The Sweet Spot

I’ve been playing around with microcomputers for close to 35 years now. One of the biggest changes I’ve seen in that time is in the video display. When I started with a VIC-20 back in 1982 the display resolution was (wait for it) a dazzling 128X128 pixels. Feed that into an old 20 inch color TV as I did back then and you’ll have the very definition of blocky and fuzzy graphics.

Of course by the time I arrived in the Windows desktop environment in the mid 90s and got online, I was using a dedicated 14 inch monitor with a 640X480 resolution and I thought I was really in business. You could read email and everything – Zowie!

Fast forward to 2001 and I had reached the “sweet spot” of Cathode Ray Tube monitor technology – 17 inches and a respectable 1024X768 pixel resolution. This gave a decent display that I used for probably 7 more years and I was happy. Anything bigger than that in a CRT was heavy and bulky and took up the entire desktop.

By the time I was ready for another computer upgrade, flat screens were really in and I got a similar 17 inch display in a 5:4 aspect ratio. I believe the resolution was 1280X1024. This may not sound like much but it had 80 times as many pixels as my VIC-20 put on screen in 1982. The graphics card had to be a lot better.

Shortly after I got the 17 inch flat screen HDTV became a mainstream item and even computer monitors changed to reflect the now standard 16:9 aspect ratio and 1920X1080 pixel resolution. I have standardized on this widesceen monitor for a while now as in my view it is the new “sweet spot” for computer monitors. 1920X1080 looks good on a big TV, so up close it is fine on any monitor up to 24 inches. A 24 inch monitor gives me an eyemax view, and unless you have a really boffo graphics card you aren’t about to do any 3D gaming full screen at higher than 1080p.

Just because a monitor isn’t getting larger or more hi-res doesn’t mean it can’t get better though. Technology has made today’s displays lighter and thinner – more picture, less monitor. The better ones today are called IPS – in-plane-switching. An IPS monitor gives brighter and more accurate color as well as much better viewing angles. You don’t see a color washout if you view the display from anywhere except straight on. IPS can compete with the best of the old fashioned CRT monitors when it comes to color fidelity.

IPS had two disadvantages when it originally came out. It was far more expensive than the basic TN panel of usual consumer experience, and it was slower to respond to changes in display color. Technology has reduced the response gap somewhat. And economies of scale have dropped the prices to the point where if you get a good deal, IPS is almost competitive with TN.

The other day I was in Costco and I saw a very good deal on the LG IPS monitor pictured above. I brought one home and it really is a beautiful thing – sharp, bright, colorful and no fading if you change your view angle a bit. It certainly knocks the socks off my VIC-20.


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