--Alan Zisman

High-tech flat monitors save on valuable space
by putting laptop technology onto the desktop

They say you can never be too thin or too rich.

With monitors, if you want to go thin, you'll need to be prepared to go rich. But if you can afford to have an anorexic monitor, you'll find an increasing number of choices.

I'm referring to flat-panel displays, also known as liquid crystal displays (LCDs). These are larger versions of the active matrix panels found on higher-priced notebooks -- but aiming to replace your desktop computer's cathode ray tube (CRT) model.

Looking like it'd be at home on the Starship Enterprise, a 15-inch LCD actually has about the same viewing area as a 17-inch CRT. And lacking the bulk of the CRT, it frees up a significant area of desktop real estate (and weighs in at about 50 per cent of the bulk of the competition). The space savings -- you can mount some models right on the wall -- have made LCDs popular in some crowded office spaces. And the light weight makes them perfect if you have to move your system around a lot.

As well, like notebook displays, LCDs run cool, save electricity and are flicker-free, resulting in less eyestrain after long periods of viewing. A final bonus: LCDs never suffer from ailments such as pincushioning (that unsightly middle-age spread) or the other types of distortions that afflict many CRTs.

What's the catch? Cost. At a couple of thousand dollars, a typical 15-inch LCD is about twice the price of a 17-inch CRT monitor.

Prices are slowly dropping. But production remains difficult, with resulting high costs. A typical LCD monitor has more than two million transistor-controlled liquid crystals, and the odds are high that at least a few won't light up properly. The result is a visible black or coloured dot on screen. Too many flaws and the panel is trashed. (If you're buying, check carefully, and don't be afraid to ask your vendor to replace a unit with too many flaws.)

I've been spending a couple of weeks with NEC Technology's ( LCD 1510V model. At about $2,200, it's not the cheapest example of the genre. Sceptre's FT15 model (, for example, breaks the US$1,000 price point, but NECT's offering provides better quality and more features.

Like most LCDs, it offers a crisp display. At 1024x768 resolution, it's easy to read even tiny six-point text. But don't try to run it at a lower resolution: at 800x600 or 640x480 resolutions, text, while larger, gets very grainy and hard to read. This model offers a relatively wide viewing angle for a monitor of this type -- but don't expect to crowd as many people around it as you could with a CRT screen.

What really makes NECT's model stand out from the growing LCD crowd is that like a few CRT screens, it can pivot. We're used to viewing monitors in landscape mode, but twist this monitor and it can be turn-ed to portrait mode. Turned lengthwise, it becomes a full-page display. Unlike some competing models, the 1510V simply plugs into a standard video card -- there's no need to replace your current graphics adapter. In fact, if you don't want to install the pivot drivers, there's no installation needed: just remove your current monitor, and plug the 1510V in its place. Or run the Setup program on the enclosed CD and you're ready to pivot. Your system is aware of which way the monitor is turned and automatically resets its drivers.

If a 15-inch LCD monitor is just too small (remember, it has the same viewing area as a 17-inch CRT screen), NECT has recently released a 20-inch model called the LCD 2010. This one costs about $9,000.

Just breaking the horizon for LCD displays, Toronto-based ATI Technologies (www.atitech.
) has partnered with a number of LCD manufacturers to promote a new digital standard for video cards and LCD screens. The promise is that users of this upcoming standard will get even crisper displays through bypassing the digital-to-analogue, back-to-digital conversions required by current models.

Not surprisingly, ATI has released the first video adapter to offer this technology, the Xpert LCD, which offers both a standard connection (for CRTs and the current generation of LCD monitors) and the new all-digital interface. The Xpert LCD adapter is featured in Compaq Presario 5000 and 5100 models.

Expect to see more and more futuristic flat-panel monitors.*

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan