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Flat-Screen LCD Monitors Offer Good Looks for a Price

Equipment: Although still more expensive than CRT displays, the panels take up less room and are easier on the eyes.


If there's one thing you never have enough of on your computer desk, it's space.

Thankfully, new flat-screen liquid-crystal display monitors are dropping in price and take up much less real estate.

A new monitor from Samsung Electronics Co. takes up a fraction of the space of a typical cathode-ray tube display and has an added bonus: It looks really cool.

Take that, froufrou Mac users.

The P in the 17-inch Samsung 171P monitor stands for Porsche. Yes, that's Porsche. It's designed by the F.A. Porsche studio, the original designer of the super-sleek Porsche 911 car.

The $899 machine is a metal gray color, with flat touch-sensitive controls and a streamlined base.

You can lift it easily with one hand, and the screen rotates vertically--or diagonally if you're in the mood.

This makes it ideal for businesses using large spreadsheets or looking at vertical Web pages. The special software included with the monitor reformats the page vertically.

This is my first LCD monitor, so I was skeptical. Would the refresh rate be good enough for fast-moving graphics such as those in 3-D games? Can you see the screen from an angle?

Yes on both counts. Using either an analog or a digital plug in your video card, the display is extremely crisp and can show resolutions about four times better than what most 17-inch-monitor users are accustomed to.

And, since LCDs don't flicker like the CRTs, they're easier on the eyes.

There are some other differences. Unlike some older CRT monitors, LCDs aren't susceptible to burn-in. So a screen saver is unnecessary.

LCDs do suffer from a minor glitch. When I changed the screen resolution to enlarge the text for more comfortable reading, I noticed that about every third line of text had an extremely slight blur. It was just enough to notice.

According to a Samsung engineer, that's because LCD monitors--unlike CRTs--have specific "native modes." Think of them as default resolutions for the monitor.

If you switch out of one of those modes, the monitor has to add data to fill the entire screen. That added data is never as good as the original data, hence the blur.

We also tested flat-panel competitors from IBM Corp. and Sharp Corp., as well as a second Samsung LCD.

The IBM T560, a 15-inch LCD that sells for $650, has a screen pivot function similar to the Samsung 171P's, with software that flips your work to match the screen's orientation.

The rich images on the high-end screen survive steep viewing angles, a feature that some of the cheaper LCDs lack.

For about $200 less, Samsung, NEC Corp. and others also sell 15-inch flat panels.

A low-priced Samsung model that we tested, the SyncMaster 570V, was significantly less viewable at angles than the IBM screen but functioned well otherwise.

On the high end, the 18-inch Sharp LL-T1820 was astoundingly bright, clear and glare-resistant. Sharp says this $1,300 monitor is able to produce more than 1 billion colors because it varies the intensity of red, blue and green subpixels.

Sharp touts the LL-T1820 as an attractive option for people who do medical and photo imaging, giving them the ability to flip the screen vertically and line up two or three screens side by side.

Even those of us with just one screen will see more with an LCD monitor as opposed to a CRT of the same size. A typical 17-inch CRT monitor has a viewable size--usually written in small text in an ad--of about 15 inches. However, a 17-inch LCD monitor really is 17 inches, and you'll see every bit.

LCDs have another upside.

A CRT monitor shows a picture by creating light, shooting energy from its electron gun against the colored pixels near the monitor glass.

An LCD monitor works by blocking light. Your monitor uses about 80% of the electricity in a typical computer setup, so you'll end up saving money on your bill.

But you'll have to invest more. A low-end 15-inch CRT costs $99 and a 17-inch runs $150.

Typical 17-inch LCD monitors cost about $550 to $700, but 15-inch LCDs sell for less than $400.

In this respect, monitors aren't much different from cars or sneakers. You pay more for good looks.

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