Choosing A Monitor, Part 1

by JL Beeken on 8-01-2007

I know I haven’t been talking much about genealogy lately. I may never again. I’m thinking of giving up computers altogether. Reason? I can’t find a monitor.

Is it just the young people buying new computers over the past two years?  Has anyone noticed that text has become microscopic with the higher resolutions? Does anyone care? Is everyone just upgrading their bifocals to keep pace?

Over the last 4 days I’ve learned more about monitors than anyone in their right mind would ever want to and it’s all bad news. This is just a brief heads-up for anyone who hasn’t traversed this section of Hell yet.

When I purchased a new computer I didn’t do it from a place of being terribly well-informed. I just assumed everything is better than it used to be.

Mostly, that could be true … but then there’s monitors. Someone, who probably had too much to eat, drink, smoke, or was for some other reason out of their mind, decided that higher resolution would be a good thing for everyone. It’s like the moron who decided about 10 years ago that the entire Western world should be re-introduced to bell bottoms. Every year I go down to a local store hoping, begging to know if they’ve gone out of fashion yet so I can have some pants to wear that I don’t have to sew myself. I digress.

The resolutions on LCDs are being set so high and the text is becoming so small it’s virtually impossible to see it. I thought this was something different than business as usual but maybe not. I’m shell-shocked myself as I’ve been using a 13″ LCD screen in its native resolution of 1024 x 768 for the past 5 years so I expect text to be razor sharp (albeit a tad small.)

LCDs are meant to be used in their native resolutions only although I believe that may seldom be the case. Adjusting them lower blurs the text for mathematical reasons. You can’t turn 5 pixels into 2, for example, in a tidy sort of way. Anyone who’s been using an LCD in non-native resolution may have become accustomed to the blur and doesn’t think of it as blur at all.

17″ LCDs come as 1280 x 960 for a 4:3. That’s squishing in more pixels per inch, which means your pictures and movies are clearer and sharper, but the text is smaller. Blindingly small. If you’ve never seen this in person, drop in at a computer store and be confounded for yourself. Four days later I’m still shaking my head.

Right now I’m looking at a 20″ wide at 1680 x 1050. I can’t see a darn thing. 22″ screens also come at this resolution, still too small. If I was to go to a 24″ to get ahead of the game it’s no use. They put the resolution on those up to 1920.

Not to confuse you with too many numbers, the point is that it’s obvious the powers-that-be are in cahoots with the optical industry. The choice was scrolling as much as usual or fitting more stuff on the screen at once and going blind. someone decided it would be OK if we all go blind.

This is how a 20-year old computer store clerk explained it to me: “Old people don’t use computers and middle-aged people don’t upgrade their computers so new computers are built for 18-35 year olds.” Whose blog is he reading?

The only option that will make changes proportionally across the whole system at once is lowering the resolution under Display/Settings. It only works in theory. In practice it will blur the text unless you can cut your resolution exactly in half. eg. 1680 down to 840. It won’t go to that number on my computer. If you’re going to buy a monitor with that hope in mind, make sure it will go to exactly half the native resolution.

Changing the dpi will change some of the system fonts but leave other ones tiny. Some programs will allow you to choose a font, but not all. Most of them will look like sh.. if you try it. Your eyeballs will not know if they’re coming or going. You can use any or all of these options but I guarantee you will not like the result.

Vista is better designed for changing the dpi. If you can’t see your text you can set the dpi higher and the changes will show more consistently across the whole system. You may still have to change other programs individually. I didn’t keep Vista long enough to know every detail about this, but I know it’s better set up for changes than XP. It doesn’t matter, I’m not bringing it back anytime soon.

If you don’t feel like beating yourself across the head with an LCD, there’s a few other choices.

1. Go back to a CRT. They don’t mind having their resolution adjusted. They won’t blur your text. But hurry up, they’re being phased out too.
2. Set the resolution lower on your LCD so you can see what’s on the screen. Then get a special made-for-computer-only pair of eyeglasses that adjust for the blur. (A few people tell me it doesn’t work that way.)
3. Get a keyboard with a slider that you can move up and down to adjust text-size. Would that just cause a different form of carpal tunnel syndrome? Has anyone tried it?
4. Stop using a computer until industry standards change to honor the elderly, i.e. anyone over 35. Instead, get a cell phone for emergency email. Second, indulge in an expensively comfortable desk phone and go crazy on pens and paper. You’ll be saving a lot of money on computer junk so treat yourself to a really good pen.

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