The breathtaking images of the Sistine Chapel gaze at me across the centuries and oceans from the screen of my flat-panel monitor. As I surf the Web through the Italian Renaissance, many other images jump out at me -- Roma, Piazza Venezia, Vecchio Mercato, Vaticano, Florence, Botticcelli. Even though these images come from thousands of miles away, they bring back my youth in Italy. The monitor transports me to another time and place.

Monitors have come a long way from the days of simple blinks and glowing green text. In the past few years, they have become an affordable option for office and personal use where high-quality pictures, images, graphics and charts are important. The variety of monitors on the market is staggering. No matter what the users' requirements or budget, they can always find something in today's market that will fit their needs.

The most common monitor size is 15-inch. Fifteen-inch monitors are adequate for common uses such as word processing, spreadsheets, e-mailand the Internet. However, many multimedia programs, games and applications require more space to display video, pictures, words and graphics. And Michelangelo rocks on a 21-inch .25mm-dot-pitch monitor.

Improvements in graphics, video and sound quality have increased the demand for larger, higher-quality monitors. Seventeen-inch monitors are rapidly becoming the standard. They cost about $200 to $300 more than a 15-inch. However, 17-inch cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors are much bigger and heavier than the 15-inch, a problem for those with limited desk space. Nineteen-inch monitors are the second choice for upgrades. Since they come with shorter CRT tubes -- "short neck" -- they have the same depth as a 17-inch monitor and don't require more space than the 17-inch size.

The monitors marketed for most home computers are multimedia models, which include built-in speakers. However, for better sound, users often purchase separate speakers.

Below are many options for the monitor upgrade that will come when you finally can't stand squinting at your dusty 1992 12-inch unit. When you get your upgrade plugged in and warmed up, head straight for .

The A to Z of CRT

Optiquest 21-inch The Optiquest V115 monitor is a 21-inch CRT monitor with a 20-inch viewable area. It displays fine lines and small details. It has 0.26mm dot pitch and a maximum resolution of 1600x1280 dpi. At the recommended resolution of 1280x1024, it provides an 87Hz refresh rate for flicker-free viewing. The advanced SuperContrast screens provide well-defined pixels and greater contrast for bright, bold colors. On-screen menus and push buttons combine for adjusting image quality, size, position and geometry for optimal viewing. The monitor supports Plug & Play, surpasses strict MPR-II and EPA Energy Star standards and is TCO-certified for low power consumption and reduced emissions. It weighs 60.5 pounds, measures 19.8 inches by 19.2 inches by 20 inches and is compatible with PCs and Macs.

Optiquest 19-inch V95 is a 19-inch CRT with an 18-inch viewable area. The V95 creates a new category for the large-screen market, with the performance of a 21-incher at nearly half the price. The actual price and size compare to that of a typical 17-inch. Its super-fine 0.26mm dot pitch produces clear, crisp images with powerful picture definition, even at the maximum resolution of 1600x1280. OnView digital controls combine on-screen menus with convenient buttons to make adjusting image quality, size, position and geometry simple. The monitor supports Plug & Play for easy setup. V95 exceeds MPR-II and EPA Energy Star requirements. It measures 17.72 inches by 18.11 inches by 17.71 inches and weighs 48.4 pounds. Additional information is available by contacting Optiquest Inc. at 800/843-6784.

17-inch on a Diet Panasonic's 17-inch PanaSync SL70 is 15 percent smaller than conventional 17-inch monitors, with a 16-inch viewable area and up to 1280x1024 dpi resolution. The SL70 features Panasonic's PanaPerfect control system for on-screen display adjustment. It measures 16.1 inches by 16.4 inches