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Looking at the Bigger Picture

July 20, 1998|KIM KOMANDO

Do you think your 15-inch or even 17-inch monitor is plenty big enough?

If you work regularly with desktop publishing, graphic design, Web page creation or even large spreadsheets--in short, any application that requires a lot of scrolling on your screen--a 19-, 20- or 21-inch monitor will make you more productive. But even if you don't need a larger monitor, you'll definitely want one after you try it out.

I recently gave three jumbo monitors a test spin: the Samsung SyncMaster 1000p ([800] 726-7864, http://www.samsungelectronics .com), the Optiquest V115T ([800] 843-6784, http://www.optiquest .com) and the ViewSonic MB110 ([800] 888-8583,

As you'd expect with monitors of this size and quality, any of them could run you around $1,000.

A monitor's color clarity and image sharpness is determined at least in part by the its "dot pitch." Dot pitch refers to the distance in millimeters between the dots, or pixels, that create the text or graphics as they appear on the screen. Just remember this rule: The smaller the dot pitch number, the better the picture.

In this category, Samsung's SyncMaster comes out on top, with a dot pitch of 0.25 mm. The ViewSonic MB110 is next, with a 0.26 mm dot pitch, and the Optiquest V115T, has 0.28 mm. However, don't let these numbers be the sole determinant of your purchase. The truth is that all three produce excellent images and that any difference because of dot pitch is negligible.

Simply because a monitor is billed as a 21-inch model doesn't mean it will have as much viewable area as the next 21-inch monitor. The ViewSonic offers a full 20 viewable inches, whereas the Samsung and Optiquest each offer 19.7. But as with dot pitch, viewable area shouldn't serve as the sole standard for your monitor-buying decision. After all, how much will you really benefit from having an extra 0.3 inch to look at?

When it comes to display resolutions, it's a draw. All three of these offer user-selectable resolutions ranging from 640 pixels by 480 pixels, which makes text and images appear large, to 1,600 by 1,200, which makes them quite small but will allow you to fit more on your screen. With a monitor this big, 640 by 480 looks downright ridiculous. On the other hand, I find myself squinting just a little at 1,600 by 1,200. For me, 1,024 by 768 is just about right.

Way back when, the only characteristics you could control on a monitor, of whatever size, were brightness and contrast. Thanks to on-screen controls--the ability to adjust your monitor using on-screen menus--you can control half a dozen or more aspects of your display, ensuring that you get the picture exactly the way you want it. Best of all, you don't need half a dozen buttons on the front of your monitor to get the job done.

In all honesty, an on-screen menu is an on-screen menu; if you've seen one, you've pretty much seen them all. The difference from monitor to monitor is in the front-panel controls used to access the on-screen menu system. Of the three big-screen monitors, the Samsung offers easily the most elegant interface. A single omnidirectional button on the front allows you to navigate through the menu structure and make any adjustments.

The Optiquest offers an interesting interface to its menu system: a single button and a control wheel that resembles the control wheels on old monitors that adjust brightness and contrast. The wheel is situated directly below the button. This means it's easy to position your hand so that your thumb is on the button and your fingers are in just the right position to manipulate the wheel.

The ViewSonic offers the most traditional approach: a row of buttons along the bottom of the monitor. One feature I do like in the ViewSonic MB110 is an extra button that you use to display the brightness and contrast menus. Since these are the two adjustments you're likely to fiddle with most, it's a great idea to have them just one button-push away.

When it comes to quality and reliability, I could recommend any one of these monitors. However, the ViewSonic MB110 has a few extra features that set it apart.

For starters, the MB110 is an excellent multimedia monitor. Two stereo speakers are built into the bottom of the monitor. If you're not getting the oomph you want from these, there's another jack you can use to connect an external sub-woofer. The MB110 also has a built-in microphone. Add a video camera and you have a very nice videoconferencing setup.

The topic of video cameras brings me to another important feature: universal serial bus, or USB. It's likely that many of the video cameras offered in the coming months will be USB-based.

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