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All About Monitors

When shopping for a new computer system, we tend to fret over such things as the CPU speed or hard disk size, but what about the one component of your system that is used just as much? Of course we're talking about the monitor. Often referred to as a display screen, a video display terminal (VDT) or visual display unit (VDU), the monitor is the component of your computer system that displays the messages and data being processed and utilized by the computer's CPU.

The two types of monitor technologies available to consumers are available in CRT monitors and LCD monitors. There are big differences between LCD and CRT, and while LCD technology has advanced to the point where its viewing quality is comparable to CRTs, many people today still choose to purchase a CRT monitor. CRTs are bigger and bulkier than an LCD, they consume more power and are prone to screen flicker. LCD monitors, however, are more expensive when compared to CRTs, they introduce the problem of viewing angles, and generally have less accurate color replication.

Each type of monitor, as you can see, has its advantages and disadvantage. In this article we will provide a comparison of CRT and LCD monitors, along with defining some of the many specifications and terminology you should be aware as you decide between an LCD and CRT monitor.

CRT Monitor LCD Monitor
[Sample Images from Comp USA]

CRT Monitors
Sort for
cathode-ray tubes, CRT monitors were the only choice consumers had for monitor technology for many years. Cathode ray tube (CRT) technology has been in use for more than 100 years, and is found in most televisions and computer monitors. A CRT works by moving an electron beam back and forth across the back of the screen. Each time the beam makes a pass across the screen, it lights up phosphor dots on the inside of the glass tube, thereby illuminating the active portions of the screen. By drawing many such lines from the top to the bottom of the screen, it creates an entire screen of images.

LCD/Flat panel Monitors
Short for liquid crystal display, LCD technology can be found in digital watches and computer monitors. LCD displays use two sheets of polarizing material with a liquid crystal solution between them. An electric current passed through the liquid causes the crystals to align so that light cannot pass through them. Each crystal, therefore, is like a shutter, either allowing light to pass through or blocking the light. Color LCD displays use two basic techniques for producing color: Passive matrix is the less expensive of the two technologies. The other technology, called thin film transistor (TFT) or active-matrix, produces color images that are as sharp as traditional CRT displays, but the technology is expensive.

CRT vs. LCD - The Pros and Cons of Each

Resolution & Viewing Quality
Resolution on a CRT is flexible and a newer model will provide you with viewing resolutions of up to 1600 by 1200 and higher, whereas on an LCD the resolution is fixed within each monitor (called a native resolution). The resolution on an LCD can be changed, but if you're running it at a resolution other than its native resolution you will notice a drop in performance or quality.

Both types of monitors (newer models) provide bright and vibrant color display. However, LCDs cannot display the maximum color range that a CRT can. In terms of image sharpness, when an LCD is running at its native resolution the picture quality is perfectly sharp. On a CRT the sharpness of the picture can be blemished by soft edges or a flawed focus.

A CRT monitor can be viewed from almost any angle, but with an LCD this is often a problem. When you use an LCD, your view changes as you move different angles and distances away from the monitor. At some odd angles, you may notice the picture fade, and possibly look as if it will disappear from view.

Refresh Rate
Some users of a CRT may notice a bit of an annoying flicker, which is an inherent trait based on a CRTs physical components. Today's graphics cards, however, can provide a high refresh rate signal to the CRT to get rid of this otherwise annoying problem. LCDs are flicker-free and as such the refresh rate isn't an important issue with LCDs.

Dot Pitch
Dot pitch refers to the space between the pixels that make up the images on your screen, and is measured in millimeters. The less space between pixels, the better the image quality. On either type of monitor, smaller dot pitch is better and you're going to want to look at something in the 0.26 mm dot pitch or smaller range.

Screen (viewable) Size
Most people today tend to look at a 17-inch CRT or bigger monitor. When you purchase a 17-inch CRT monitor, you usually get 16.1 inches or a bit more of actual viewing area, depending on the brand and manufacturer of a specific CRT. The difference between the "monitor size" and the "view area" is due to the large bulky frame of a CRT. If you purchase a 17" LCD monitor, you actually get a full 17" viewable area, or very close to a 17".

Physical Size
There is no denying that an LCD wins in terms of its physical size and the space it needs. CRT monitors are big, bulky and heavy. They are not a good choice if you're working with limited desk space, or need to move the monitor around (for some odd reason) between computers. An LCD on the other hand is small, compact and lightweight. LCDs are thin, take up far less space and are easy to move around. An average 17-inch CRT monitor could be upwards of 40 pounds, while a 17&-inch LCD would weigh in at around 15 pounds.

As an individual one-time purchase an LCD monitor is going to be more expensive. Throughout a lifetime, however, LCDs are cheaper as they are known to have a longer lifespan and also a lower power consumption. The cost of both technologies have come down over the past few years, and LCDs are reaching a point where smaller monitors are within many consumers' price range. You will pay more for a 17" LCD compared to a 17" CRT, but since the CRT's actual viewing size is smaller, it does bring the question of price back into proportion.

Below is a price comparison chart based on similar 17" and 19" LCD and CRT monitors (prices accurate as of February 2005).

Acer Value Line Size Standard Features Price  - USD
Acer AL1511 LCD 15.0" (15" Viewable Area) 1024 x 768 native
View Angle (H/V): 140/125 degrees
Acer AC711 CRT 17" (16.1" Viewable Area) 1024 x 768 @ 85Hz
0.27mm dot pitch
Acer AL1714 LCD 17.0" (17.0" Viewable Area) 1280 x 1024 native
View Angle (H/V): 160/120 degrees
Samsung Syncmaster  17" Size Standard Features Price  - USD
Samsung Syncmaster 750S CRT 17" (16" Viewable Area) 1280x1024 @ 65Hz
Dot Pitch: 0.23mm
Samsung SyncMaster 173P LCD 17" (17" Viewable Area 1280x1024 Native resolution
View Angle (H/V): 178/178 degrees
Samsung SyncMaster 19" Size Standard Features Price  - USD
Samsung SyncMaster 950B CRT 19" (18" Viewable Area) 1600x1200 @ 68Hz
0.22mm dot pitch
Samsung SyncMaster 910T LCD 19" (19" Viewable Area) 1280 x 1024 Native resolution
View Angle (H/V): 170/170 degrees

Did You Know...
In 2004 it is estimated that 50 percent of LCD monitor sales were for 17-inch models,
 while previously the big seller, 15-inch LCD, sales dropped to 33.5 percent
[Source: DisplaySearch]

Related Links

The Principles of LCD Technology
In this selection everything from the properties of liquid crystal molecules to the basic principle of display technology is explained.

Understanding CRT Monitor Specifications
From, this article explains what to Look for When Buying a CRT Monitor.

WorkstationPlanet: Display Decisions: LCD or CRT?
Flat Panels Rule Workstation users don't care much about aesthetics, so the fact that LCDs are prettier and take up less desk space than CRTs does not impress them. Falling prices and increased performance, however, are making LCD panels increasingly popular among workstation users.

HardwareCentral: LCD Monitors Go Mainstream
While flat-panel monitors have been on the market for years -- originally adopted by Wall Street traders who wanted to squeeze multiple screens onto small desks -- recent technology and production enhancements, along with commensurately lower prices, have made them an increasingly attractive option for many businesses.

ERGO In Demand
Follow the steps in this guide to learn how to use your monitor ergonomically

Small Business Computing: Samsung SyncMaster 192N Review
If longing looks, comments, and inquiries from fellow workers walking past the Labs, Weather, & Sports Desk are any indication, Samsung has a winner in its new SyncMaster 192N.

Webopedia's Did You Know...
Find out all about Northern vs. Southern Hemisphere Monitors


Vangie 'Aurora' Beal
Last updated: Feb. 18, 2005

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