Pro CRT monitors

Introduction

Contrary to popular opinion, good old cathode ray tube (CRT) displays aren’t dead - yet. Flat-panel Liquid-Crystal Display (LCD) monitors may be taking over on the business desktop and to a certain extent in the design studio, but there remain particular benefits with lumbering CRT units that even the best LCDs can’t match. The old technology can deliver screen space, flexibility, accuracy and reliability, not to mention affordability. Here, we look at five of the best Mac-friendly 21- and 22-inch CRT monitors, ranging from entry-level units to high-end colour-critical products. The comparison with LCD alternatives is important. Design work loves large screens and big resolutions, and the 2,048-x-1,536-pixel resolution promised by 21/22-inch CRT leaves comparable LCD products in its wake. The best LCD can offer is the 1,920-x-1,200 of Apple’s Cinema HD Display. The resolution difference isn’t enormous, of course, but the expense is: the cheapest of the 21/22-inch CRT monitors reviewed here costs less than £400, while the Cinema HD Display is quadruple that price. In other words, you could buy four Viewsonic P225f CRT monitors instead of a single Cinema HD Display. If your Mac is fitted with dual video ports, you could run two simultaneous CRT monitors, effectively doubling your on-screen work space, and still be £800 better off than a colleague who went for a single LCD display. At these prices, CRT is also tempting for buyers currently using much smaller displays. Most 21/22-inch CRT monitors are no more expensive than 17-inch LCDs and their 1,280-x-1,024-pixel resolution. LCD looks cool and frees up room on your desk, but given a limited budget designers can be forgiven for sacrificing space for screen space. On that note, the other big advantage of CRT over LCD is that you can switch resolution down without losing pixel precision. The resolution for LCD monitors is permanent, and other resolutions can only be emulated, typically producing blocky or fuzzy results. Tube size
Before diving into the detail of monitor specifications, it’s worth sorting out the confusion over 21-inch and 22-inch tubes. Big numbers are better, right? Well, yes, maybe. In principle, increasing the tube diagonal ought to give you a bigger picture. But as you may be aware, CRT does not let you view the full extent of the screen - maybe one or two inches less. This is because one of the limitations of CRT is that the electron beams become increasingly bent and the dots spread out at the edges and extreme corners of the screen image. Looking at the product specifications, it doesn’t seem to make much difference anyway: whether a monitor is classed as 21- or 22-inch, the actual viewable area is always 20 inches or thereabouts. So the real reason for increasing tube size to 22 inches is deliberately to allow a bigger gap around the edge and corners. This leads to less distortion of the image and loss of quality in these areas, producing an improved (or at least more controllable) image. That said, you may get a 20-inch viewable area, but it might not be stable or geometrically correct until you drop it to 19 inches and leave a bigger border anyway. Our test results seem to back up the idea that 22-inch screens produce slightly better quality images, but it’s hard to be scientific about it. Ultimately, the most important function of offering a larger tube size is to allow manufacturers to boast a bigger number than other manufacturers. Cynical, perhaps, but fair. Resolutions
Several years ago, 21/22-inch monitors were expected to achieve a maximum pixel resolution of 1,600-x-1,200, but this has been overtaken by increasingly high-quality and high-performance graphics cards with plenty of fast on-board memory. While 1,600-x-1,200 may still be considered a sensible working resolution, most of these products support up to 2,048-x-1,536. Some people may disagree, but this isn’t a usable resolution for working with software - it’s solely for viewing ultra-high resolution images. At the top rate, you’d barely be able to read the menus and palettes in Photoshop. That said, one major improvement in the latest line of CRT monitors is their support for fast vertical refresh rates to accompany these high resolutions. You no longer have to squint at flickery images now that the full 2,048-x-1,536 can be run at a stable 85Hz. Of course, this also depends on the capability of the video card in your Mac, something about which Apple tends to be rather coy. Apple quotes digital resolutions that inevitably refer only to its own LCD display models. Older cards may not support the top resolutions, or may only do so at 60Hz. Those with less memory may still hit the right resolutions at the right refresh rate, but not in millions of colours. We tested the five monitors here using a Power Mac G5-dual 2GHz under Mac OS X 10.3, using the ATI Radeon 9600 Pro graphics card fitted as standard in that model: 2,048-x-1,536 at 85Hz was no problem. Connections
Two of the monitors we tested (the LaCie Electron22blue IV and NEC-Mitsubishin Diamond Pro 2070SB) provide two video-input ports. This lets you hook up the device to two computers. Arguably this is of limited use to most designers who would rather have two monitors with one Mac than two Macs with one monitor. However, it’s extremely useful for those who work on cross-platform projects. Given the size of a 21/22-inch CRT monitor, it may be a relief to have just one display on your desk plugged into a Mac and a Windows PC, then use a button on the front of the unit to toggle between the two. Not only could you work on both platforms simultaneously without moving from your seat, a Web designer could check how images and pages actually appear on the two platforms without faking it with the ‘Windows RGB’ preview commands in Photoshop and Dreamweaver. All but one of the monitors incorporate a USB hub. The ports are usually positioned on the side of each unit for reasonably easy reach, albeit not as convenient as the front-located ports on the Power Macintosh G5 box itself. They are provided on monitors for expanding permanent connections - not necessarily for ad hoc tasks such as downloading images from digital cameras. On-screen display
Quality monitors are controlled using a set of on-screen display (OSD) menus. At the most basic level, you use the OSD to establish image size, shape and overall geometry. But 21-inch monitors provide a whole lot more, including comprehensive top and bottom pincushion balance. On account of the screen size, vertical linearity adjustment controls are helpful, while horizontal and vertical convergence controls are absolutely essential to eradicate blurring through misregistered electron guns. Colour adjustment is important too, and all 21/22-inch monitors support white-point adjustment of the overall colour temperature. They also let you compensate for magnetic influences on colour purity, albeit to varying degrees of precision. LCD monitors, of course, don’t have this problem. Health and safety: what do all the logos mean?
VESA DPMS A system for enabling power saving, but without setting actual standards for power levels. VESA DDC Display Data Channel standards for plug-&-play that allow the monitor to inform the computer of its capabilities. Energy Star Approval from the American Environmental Protection Agency, which determines monitors that have power saving modes that use less than 30W. Nutek Swedish specification for a two-step power-down approach. After an initial period of between five minutes and an hour, the monitor drops to a fast-waking power-saving mode under 30W. After 70 minutes, the monitor drops to a second mode that uses less than 8W. MPR II Non-ionizing magnetic radiation restrictions defined by the Swedish testing authority, Swedac. MPR-III Consolidates MPR-II with TCO standards. TÜV/GS Proves that a monitor has been tested for electrical safety in the German market. TÜV/EG Proves that a monitor has been tested according to certain European and German legal standards for safety, ergonomics, and emissions (MPR II). ISO 9241/3 /7 /8 International standards for monitor ergonomics, supported by the UK’s Health and Safety Executive. CE Conforms to European laws on radio frequency emissions and immunity to interference. TCO92 Power saving and electromagnetic emission guidelines defined by Sweden’s Confederation of Professional Employees trade union, the TCO. TCO95 Everything in TCO92 plus requirements for recycling, use of chemicals in manufacture, and visual ergonomics. TCO99 Everything in TCO95 plus additional ergonomics, power saving and emission requirements.
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