It's time to go flat -- with display panels

ITworld.com –

So, when did you stop buying CRT based monitors for your company? What? You are still buying those flickering heavyweights? You can't resist the bargain of getting a nineteen-inch monitor for less than the cost of your first postage-sized screen?

If you are still buying CRT monitors, let's talk. Sure the price of flat-panel displays (FPD) still sends most people into sticker shock. But before you let price stop your company dead in its tracks, consider the total cost of ownership and the value received with these lighter, more flexible units.

Look at the big picture from several angles -- energy consumption, the ability to keep units going during a power outage, the use of desktop real estate, the visual comfort of your corporate colleagues (especially aging baby boomers) -- flat-panel monitors could pay their way into your organization.

Here are a few reasons that you should be looking at flat panels:

ENERGY SAVINGS

When it comes to energy savings, flat panel monitors are much easier on the electric and cooling bill. While energy economy isn't a goal of the IT manager, it is important to an organization.

Studies have found a 67 percent to 75 percent reduction in energy consumption by flat panel monitors when compared to CRTs.

Here's a specific example. The typical 19-inch CRT monitor uses about 130 watts of power. A flat panel of equivalent size uses only 50 watts, or about 38 percent the energy of the CRT. And, when placed in standby status, some flat panel screens use as little as 8 watts.

Granted, the IT manager isn't responsible for the corporation's power bill, so sometimes power efficiency falls on deaf ears. But, what about uptime if everything else goes down? If the workstation happens to be important enough to protect with an uninterruptible power supply, the flat panel just buys you extra minutes.

IT managers need to consider every trick when it comes to keeping things up when the power goes out. Anyone who experiences power outages knows that a monitor will cut the throat of the UPS faster than anything else. Yet, it doesn't do anyone any good to keep a 19-inch monitor humming while your data is dumped during a prolonged power outage.

And while heat output from CRTs may keep everyone a little warmer in the winter, it plays havoc with cooling requirements throughout the rest of the year. Studies have shown a 20 percent decrease in cooling requirements for each FPD that replaces a CRT.

WEIGHT AND FLEXIBILITY

Weight is an additional consideration. CRT monitors weight considerably more than their LCD counterpart. An average 19-inch CRT monitor weighs about 55 pounds. The comparable 18-inch LCD monitor, on the other hand, weighs in around 20 pounds.

Not only does should this dramatic weight differential apply to safety concerns, but to stability as well. Heavier monitors require larger and heavier desks to support them. And don't expect many of your employees to single-handedly move these peripherals around without help from others and risks to everyone involved.

Desktop real estate is a valued commodity among your colleagues, as well. They may be overjoyed at the notion of getting a CRT monitor upgrade from an old 14-inch monitor to the new 17-inch standard. But upon delivery, their joy may turn to dismay as they see their desktops diminish considerably.

In fact, if you are buying a CRT monitor, you can count on chewing up as many inches in depth as you get in screen size. For example, a 14-inch monitor is usually 14-inch deep. Likewise a 21-inch monitor will gobble up nearly two feet of the desk's surface. The footprint of a FPD, however, doesn't expand with screen size.

Additionally, many corporations have found that with the replacement of CRT with FPD has allowed them to put more people in the same space.

FOR THE EYES ONLY

Easier on the eyes? My tests have found that with the higher refresh rates of FPDs, the eyes are comfortable for a longer period of time. The flicker-free factor is just another advantage that the end user will adore. And, for those of us over age 40, the flat screens are especially easy on the eyes.

Flat panel displays have already become standard operating equipment in jobs where people have to see and react quickly. Stock brokers and others who make a living on quick turns started using these displays several years ago, when prices were three times as high as today's.

And if you ever need to photograph or make a video of a screen, the FPD doesn't blink. For use in corporate training videos or promotional material, the absence of the chronic scrolling refresh lines will be a welcome relief.

Also, some flat panel monitors offer functions like flipping between portrait and landscape modes. This creates full-sized page layouts for more normal views of the types of documents most people work on, like a word processing page, a brochure, or a long spreadsheet. Instead of a view that only shows half of a letter-sized page, with plenty of blank room on the margins, you'll see a full page neatly arranged to the way most people work. We recently tested units from NEC, Iiyama, Mag Innovision, and Advan that included the flip function as a standard part of the FPD.

TOUCH SCREENS

Flat panels can even become touch-screen displays thanks to the efforts of people like MicroTouch. This firm partners with major manufacturers to create touch enabled monitors from either CRTs or flat panel screens.

We recently tested IBM's Flat Panel Touch Monitor T55A, which let us create a touch- enabled environment for all the system and application software. We could even drive the web browser without ever touching the mouse.

A FEW CAVEATS

Although it's rare, FPD's can suffer from a few defective cells. Given that there are three cells for each pixel (red, green, and blue), you get more than 2.3 million cells in a standard 1,024 by 768 screen. Pixel death refers to a condition where one of the cells is stuck on, emitting a light-colored dot, or off that shows a darkened dot. If you get too many, it's irritating.

Manufacturers will take back units with several dead pixels during the warranty period. Their policies will vary, however, so check screens carefully as you receive new units.

In my recent test of FPD's from more than 10 manufacturers, pixel death is rare. And we torture tested a few by leaving screens on for weeks at a time.

And make sure to check the type of port the monitor uses to connect to your CPU. Not all FPD accept standard VGA inputs. Some come with a digital connector that requires a special port on your PC. Standards for digital displays are still emerging from a number of organizations including the Video Electronics Standards Association, the Digital Display Working Group, and the Digital Flat Panel Group. The digital connectors are supposed to render a sharper picture but the cost of VGA compatibility might not be worth it. Certain vendors, such as ViewSonic, product flat panels that can take either type of connection. This helps soften the blow until a pure answer is available.

As the FPD market continues to grow at a staggering rate, demand and innovation will continue to drive prices down. Hopefully the price delta between CRT and LCD screens will lower as a result of developments like the organic light-emitting diode (OLED) recently announced at Princeton University.

Everyday people, not just high powered stock traders and executives are starting to drive demand. Anyone who is considering a new monitor purchase should take a serious look into these slim displays.

Is flat in your future? From better quality viewing to lower total costs -- flat panel monitors getting ready to turn from nicety into necessity.

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