Conquering Space with LCD Monitors

Opinion: LCDs have many advantages over CRT monitors for confined work areas.

LCD monitors are fast becoming standard fare for desktop PCs. They generally save space, conserve energy, are easier on the eyes and can provide sharper text than CRT monitors. While the decision to opt for LCDs over traditional monitors can be an easy one for many IT managers, there are several different models available, and the choices can be overwhelming and confusing.

I learned that lesson the hard way, when I had to act on an increasingly crowded work environment for the staff at the Hyatt Regency Hotel St. Louis. Space is pretty tight in our hotels offices, most of which are located in the attic of an old train station (Union Station) built in 1894.

I began by replacing our bulky CRT monitors with LCD flat panels. I started with Samsung LCD monitors. Over the next two years, I purchased several other Samsung and Hewlett-Packard monitors but began to realize a problem: They were too short for many employees. If I gave an LCD monitor to a user who was roughly 5 feet, 7 inches tall or shorter, he or she was thrilled. If I gave one to a person 5 feet, 8 inches or taller, he or she complained of neck cramps from having to stare down at a monitor that was only 13 to 15 inches off the desk.

For the vast majority of my users, 17 inches is the perfect-size LCD. Any smaller, and you really start losing screen real estate. Any larger, and you run into the "native resolution" problem, detailed further in this column.

A few users need to view two documents or spreadsheets side by side. My options were to use a 24-inch panel—but the native resolution would be an unusable (for text) 1,920 by 1,200 dots per inch—or using a dual-DVI (Digital Video Interactive) video card and two 17-inch LCDs. I chose the latter.

I set my boss, the controller, up with this configuration, and he loves it so much that weve started setting up other execs with the same dual-monitor configuration.

To conserve as much space as possible, I also decided to look for LCDs with integrated speakers. These speakers definitely wont replace anyones 5.1 surround sound system, but they are fine for general office use.

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I also made the decision to spend a little more for panels with DVI and analog interfaces. While my PCs didnt have DVI at the time, I figured, at some point, PCs would start shipping with DVI interfaces built in.

Regarding size, research suggests that when a persons head is level, his or her eyes should naturally look at the top one-third of the monitor screen. However, if youre taller than 5 feet, 8 inches, the average LCD sits far below this optimal level, forcing you to crane your neck all day or use a phone book or monitor stand to raise the monitor.

Unlike CRTs, LCD panels have one native resolution, at which text appears as crisp as on a printed page, colors are clear and pictures are vibrant. The native resolution is the highest resolution a panel supports. Seventeen-inch panels have a native resolution of 1,280 by 1,024 pixels, great for design work, page layout and game playing.

Most office workers will quickly go blind working at 1,280 by 1,024 from the extra burden on their eyes. But lowering the resolution to a more eye-friendly 1,024 by 768 reduces the clarity significantly. Using the DVI interface helps. However, the larger the panel, the further "down" you have to go from the native resolution to reach a more usable 1,024 by 768—and the more you degrade the clarity of the on-screen text.

Another benefit of purchasing LCDs is they have less of an environmental impact than CRTs, which use significantly more power than LCDs and create more heat. That heat, in turn, requires more air conditioning, which creates more pollution.

Finally, transitioning to LCDs minimizes eyestrain. Personally, my frequent headaches disappeared, my need for eye drops every few hours stopped, and my eyesight—which had been getting steadily worse—has stabilized in the three years since I replaced my old CRT with an LCD panel.

David Ray is the MIS manager at the Hyatt Regency Hotel St. Louis. Contact him at

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