Understand PC Monitors - dummies

By Dan Gookin

Knowing some of the terminology associated with a PC monitor can come in handy if you have to troubleshoot monitor issues.

There are two flavors of monitor: LCD and CRT. The LCD is now more popular because of its size and because it’s flat and lightweight. It also consumes less power. CRT monitors — the older, bulkier glass monitors — might still be around, but are fading fast.

On the monitor, you find a power switch plus a series of adjustment buttons. Most monitors sport four adjustment buttons, which are used in combination to help manipulate an onscreen menu.

A monitor is gauged by its size. The monitor’s size is measured diagonally on the screen. In addition to its diagonal size, the monitor’s aspect ratio is used to determine the relationship between the screen’s horizontal and vertical sides.


Here are some additional details about computer monitors, without getting too technical:

Backlit: An extra light on LCD monitors that makes the screen brighter.

Contrast ratio: The difference between the monitor’s brightest white and darkest black.

Dot pitch: The distance between a monitor’s pixels as measured in millimeters (mm). The closer the distance, and the smaller the dot pitch value, the sharper the image on the monitor.

Refresh rate: The number of times per second that the monitor’s image is displayed. Refresh rate might also be referred to as frequency.

Resolution: Images displayed on a monitor using tiny, colored dots, or pixels. The monitor displays images by using a given number of pixels horizontally and vertically, which is referred to as the screen resolution. The resolution is set by the display adapter and controlled via software (in Windows).

Viewing angle: The angle that determines how well the monitor can be seen when you’re not staring straight at it is an important concept for LCD monitors. The closer the viewing angle is to 180 degrees, the easier it is to see the monitor.

One key issue with monitors is glare. The best way to reduce glare is to position the monitor so that bright lights aren’t reflected on the screen. When you can’t move the monitor or remove the glare, buy an antiglare screen for the monitor.

  • Pixel is a combination of the words picture element. It’s the smallest dot of color that can be displayed. Images on the screen are composed of thousands of individual pixels.

  • LCD monitors may have a limited set of resolutions they can adapt to. For example, the monitor may accept resolutions of only 1280 x 1024 or 1600 x 1200 pixels. Other resolutions may not render properly. The only way to know for certain is to check the documentation that comes with the monitor.

  • LCD stands for liquid crystal display.

  • CRT stands for cathode ray tube.

  • CRT monitors are still preferred by graphic designers, because the analog nature of the CRT monitor produces colors closer to “real world”.

  • A widescreen monitor doesn’t share the same amount of screen real estate as a traditional 4:3 computer monitor. Despite identical diagonal measurements, a monitor with a 4:3 aspect ratio has more square inches of screen space than the widescreen monitor at the same diagonal screen size.

  • Some monitors feature dual inputs. For example, the inputs allow a single monitor to be used with two computers or perhaps to input two different types of signals. A problem with this type of monitor is that it may appear to be broken when it’s simply not receiving a signal through the proper input. The solution is to change inputs by using the monitor’s controls.