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TFT Monitors are they worth the extra cost

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Old Friday 30th May 2003, 14:55   #1
Paul Rule
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Question TFT Monitors are they worth the extra cost

For some time I have been considering replacing my aging 15" CRC monitor with a TFT LCD monitor.

For a long time price was a major issue, but the price of these has been coming down and lack of desk space, has become a bigger issue. My major concern was that the entry-level monitors tend to have both a low brightness level and a low contrast ratio, which might be an issue when working in daylight and for digital photography.

After a bit of research I found that the latest entry-level product from Iiyma (Prolite E380S) had a high brightness level (380cd/m2) and a suburb 450:1 contrast ratio. With a price of £199 + vat, I could resist no longer.

Having installed it only an hour ago, and having spent some time browsing the gallery page, I can honestly say this is one fantastic monitor. Image quality is superb and glare is almost non-existent despite it being a bright sunny day (The pc is located near a patio window and a skylight).

A 15” TFT monitor also has the advantage of a larger visible screen area than you get with a CRT monitor (almost the size of 17” CRT).

Was it worth it? You bet! the PC best up-grade I’ve ever done.

Paul

Last edited by Paul Rule : Friday 30th May 2003 at 21:40.
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Old Friday 30th May 2003, 16:36   #2
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I have to agree, I got a 17 inch Samsung tft last year,
and all the scare stories I had heard about poor refresh rates
etc were a pile of rubbish.
When running thru a digital connection the quality is unbelieveable.
It is my pride and joy and my computer area now only takes one third of the space it used too.
But I do have to say you have a greater chance of buying a duffer with tft screens than with crt monitors.
Best advice is to check reviews on pc websites to see how they fare. This should help steer anyone clear of the really rubbish makes.

Pete.
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Old Friday 30th May 2003, 17:17   #3
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Good point Pete, although reviews of the latest models are few and far between, which is why I purchased through my local friendly (independant) supplier, rather than save £10 by purchasing on line.

Paul

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Old Friday 30th May 2003, 18:16   #4
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Great thread, I wondered too about the quality of TFT's after reading several reviews about them being poorer than a CRT. Wish I'd gone for one now when I got my new computer.

I amended the title for you Paul.
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Old Friday 6th June 2003, 16:57   #5
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You have pushed me, I shall decide to go for one as my desk space is overwhelmed by the 17 incher. I looked at some TFTs a while back and was amazed how cheap they are now.
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Old Friday 6th June 2003, 19:36   #6
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I heard the same warnings but decided on a laptop rather than desk top, with a CRT monitor, the TFT screen is far better.

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Old Friday 13th June 2003, 18:48   #7
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As with most things, there is good and bad with TFT screens. Perhaps I can repay a little of the wonderful free advice I've had from Andy and Kevin and others here about digiscoping (something I know nothing about) with a short primer on screens - something I have some expertise in. (I've been in the computer game for most of my working life, one way and another.)

On the good side:
  • Space saving
  • Lack of glare
  • Zero flicker
  • Zero radiation
  • Clarity (sometimes - see below)

On the bad side:
  • Cost
  • One fixed-pitch resolution
  • Slow refresh rate
  • Poor off-axis performance
  • Mediochre performance in bright light
  • Horrendous repair costs
  • Huge variation in quality between makes and models.

Not all of these things apply to all screens, of course, and there is a huge variation between different makes and models. TFT screens can be wonderful but I can't stress strongly enough that this applies only if you have the right screen (which will no be cheap), and your usage is well-suited to TFT - some people only do things that TFT screens are good at, other people want to do things that, in general, TFT screens are not good at.

Some rules of thumb to bear in mind:
  • TFT screens have a fixed screen resolution which cannot be adjusted. For example, the one on my front desk at the office runs 1024 x 768. It cannot run a higher resolution under any circumstances, and although it can do lower resolutions in theory, in practice these are done by software interpolation and there is simply no way to preserve things like the shape of a font or a colour photograph when your screen is taking the signal intended to light three pixels and turning it into 1.864 pixels. At any resolution bar the design resolution TFT screens look dreadful.
  • If you play games much, especally shoot-em-ups, TFT is too slow to give you decent frame rates. If you already have a Gforce 4Ti and you lie awake dreaming about a top-end Radeon or a Gforce FX5900, then you don't want a TFT. (If you don't know what those things are, then this doesn't apply - you are not a serious gamer.)
  • If you have children who want to play games and edutainment things that run in any resolution other than the native resolution of your intended TFT screen (or if you want to play Thomas the Tank Engine!) then TFT is not for you.
  • Does anyone in your family wear reading glasses? Before you decide on TFT or CRT, make sure that they can get comfortable with it. Some people who wear glasses can't find a seating position that lets them look at the screen and at the paperwork on their desk without putting the glasses on and off all the time, and this makes the computer unusable for them. TFTs and CRTs are different in this respect, so check first. (Or be prepared to spend the next three years sleeping in the dog's kennel.)
  • A good TFT screen is simply brilliant at its design resolution. Sharp, clear, restful on the eye. With a good TFT, there is no middle ground: the display is near-perfect at native res, poor to very poor at lower res, and there is no display at all at higher than design res.
  • The latest generation of 450:1 TFTs are superb. I have not seen the Illyama (not sure if we get them here in Oz) but I have sold several of the 17" Mitsubishi 450:1s and I was very tempted to take one home - the only thing that stopped me is that I really want a 21 and they don't make a 450:1 21" TFT yet. (Oh, and the small matter of having my eye on a Swarovki scope and new camera, and not wanting to take out a second mortgage!)
  • If you don't play games much, most of your work is text and picture based, and you are happy to be always stuck in the design resolution of your TFT monitor (1280 x 1024 or whatever), then you should consider one.
  • TFT screens are almost impossible to repair. Once the warranty has run out, if it goes wrong, it is reasonable to expect that you will have to simply buy a new one.
  • CRT screens vary in quality a good deal, but even the cheap no-name ones are quite good.
  • TFT screens vary in quality by a huge amount. Cheap no-name ones are often terrible!
  • Remember Tannin's Law: If it looks good, it is good. Let your own eye be the guide. Buying a monitor is like falling in love: if you are asking yourself if you really like it or not, you don't really like it. Don't say to yourself "I really like feature X and .. hmmm ... yeah, I think feature Y is OK". It is quite easy to talk yourself into thinking that a general vagueness of picture is "just a matter of getting used to it". It's not. If it doesn't look wonderful, walk away. You will never get used to it.
  • Don't make the mistake of comparing a 17 inch TFT with a 17" CRT. Compare like with like in dollar terms. (Err ... pound terms ... whatever.) For about the same money, you can buy a good quality 17" TFT or a top-of-the-line 21 inch CRT. For the same price as a quality 15 inch TFT you can buy a premium-quality 19 inch CRT.
  • Sell with graphics, buy with text. Any monitor, even that dreadful old 14 inch thing in your back shed, looks great when you load one of Andy's pictures and zoom it up to full screen. One of the best ways to sell really poor-quality monitors is to put a screenshow of nice, bright colour pictures on it. Most people will think how nice the pictures are and never see the flaws in the monitor till they take it home.
  • If you want to see how good a monitor really is, put up a screen of plain, black on white text, the smaller the font the better. (An easy way to get a screen full of small text on most computers is just to maximise a folder with lots of files in it up to full screen - the Windows folder is usually suitable.)
  • Look at the fine print. Get really close to the screen - six inches or so, and look at one individual letter. Is it sharp? Is it crisp? Can you resolve the individual dots that make up the letter? Now do the same thing on a cheaper screen. A cheap screen will give you blurry, fuzzy dots, or no dots at all, just a vague area of darkness. Sure, you want to see letters, not dots, but the ability of the screen to show you the individual dots when you are right up close is directly proportional to its ability to show you a crisp, sharp picture when you are sitting at a normal distance from the screen.
  • If it doesn't have a three year warranty from a company you trust, walk away.
  • CRT screens are bulky and ugly, but they still give by far the best colour balance for professional graphics work. Their ultimate resolution is highter, and they are much more flexible. You also get a much bigger screen for the same money.
  • CRT and TFT measurements are made in different ways. Both are measured on the diagonal, but a CRT is the same as a TV: the manufacturer measures the picture tube and rounds it to the nearest inch: a 16.6" tube and a 17.4" tube are both regarded as 17s. You can't measure it yourself without pulling the monitor apart. The actual picture area varies: in most modern CRTs it's about one inch less than the nominal size, so a typical 17 gives you just under 16 inches worth of picture. However, this varies considerably: it is technically challenging to get the edges of the display close to the outside of the tube without distorton and echo effects, so cheaper monitors of any given size tend to give you more bezel and less picture. TFTs are completely different: they don't have a picture tube, so you simply measure the viewable area: a 15.1" TFT gives you 15.1 inches of picture.
  • There are two different ways of making a CRT: shadow mask and aperture grille (well known under Sony's Trinitron trade name). Partisans of one camp or the other often claim that method X is superior, which is nonsense. Either method can be used to produce a superb monitor, or a cheap and nasty one. In general, the smaller the dot pitch the better, but this can be measured in so many different ways that it's usually better to ignore it. Be sure not to compare horizontal figures with diagonal ones! Aperture grill monitors use stripes, not dots, so for them dot pitch is meaningless. In any case, the quality of the engineering is much more important. Trust your eyes, not the spec sheet.
  • There are two different styles of CRT screen, with names guaranteed to confuse you: perfectly flat which is indeed has perfectly flat glass at the front, and flat, square which has curved glass! (Both retain the traditional bulky picture tube - compare with TFT screens which are only an inch or two thick and are "flat" in both senses.) In general, neither type of CRT is superior, it's a matter of individual taste. It is difficult to make truly flat CRT as bright and precise as a slightly curved one, but on the other hand slightly curved ones always distort straight lines, and tend to have more trouble with glare and reflections. Chose whichever you prefer.
  • Picture quality depends on three things: the screen is only one those three things. The second is the cable - yes, the quality of the cable really does make a difference, and it ain't just in theory - at high resolutions (1280 or 1600 and higher) you can see it at a glance. Most monitors come with a cable good enough for that particular monitor, but it's something to be aware of, particularly if you are thinking about using an extension cable or a switch box.
  • The third of the three things that determine picture quality is the RAMDAC. This is the chip on the video card that converts the numbers into voltages that the monitor can display. Cheap RAMDACs don't do a very good job of it. At lower resolutions (640 x 480, 800 x 600) it won't matter much, but at 1280 & 1600 and above, it becomes critical, especially with CRT montors, which run at much higher refresh rates. As a general rule, all-in-one computers where the motherboard has the video included (not on a seperate, upgradable card) have lower-quality RAMDACs. Stand-alone video card RAMDACs vary too, mostly with the particular manufacturer. The raw power of the card is not a good guide to the quality of the RAMDAC. With that said, the average RAMDAC is much better today than it was two or three years ago.
  • 1280 res & 85Hz is the dividing line: any CRT monitor or video card that can't do 1280 x at 85Hz or more and do it without going vague or fuzzy is - no matter what it says on the price tag - a cheap one. With a CRT, you need to run it at 85Hz or more to get rid of the flicker. (TFT's run at about 60Hz and because they use a completely different technology, flicker is not an issue with them.)
  • When you buy a monitor, if you are choosing it yourself (as opposed to buying a specific model because someone you trust says they are good), ask to see it at the resolution and refresh rate you intend to use. Don't neglect this step! If the sales person doesn't know how to do that for you, turn around and start walking till you find a shop where they know something about computers.
  • There are three nice things to look for in a TFT monitor: (i) great price, (ii) great picture quality, (iii) good warranty. You can whichever you want of those three things - but only two at any one time!

What do I run myself? I've owned several TFTs and love them, but right now I have CRTs on three of my four most-used machines. I'll probably replace the best one (a 21 inch Mitsubishi CRT) fairly soon and play hand-me-down. I'm torn between the excellent new Mitsubishi 22 inch CRT and the (possibly even better) 17 inch 450:1 TFT from the same maker. Maybe I'll wait till they do a 19 inch 450:1 TFT.

Summary: "cheap" TFTs are dreadful, good ones are wonderful, but they are not for everyone.

Last edited by Tannin : Saturday 14th June 2003 at 06:39.
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Old Friday 13th June 2003, 19:32   #8
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An excellent imformative posting Tannin. Well done and thanks.

I occasionaly use an LG TFT screen at work, this is not a patch on my Sharp Laptops screen and tends to give me eye strain after long periods.

Mark
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Old Friday 13th June 2003, 19:37   #9
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Tannin, That is simply a great explanation of the two options. I have now decided to stick with my 17inch monitor and ignore the price attraction of a £200 TFT monitor.
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Old Friday 13th June 2003, 19:49   #10
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My pleasure, MNR. LG are one of the many larger manufacturers which make a range of screens for different market segments. Their cheaper models tend to be solid, reliable, workmanlike things but not spectacular (as you have seen for yourself). But they also make some truly excellent high-end products. You could say the same about most of the bigger names in monitors. Oh - and one more general rule I forgot above:
  • There are three nice things to look for in a TFT monitor: (i) great price, (ii) great picture quality, (iii) good warranty. You can whichever you want of those three things, but only two at any one time!
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Old Saturday 14th June 2003, 03:52   #11
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It was worth getting up in the middle of the night to read your "article", Tannin. I've never read anything that put it so simply (necessary for me) and without any bias. I still could do with more desk space but maybe a bigger desk is the answer. :-)
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Old Saturday 14th June 2003, 08:07   #12
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The LG monitor I referred to is definately one of the cheaper ones, cost about £250 2 years ago.

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Old Saturday 14th June 2003, 09:28   #13
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Would any of you consider a £200-250 TFT monitor to be a cheapo nowadays?
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Old Sunday 15th June 2003, 02:29   #14
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I'm not familiar with UK prices, Andrew, but I'll take a stab at that question. I guess that translates into about $AU 500 to 600, in which case it's not a real cheapie, but not dear either. (I should look up the correct conversion rate, but I have to fly - and for once, I'm going birding. Well, Plants Society trip actually, but close enough.)

Do you have any particular model in mind? I might be familiar with it, though of late I've tended to stop brand-hopping so much and just stick with Mitsubishi because they are doing all the right things for us, and also because (as it happens) they are distributed here by a wholesaler that we buy a lot of other stuff from, which gives us good price breaks.
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Old Sunday 15th June 2003, 08:51   #15
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Unfortunately I do not know the model, I was just browsing in a large electrical store and saw two at that price range. If I ever like the look of one I am sure I will ask you for your opinion.
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Old Sunday 15th June 2003, 16:46   #16
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There are certainly quite a lot of sub £200 15" TFT monitors about, and even more £200-£250 ones, but a lot of them are not that bright and very few have 450:1 contrast.

Having now had the Iiyama for a few weeks now, I have no regrets. I do wear reading glasses, but this is not an issue with this monitor. I dont play games on it so I cant comment on its ability to handle them, although the refresh rate is 23ms so should not be a problem. Low resolution images are not so good, but this does not worry me, it's great for working with Photoshop & Office applications.

Warrenty is 3 year swap out, so I have no worries about high repair costs, and in 3 years time I would expect the cost of these monotors to have dropped so replacement should not be that expensive.

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Old Sunday 15th June 2003, 17:06   #17
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You cant go wrong with Samsung syncmasters either,
they have lead the field in crts for years and are doing the same with tfts.
The refresh rate on this one is 75hz at 1280x1024 which is what I run my crts on.
I do a ton of gaming and this tft has had no problem with any games I play (or watching dvd films for that matter.)
Mine also has a 3 year swap out warranty which is very nice.

Andrew with Tfts, I would say do stick with decent makes like Iiyama and Samsung then you wont go wrong.

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Old Sunday 15th June 2003, 19:01   #18
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Thanks for the advice on brands Pete.
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Old Sunday 22nd June 2003, 19:55   #19
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I got a Philips monitor for £195 in my local PC World Boxing day special offer sale and to date have been very satisfied with it. Not only are they smaller depthwise but much much lighter than CRT monitors
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Old Sunday 22nd June 2003, 20:50   #20
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We've been quite happy with our LG Flatron563LE, which I suppose would be the one you're talking about, Mark.

I do not suffer from the eyestrain that you mention, but I do take the recommended breaks, as you should when using any monitor. I noticed my eyes getting tired after I switched careers to one using a computer all day. Now I wear glasses for using the computer and have no problem.
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Old Sunday 22nd June 2003, 21:04   #21
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Look at the fine print. Get really close to the screen - six inches or so, and look at one individual letter. Is it sharp? Is it crisp? Can you resolve the individual dots that make up the letter? Now do the same thing on a cheaper screen. A cheap screen will give you blurry, fuzzy dots, or no dots at all, just a vague area of darkness. Sure, you want to see letters, not dots, but the ability of the screen to show you the individual dots when you are right up close is directly proportional to its ability to show you a crisp, sharp picture when you are sitting at a normal distance from the screen.


Not sure if it is that model, but I will check. I tried the check above (from Tannins thread) and it failed. This of course does'nt make it a poor quality product and If you are happy with yours then that is what matters most.

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Old Monday 23rd June 2003, 00:38   #22
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I really had CRT monitors in mind for the "fine print test", Mark. It doesn't really apply to TFTs, as they tend to have different problems. But, of course, it can do no harm.

Pete mentions Samsung TFTs. Yes, Samsung are one of the leading makers. In general, very good stuff.

Phillips you need to take care with. I don't think Phillips make any of their own screen products any more (I'm not 100% sure of that, maybe they still make a certain number in at least some markets) and just buy stock in and put their badge on it. In consequence, Phillips quality is very variable. In general, their top-end CRT monitors are excellent but over-priced, but I have seen low-end Phillips CRTs that are simply dreadful. A couple of years ago a supplier sent me 5 Phillips 17" CRTs because they were out of stock of the Mags I'd ordered - and they had such poor picture quality that, despite needing the stock, I sent them straight back. That's not the only example I have seen.
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Old Monday 23rd June 2003, 06:23   #23
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Sorry for the misunderstanding Tannin. You might be interested to learn that LG and Phillips are apparently amalgamated. I learnt this a couple of weeks ago when on the news it was announced that the LG Phillips group were closing one of their factories in Britain and moving it to the far east!

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Old Monday 23rd June 2003, 07:37   #24
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I had read some TFT reviews before we went out and bought ours. One problem mentioned was edge distortion. A couple of others in the store did exhibit this, but the LG is crisp right to the corners.

As you say, as long as we're happy with it what does it matter if it's one of the cheaper models. The only thing I will say is that I still think photos look better on a CRT screen, but that's not a fault of this particular model - it's TFT screens in general. I don't like them on my laptop either. I was thinking of setting up a dual-monitor system (for editing photos) using my old 17" CRT monitor that is stuck in the attic, but that would rather defeat the purpose of having purchased the TFT monitor to save desk space!
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Old Tuesday 19th August 2003, 09:18   #25
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TFT Monitors

I have been told that TFT monitors use alot less power than CRT monitors. Does anybody know what % savings can be made?

Last edited by firsttimer : Tuesday 19th August 2003 at 10:20.
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