Choosing A Monitor, Part 2: Comparing Resolution

by JL Beeken on 8-04-2007

I thought I had learned everything I needed to know about monitors but I was wrong.

From everything I’ve read and everything I’ve seen myself, 1024 x 768 resolution is optimal on a 17″ screen. Please note that 1024 x 768 on 17″ inch screens is not even available except on CRTs. Not even on eBay. Not even if you get on your knees and scream for mercy.

Nevertheless, it’s considered ideal. 1280 x 1024 on a 19″, although smaller, is also considered “ideal”. I live in a small town and do not have the option of perusing dozens of monitors at a large computer store, so I did some calculations instead to see if I could see through the maze this way and this is what I got:

Comparing Monitor Resolutions

Theoretically anyway, text would appear about the same size on a 15″ screen at 1024 x 768 as it would on a 19″ screen at 1280 x 1024. Getting a 21″ at 1600 x 1200 and cutting the resolution in half would probably make the text too large. Note that everything else is smaller than the “ideal” on the 17″.

After I had all this figured out, a local tech told me my monitor problems were caused “big time” by my having hooked it up with the analog cable instead of the digital one. The monitor came with two cables, one white, one blue, no instructions, my odds were 50/50. So, with high hopes, I switched them and it made things worse. Worse meaning I no longer had even the option of blurry text at 1280 res. All the alternate digital resolutions were 4:3, totally useless on an 8:5 screen.

I measured the height of a capital letter on the big screen and a corresponding capital letter on my laptop. To my surprise they are virtually the same size (as the chart above shows) but they look much larger on the laptop because the text is rich black that contrasts with the white background. On the big screen the text is very light and virtually disappears into the background which makes it look about half the size of the other.

So I called up my official tech support. He said the problem is caused by different technologies used in making LCDs. How would I know, I ask, if I’m having to order one sight-unseen? He said look under “monitor type” on their support page. Sure, like I’m going to trust that…

So, basically what this means, is that you can’t trust the table above because you still might get the “wrong technology”.

So, my next step was to start packing up the monitor to go bye-bye but I ran out of steam around 3 AM after installing Linux and then reinstalling XP over the top of it (couldn’t get the wireless network going on Linux without complications) and moving my Mozy backups to the other computer.

When I woke up today I decided to try one more thing. The driver. I took a second look and it turned out I had a 128 MB driver for a 256 card. I called tech support again. Sure enough I had been given the wrong driver the last time I called tech support. About an hour later I had the right driver installed. It made no difference at all. I could still just barely see the text on the big screen. He said the driver wouldn’t make any difference. (So why did we go through all that?)

He also said the other tech doesn’t know what he’s talking about, it’s nothing to do with monitor types, it’s about the operating system, he just doesn’t know what exactly. He’s going to call Microsoft and get back to me in 24 hours. I said I don’t have another 24 hours. I’ve spent a week on this already and I’ve been hobbling through my life with marginally functioning computers for the past month. I’m brain-fatigued. If Microsoft knew what the fix is for this they probably would have built it into XP in the first place. I got off the phone, disassembled the monitor and packed it back in its box. It’s leaving. Over the next week I’ll decide if the rest of the system is going with it.

Here’s what I think and it cuts through everything else. Buy a monitor that you like after you’ve sat in front of it and found it to be comfortable. Otherwise, don’t. If you live in a small town like I do and you can’t do that, then I don’t know what the answer is. I would suggest looking at as many other peoples’ as possible.

I would also suggest getting screenshots from people you email, if you have mostly email friends, but I tried that and it didn’t work. I took a screenshot of a menu on the big screen and a screenshot of the same menu on my laptop. When I laid them side by side on the laptop they looked exactly the same. In truth, they’re not even remotely the same.

In the meantime, I plan on using my laptop until it utterly falls to pieces, as small, slow and worn out as it already is. The good news. I took it in for a check-up. They ran stress tests, disk checks and all, and couldn’t find anything wrong with it. They couldn’t come even close to over-heating it. For $22 they cleaned out 4 years of crumbs and dust which means it’s in better shape than I am. Ah, home again …

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