynamic Contrast Ratio."
If you plan on using the display for computer content and want to view BluRay DVDs at their full resolution, then you will need a display with at least a 1,920-by-1,080 resolution (typically 23-inch to 24-inch-wide screens).
With resolution, however, bigger is not always better for those with older eyes. The higher the resolution, the smaller everything on the screen will become. Make sure you view Internet content in the native resolution of any display that you plan to purchase to ensure that the text isn't going to be too small to read comfortably.
You can make some adjustments to text size in both the browser and the operating system display settings, but stepping down to a resolution that is below the "native" setting will usually result in jagged edges on images and text. So don't over-buy on resolution.
In the old days, the connector was the connector (15-pin SVGA), but today there are several options worth your consideration.
The first is DVI (Digital Visual Interface), which is a common way to connect high-resolution video cards for gaming, video or photo editing. Even if you don't own a computer with a DVI output, you likely will in the future, so this one is generally worth paying extra for.
For those with very high-performance needs, the HDMI (High-Definition, Multimedia Interface) connector will allow you to directly connect home theater sources as well as the latest in very high-performance gaming video cards and keep up with these uncompressed digital signals.
At the end of the day, looking at the display will go a long way to helping you determine if the display is the right one for you, so don't overthink this purchase!
Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and host of the "Computer Corner" radio show, which can be heard at noon Saturdays on KTAR (92.3 FM) or at www.datadoctors.com/radio. Readers may send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.