Make Your LCD Monitor the Best It Can Be

8.09.2006 | Link to this post

Have you seen how cheap LCD monitors have gotten lately? 19-inch models are down to well under $200 without rebates these days. As LCDs become more and more ubiquitous, I'm amazed at how often I see people running their computers at a resolution that is different than the native resolution of their LCD monitor. When you do this, the LCD looks terrible - everything looks a little fuzzy.

If you're wondering what the heck I'm talking about, let me explain. LCD monitors are different than their CRT predecessors. CRT monitors can run at nearly any resolution and look fine. The electron gun behind the screen just "paints" more or less lines on the screen depending on the resolution you choose. LCDs, on the other hand, are called fixed pixel displays. This means that they have a fixed number of pixels that make up the screen. A 15-inch LCD usually has 1,024 pixels horizontally and 768 pixels vertically, which means it has a native resolution of 1024x768. 17- and 19-inch models usually have a native resolution of 1280x1024. If you run your computer at a resolution other than the native resolution, the number of pixels your computer is pushing out is different than the number of pixels that the LCD has. So what does the LCD do? It does the best it can to make the picture fit, but because it's getting a different number of pixels it has to interpolate, or guess, the best way to render the picture. Thus, you get a fuzzy picture.

It should be obvious by now that you should always run your computer's resolution at the native resolution of your LCD monitor. The problem is that many people, especially those of the older generation, find that a 1280x1024 resolution makes text and objects look much too small. Many people just leave their computer at the same resolution they had their computer at before they got an LCD monitor, and don't even realize how bad the picture is. I see this all the time. People are so wowed by the brightness and thinness of their new LCD, they don't even realize how fuzzy the picture is.

Before we do anything, make sure that you set your computer's resolution to the native resolution of your monitor. If you have a 15-inch LCD, it's probably 1024x768. 17- and 19-inch models are most likely 1280x1024. If you are unsure, check the box or the manual that came with your monitor. Now right-click on an empty area of your desktop and choose Properties. Then click on the Settings tab. In the section labeled Screen resolution, move the slider until it matches the native resolution of your LCD monitor (it is probably the highest one, since Windows can usually detect the native resolution of your monitor). See picture above.

Luckily, there are three good options to try if you find that the native resolution of your LCD makes things look too small. All three are very simple and will take a few minutes. Believe me, it's worth it for your eyes.

The first involves increasing the size of Windows fonts. Right-click on an empty area of your desktop and choose Properties. Select the Appearance tab. Under the Font size drop-down, choose Large Fonts and then click Apply (see picture at right). If that's not big enough for you, try Extra Large Fonts. You'll notice that this increases the font sizes within Windows and in most all of the programs you run without sacrificing quality.

Now it may seem like your fonts are huge, but the icons on your desktop are tiny. That's where your second option comes in. Click on the Effects button on the Appearance tab and select the box next to Use large icons, click OK, and then Apply (see picture at left).

Finally, you may notice that the fonts on an LCD monitor look thinner and slightly fuzzier than on your old CRT. Microsoft comes to the rescue with their ClearType Tuner PowerToy. You've heard me rave about the PowerToys before. They are great little additions to Windows that Microsoft's programmers developed, but never made it into Windows. Now they are offered free for download. Download and install the ClearType Tuner, turn on ClearType, and run through the very short wizard to optimize the fonts for your monitor.

Experiment with these options until you find the combination you're most comfortable with. You'll be amazed at how much sharper your LCD is when you are running at its native resolution. Your eyes will thank you.

posted by Caleb @ 8/09/2006 08:19:00 PM

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