LCD monitors

from Technology & Learning

LCD flat panels are the choice of fashioned-minded IT managers, but there are practical reasons to go flat as well.

LCD monitor prices have dropped dramatically as sales have increased, making them closer in cost to old-fashioned, boxy CRTs. But are LCDs really good enough to justify paying a higher price? T&L decided to get to the bottom of the flat-screen debate.

1. The Advantages of LCDs

Compared to CRTs, LCD flat panel monitors require far less desk space, especially when it comes to depth. This means that more workstations can be put into the same space, since the depth requirement per row is reduced.

The magnetic radiation emitted by CRTs forces school districts to maintain a 15-inch distance between the back of these units and students. "In contrast, LCD monitors have no radiation emission, so there's no reason to maintain this spacing," says Robin McNaughton, manager of computer services for the Niagara Catholic District School Board in Ontario, Canada, which recently purchased 400 NEC 17-inch flat panel monitors.

Then there's the issue of electricity consumption: LCDs consume far less power than CRTs. About 50 percent less, in fact. "Theoretically, a 17-inch LCD monitor should use up to 60 percent less power than a comparable CRT," says Bernie Goldchuk, NCDSB's computer technician.

But the savings don't stop there. "If you go into a classroom full of CRTs on a warm day, chances are the classroom will be hot," says McNaughton . "That heat comes from the CRTs themselves; they put out three times as much heat as the actual computer boxes. The problem is that you have to remove this heat through air conditioning, which adds to your electricity costs. LCDs can save you that money."

2. What's the Difference Between LCD and CRT?

LCDs, or liquid crystal displays, are made up of incredibly tiny crystals, each the size of a monitor's display pixel. Each crystal is divided into separate red, green, and blue "sub-pixels." A picture is created by turning on a flourescent light source in the back of the display, which feeds its light into a piece of polarized glass. CRTs (cathode ray tubes) require depth to house their picture tubes, requiring a considerable amount of power.

3. How Big is Big Enough?

Naturally, the bigger the display area, the greater the cost. So how big is big enough? Though the price gap between 17-inch and 19-inch is on the decline, "these days, 17-inch seems to be the norm, with a resolution of 800 by 600. We have found that this size serves our entire base of students from K to grade 12," McNaughton says.

4. What Should I Look for When Choosing LCD Monitors?

Before making any purchase decisions, the NCDSB selected eight different monitors, masked out their brand names, and asked people to rank them in terms of color, brightness, and toughness. To ensure a fair comparison, "We used a VGA splitter device, which maintained identical signal strength to each LCD," McNaughton says. "With eight units side by side, it was a true 'shoot out.'"

The NCDSB purchased 400 NEC monitors as a result of these tests at a cost of over $100,000.

Depending how big your purchase is, you may be able to convince vendors to supply sample monitors for the test. Failing this, identify parents within your school system who have links to local electronics stores or, better yet, try to find a parent who runs one.

Another useful measure of monitor appropriateness is the "teeter test." "We found that the rounded base on the NEC monitor made it less likely to tip when hit; rather, it teetered back and forth, but stayed on the desk," Goldchuck says. "Others with angular bases didn't fare as well. In fact, the Philips LCD we tested went flying, as did the BenQ."

5. Balance Price And Quality

It is always tempting for public officials to spend as little as possible on technology in order to conserve their often meager budgets. However, buying LCDs on the basis of price alone can be a mistake. What also matters is how resistant they are to day-to-day use and abuse, and what warranties the manufacturer and/or vendor offers to back them up. Similarly, check out the ruggdedness not just of each monitor's case, but also of its control buttons. Will they stand up to the busy fingers of students?

6. Making LCD Displays Last Longer

If you want your district's LCD flat panels to last longer, turn them off when they are not being used. Not only will this help extend the display's flourescent bulb life, but it will further reduce power consumption as well.

Other hints: Site your monitors out of the sun to minimize heat-related damage. It is also wise to prevent students from drinking or eating near them, just to be safe.

7. What's the Bottom Line?

Although LCD flat panel monitors still cost more than their CRT equivalents, they use far less electricity (both directly and indirectly) over the course of their lifespans. LCD monitors also allow planners to place tables closer together, allowing for better use of classroom space. Finally, they just plain look cooler than CRTs—but you don't have to bring that up at budget meetings.

James Careless is a freelance journalist based in Ottawa, Canada.

19-inch Monitor Best Bets

While 17-inch monitors remain the standard in LCD, the increasing affordability of 19-inch monitors—along with the growing display demands of complex programs—is making them a more and more popular choice for students and educators. Below T&L offers a few 19-inch display suggestions that give the most visual bang for your budgetary buck.

LG
L1970HR

  • 2000:1 contrast ratio
  • Digital/analog input
  • Offers the first picture-enhancing chip for LCD monitors
  • 2-millisecond response time
  • L196WTQ-BF
  • Widescreen display
  • Certified for Windows Vista
  • Price: Both about $240

NEC
MultiSync LCD1990SXp

  • Multiple vertical alignment LCD technology
  • Height adjustability 150mm
  • Allows three computers to be connected to a single monitor
  • Automatically adjusts backlight to room brightness
  • Price: About $270

Philips
190S7FS/27

  • 1280 x 1024 resolution
  • LAN-based remote support and device status management software
  • TCO–standards compliant
  • Embedded power supply
  • Plug-and-play
  • Price: About $250

Samsung
906BW

  • Widescreen display
  • Six custom viewing modes
  • Tilt-and-swivel stand
  • 2000:1 contrast ratio
  • Windows Vista Premium certified
  • Price: About $240

ViewSonic
VX1945wm ViewDock

  • iPod dock that allows for direct downloads
  • Integrated stereo speakers and subwoofer
  • 8-in-1 card reader
  • Widescreen display
  • Windows Vista certified
  • Price: About $330

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