New Flat-Panel Monitors Simply Amazing

Quit singing the CRT blues.

by / June 30, 1999
LCD screens on laptops are ho-hum these days, but LCD screens on the desktop catch peoples' eyes more and more. The bad news is they still command a hefty premium over their CRT counterparts. And hefty may be a bit understated, since they can be four to five times as much as a CRT.

I haven't gotten much of a thrill from the 14-inch and 15-inch flat panels, but I've gotten very excited about the newer 18-inch models. One nice thing about flat panels is that their measurement is the truth, instead of an overstatement. An 18.1-inch monitor is 18.1 inches diagonal. Period.

If all the world were using flat panels, we'd probably save enough energy to fuel a few Third World countries, because flat panels hum along on as little as 30 watts, compared to some 200 to 300 watts for the typical 17-inch CRT and as much as 400 for 20- and 21-inch units.

Perhaps more important is the fact that flat panels emit a fraction of the radiation of a CRT. Flat panels work with a matrix of transistors that move molecules of liquid crystal rather than energizing phosphors painted on the back of your CRT screen. Wonder why your head is buzzing? Maybe it's because an electron gun is shooting you in the face all day as you stare at your spreadsheet.

I've been using two extraordinary LCD flat panels, one from Eizo (formerly Nanao) and the other from Silicon Graphics. These are top-quality companies, and they've both got a couple of winners.

Eizo's (pronounced ay-zo) L66 monitor is downright luscious. After a while, this 18.1-inch unit seems even bigger, because everything is so crisp and clear. Its 1280x1024 resolution gives you lots of room for full pages and more. One thing you must understand about flat panels is the maximum resolution they support. Unlike a CRT, which energizes
millions of tiny dots, flat panels use a fixed matrix. No matter what the resolution sent to a CRT, it covers the full screen. Not so with flat panels. A 640x480 resolution will be a smaller rectangle in the middle of a 1280x1024 screen. To make this appear full screen, the image must be resized, and you may not like the results. So decide what resolution you want to work at and pick the flat panel with that resolution as the maximum resolution.

The L66 has two inputs, which helps you save even more desk space if you're using two computers, and it comes with a USB hub so you can easily plug in peripherals without having to fumble around on the floor behind your desk. The L66 lists for $3,029.

Another fascinating flat panel is Silicon Graphics' 17.3-inch 1600SW, which has won numerous awards. When you first gaze upon it, it seems small. At 14.6 inches wide by 9.3 inches high, it's smaller than the L66 (14.2 inches by 11.3 inches) and other 18-inch flat panels, but the 1600SW provides a 1600x1024 resolution to fill out its unique 16:10 aspect ratio. The only flat panel with 110 dpi, the 1600SW is, flat out, unbelievably crisp. Some of this also comes from the fact that it uses a digital interface.

Both computers and flat panels are digital devices. Why spit out analog from your VGA adapter only to convert back to digital in the flat panel? Well, there is a reason, and it's called compatibility with a billion existing PCs, but eliminating the double conversion stages lets you view two pages side by side with the sharpest text ever -- text is the true test of a monitor, not graphics.

The 1600SW comes with a 32MB Revolution IV-FP card from Number Nine Visual Technology for either the PC or the Mac that sports the Open LDI digital interface, 'cause it ain't comin' out of your existing video card.

In supporting the higher resolution, the 1600SW doesn't sacrifice color depth. It delivers 16 million true color images that are almost holographic. It's awesome.

At a list price of $2,798 with the card, the 1600SW is a true breakthrough. For that matter so is the L66. You have to use the packaged Number Nine card with the 1600SW. It's a great card, don't get me wrong, but the L66, like most other flat panels today, can be used with any PC or two you might have, because it has two standard analog VGA inputs.

I've been using both monitors side by side for more than a month and I truly can't decide which I like better. One day it's the L66, the next it's the 1600SW. These are both fabulous products that have to be experienced. Pricey perhaps, but well worth it. And one more thing. Got a glare problem? Not with these babies ... glare just doesn't exist. Every once in a while, the technology really does get better.

Information can be found at the next Web sites: eizo and sgi


Alan Freedman is the most noted computer lexicographer in the industry. With nearly 40 years of experience, he is internationally known for his ability to make sense of high tech. Check out his award-winning Computer Desktop Encyclopedia online