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Is size really everything?

They're bulky. They're heavy. We haven't been able to do without them. But the shape and size of the monitors we use and sell is about to change. John Costello looked behind the screen to find the trends in the monitor businessQUICK LOOKWhat's hotLiquid Crystal Displays (LCD)Bigger CRT- based monitorsName brandsWhat's not14in monitorsQuick tipOption up notebook buyers with an extra monitor for home or officeAs manufacturers of notebooks refine the LCD technology they use, that technology is coming down to a price where it will soon overtake the venerable CRT technology that continues to dominate the monitor market.

Major suppliers of monitors in Australia admit that day may be approaching rapidly. A spokesperson from NEC, a major supplier of LCD screens, high- lighted the fact that a 20in LCD monitor is now cheaper than a 13in LCD display was about 10 months ago.

Already, in some applications or environments where space is at a premium, LCD technology is essential to fit the monitor into the available desk space. (Vendors like to call it "real estate".)But as LCD starts to take over at the lower end of display sizes, the CRT will continue to dominate the market for applications that demand high screen resolution and/or denser colours.

Proof that CRT technology is reaching its peak came late last year with figures from Hitachi that pointed to a decline in CRT production in Japan - once the powerhouse of the computer CRT business.

Hitachi noted, in a paper published in one of its technical journals, that while production was slowing in Japan, it was increasing in the rest of Asia and North America. "Japanese CRT production has entered into a stage of maturity and is positively promoting overseas development," the paper stated.

It noted that Japanese manufacturers were moving to higher value-added products.

For example, Hitachi's CRT production is now moving to higher resolution, larger displays - from 17in to 21in.

Hitachi also predicted the rise in LCD. It said the market for LCD devices would double between 1996 and 2000.

"It can be seen that, as opposed to the maturity of CRT, LCDs are in the initial stages of growth," said the Hitachi report.

The market is also reacting with a move to larger displays.

"It all depends on what the customer specifies," said Andrew Budihardjo, managing director of Alfa Computers.

Rip

"The traditional 14in display is dead," he said. "The entry level is now 15in and the trend is towards 17in and 21in displays," said Budihardjo. Alfa Computers is a major distributor of monitors from NEC.

He added that most of the displays sold by Alfa Computers went to local resellers that bundled them with new PCs.

NEC's sales manager for NSW, Peter Hewitt, said that while sales of smaller monitors to local assemblers and resellers were being bundled with new systems, there was a considerable market for add-on monitors.

"In the 15in market, about 80 per cent go with new PCs," Hewitt said.

"In the market for larger monitors - larger than 17in - we estimate about 90 per cent are sold as add-ons," said Hewitt.

"Also driving the add-on market were people buying monitors to add on to a notebook PC for use at home or the office."

Who prefers what?

As for monitor brands preferred by Aust-ralian assemblers and manufacturers, Sony leads the pack, closely followed by NEC.

A recent survey conducted by Inform Business Development - IT Channel Trends, 1997 - 14 per cent of the respondents preferred Sony while NEC was preferred by 12 per cent. The survey was based on resellers throughout Australia.

The next two preferred suppliers were LG (formerly Lucky Goldstar) at 9.3 per cent and Samsung at 8.8 per cent.

Angela Challands, marketing assistant at Tech-Excel Distribution, distributor of a wide range of monitors, said corporate end-buyers frequently purchase on price.

Tech-Excel Distribution handles Sony and Acer, as well as lesser-known brands.

"For the Sony 17in and 20in monitors it's more of a niche market," said Challands. "The people who buy them need greater resolution in applications such as CAD/CAM," she said.

"At the other end of the spectrum, the View-Excel range of monitors provide reliable and affordable solutions for small business and home users," said Challands.

The View-Excel range comes from Compucon, the leading Hong Kong-based PC maker.

In between, Tech-Excel has the Art- Media range from Taiwan-based Pacific Technology.

These are based on the Trinitron technology developed by Sony for its own range of monitors.

At BBF Components and Peripherals, distributor for LG, Giselle Maassen said its most popular model was the 15in 56i model.

"There is a trend to the 17in model, said Maassen, BBF's marketing assistant.

LG's 56i carries an RRP of $499. The 17in 76i from LG has an RRP of $969.

While Alfa Computers' Budihardjo said the 14in market was dead in the water, Nicole Norton, marketing executive at Electronic Resources Australia, said the 14in Hyundai monitors the company distributes were still popular.

Carrying an RRP of $332, the 14in Hyundai 14S would certainly appeal to budget-conscious buyers.

"The big mover is the 17in model," Norton said. The 17in Hyundai carries an RRP of $855.

Touch a screen near you

One of the leading users of LCD technology in Australia is Redflex Touchscreens, part of the locally owned Redflex Group. General manager of Redflex Touchscreens, Rob Moulder, said until now touch screens have only been used in applications where space is at a premium.

"retail and banking are two areas that touchscreens lend themselves to," said Moulder.

While prices for the LCDs used in touch screens are falling, they are still too high to be considered as the display for a standard PC.

"The main problem with LCDs is the notebook manufacturers soak up all the output from the leading manufacturers," Moulder said.

"This means there is not a lot of spare production left over for use in other display monitors.

Redflex is the local distributor for Elo Touchscreens, a US company that started the touchscreen business in 1971.

Redflex Touchscreens

Tel (03) 9696 1888

Fax (03) 9696 1411

INFO: www.redflex.com.au

PORTRAIT OF AN IDEAL 17in MONITOR

We'd design our ultimate monitor with all of the specs, features, and options we typically look for. Actually, our ideal monitor would have all of these features plus a thin, flat-panel display. But for practical purposes, price dictates a standard tube.

By PC World staff

Multimedia features

Don't buy a multimedia monitor that has cheap speakers.

Fast refresh rate

Any refresh rate over 75Hz (75 times per second) is generally considered fast enough to eliminate the perception of screen flicker. Ultra-high refresh rates above 85Hz are usually overkill for most users; only the most sensitive will perceive differences in higher rates.

Resolution

The more pixels displayed on the screen, the higher the resolution. High resolutions let you see more at once. For example, a 17in monitor with a 1024-by-768-pixel resolution shows you 64 per cent more on screen than a 15in monitor with 800 x 600.

Dot or stripe pitch

Dot pitch measures the diagonal distance between two phosphor dots of the same colour - red, blue, or green - that glow to produce an image. Look for a maximum pitch of .28mm; for most uses, the smaller, the better. For gaming, a larger dot pitch will produce brighter images. A stripe pitch monitor (Trinitron or Diamondtron) will give a similar brightness with better definition, as the stripe pitch is never greater than .26mm.

Intuitive controls

The best controls require the least effort to use: common adjustments such as contrast and brightness should be accessible from simple buttons and/or dials on the front panel. You shouldn't need to click a button more than two or three times to change settings. Less frequently used controls are best left to on-screen menus. These should be easy to navigate, with plain-English labels and a minimum of layers.

TCO'92 and TCO'95

Any monitor with the TCO'92 or TCO'95 label meets Sweden's monitor guidelines (the world's toughest) for limiting low-frequency electric and magnetic fields, and static electricity. The TCO'95 standard also guarantees that the monitor contains no harmful substances in any of its components.

Yes, size does count

By John Goddard

Well, it's finally happened. My monitor now looks like my desk - cluttered. On a typical workday, I have my word processor, calendar, contact list, e-mail program, and Internet browser all running at once. And every time I want to compare rows in a couple of worksheets, I have to do so much scrolling, I feel as if I'm peeping through a keyhole. I could use a 21in monitor, but it might crush my desk. Besides, I can't afford the $2500 or more it would cost.

US and Australian PC World recently tested 17in PC monitors (see September Australian PC World, and www.pcworld.com/sep97/monitors for the US tests).

Professional or value for money?

Monitor vendors generally split their 17in offerings into two classes, "professional" and "value". The former generally cost $1300 and up, and are for power users who spend all day working with detailed text and graphics. The latter cost less, and they're used for common business and home applications. Professional displays come packed with advanced screen controls, such as colour convergence and focus, so you can fine-tune the image to the type of work you are doing.

Universal Serial Bus ports are an intriguing feature now starting to show up on monitors. Vendors have been touting these ports for years, saying that USB will let you daisy-chain peripherals, such as your keyboard, mouse, printer, scanner, and more. Unfortunately, Microsoft didn't build USB support into Windows 95: look for it to show up in Windows 98.

Flat-panel LCDs: space-age displays

Here's a bit of early nineties PC fantasy: "Someday we'll have bright, beautiful displays that are slim and light enough to hang on an office wall." The fantasy is now becoming fact: Several vendors, including Compaq, IBM, Mitsubishi, NEC, Sceptre, and ViewSonic, are coming out with liquid crystal display flat panels, up to 15in diagonal, that could wind up on your desktop soon - if you can afford them. If our look at a preproduction 14in NEC MultiSync LCD400 is any indication, these displays are better than the best CRTs. And flat-panel LCDs don't flicker or emit electromagnetic waves.

But LCD monitors are still too expensive. Today, the biggest customers for LCD monitors are stockbrokers, whose offices cost so much per square foot that the space savings make slimline LCDs worth the investment. Medical technicians also use them - to save space and to eliminate even the hint of radiation.

So when will flat-panel display prices come down to earth? Analysts at Stanford Resources in San Jose predict that it will take five years until competition and higher production bring prices down from the stratosphere to somewhere around double what you'd pay for a CRT with a comparable-size display. Monitor vendors like NEC and ViewSonic are more optimistic, shortening the time to two to three years.

The mask reveals all

TubeShadow mask. The most common design. These tubes shoot electrons through tiny holes in a mask and light up triangular arrangements of round red, blue, and green phosphor dots. The diagonal distance from the center of one phosphor dot to the closest dot of the same colour is called the dot pitch. Best choice for CAD and apps that require very accurate lines.

Stripe mask. Also called aperture grille, used in Sony's Trinitron and Mitsubishi's Diamondtron tubes. Instead of dots, the screen is covered with vertical groupings of red, blue, and green phosphor stripes. These tubes are generally better for photos.

NEC makes a third type of tube, called CromaClear, which combines dot and stripe pitch technologies.

Hitachi's latest - the CM803

The CM803 (pictured), recently released by Hitachi, is designed specifically for professional users in the graphics industry.

Featuring a horizontal dot size of 0.22mm, the 21in CM803 has a maximum resolution of 1600 x 1280 with a refresh rate of 90Hz.

The monitor has an ex-tax price of $3900.

Eye saving tips

Here are five easy ways to alleviate eyestrain while computing:

1. Eliminate screen glare by tilting and pivoting the monitor so that it reflects the least possible amount of ambient light.

2. Don't sit too close to your monitor: 600mm is the minimum.

3. Use the zoom tool in your word processor and spreadsheet programs to enlarge text - or choose a larger default font for better legibility.

4. Make a habit of consciously blinking often in order to cleanse and moisten your eyes. Take an occasional glance at a family photo, or stand up and gaze off into the distance. Your eyes will thank you.

5. Did you know that if Windows 95 doesn't recognise your monitor when you install it, it may set your graphics card to a low 60Hz refresh rate? To check the current setting, right-click on your desktop and select Properties*Settings*Change Display Type. Are your graphics card and monitor identified? If not, it means Windows 95 doesn't recognise them. Select Change, click Show all devices, and locate your graphics card and monitor. If your monitor and/or your graphics card are not listed, you'll have to install their drivers from a disk or try downloading the latest drivers from the vendor's or Microsoft's Web site.