3 Things to Beware Of…

A recent birthday launching me firmly into my fourth decade of existence yielded some nice returns…which has afforded me the opportunity to upgrade my monitor.  I’ve been in desperate need of an upgrade to my setup as I have been working off a Dell 19″ and a Dell 17″ for my two display setup for a while now.  Given the birthday broohaha, I had about $250 to go find something new.  So, on a shopping spree I went, and I come back from said spree, with three new nuggets of information to share…or more to beware of when purchasing a new monitor.

#1 – Understand the data

I was out two weeks ago with this money (probably burning a hole in my pocket, and came across an HP monitor in none other than Best Buy.  The price was right ($249), as were the dimensions (23″).  I was looking at some of the other monitors, and none really filled the bill like this one did.  The only downside was that there was no USB port (or so I thought).  The salesman also pointed out the contrast ratio of 40,000:1!  Without thinking about it to much, I figured it certainly wouldn’t be a bad monitor – so why not give it a whirl!  After all, a 30 day return policy to the brick-and-mortar worked in my favor.  So, home it came for setup.  A few landmines awaited:

Size – While the dimensions of the monitor are always important, another consideration to take into account is the elevation or lift you get.  My old faithful Dell had a telescoping arm that elevated it nicely over my Drobo, and kept it right at eye level for me (or very near it to prevent me from hunching over too much and becoming Lurch!.  The HP 2310m had no such benefit and I then found myself shopping around for monitor stands.  Subtract another $40 for a decent quality stand (Allsop).

USB Ports – I neglected to consider that the HP had no USB ports.  I previously had 3 things coming off the old monitor – a printer, my mouse, and a dangler I could connect my card reader to easily.  So, some rewiring was in order.  But, this helped me clean up some cable management issues, so that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Contrast Ratio – If you take away nothing else from this post, consider this:  contrast ratios are meaningless!  That’s right, they are meaningless numbers, generated by each vendor to measure their own “belief” of what the expected performance could be of the monitor under the most extreme settings.   I got a hard knock here, recalling after some collaboration with the crew over in the NAPP forums (thanks to Andrew Rodney for the reminder).  As it turns out, pretty much anything past 1000:1 is meaningless under a calibrated workspace, because monitors just aren’t made to produce a useful contrast past this once calibrated.  Some of the really price ones from LaCie and Eizo do, but those are in the thousands of dollars range.  So, keeping true to my budget, I had to settle for consumer grade gear.  But, I wish I would have known that before buying, because the decision was made in haste and on bad information.  So, lesson learned – know the important data!  Contrast Ratio = 1000:1 or greater is fine!

#2 – Don’t Be Afraid to Settle

After finding out all these little caveats, I also got an email blast from Newegg, touting their Halloween deals, and of course, a monitor came up in the laundry list.  An ASUS 25″ for $230!  I was floored.  Two more inches of real estate, for $30 less!  So, I started digging into the reviews, forums, and consumer reports.  I’d purchased a few of their motherboards over the years and was happy with those.  A trip back to the NAPP forums did alert me to a few misgivings some had about the brand though, so I decided against returning the HP in exchange for the ASUS.  After all, it was only $30 difference in price, and would have possibly got me in a situation where I may not have been able to return the ASUS without getting an ugly restocking fee.  And besides, the low profile and lack of USB were also present there, so there wasn’t much to gain.  Then I saw the LG.

It was on display at Sam’s Club, and I’d seen these things in use in lots of retail settings, including warehouse environments, retail, and even doctor offices.  The seemed to be of  decent enough quality, although the contrast was  always way over cranked.  I could fix that with a calibration though, so checked the price:  $189!  A savings of $60 (figure in tax).  That would negate the $40 spent on the monitor stand and give me a little change back in the wallet.  Off to the web I went for more research.  Turns out this isn’t that bad a monitor.  I decided to go for the savings and returned the HP, bringing the LG home.  Now, all that was left was to set it up, and I was off to the races!

#3 – Calibrate it!

Last but not least, I set the LG up to calibrate.  After twenty minutes trying to dial in the color, contrast, and brightness, I was beginning to understand the differences between vendor makes and accuracy.  I’d heard of monitors that just wouldn’t calibrate and was suspecting that this was the case for the LG.  (The luminance was just way to low, and the colors would never fully align to center in my Gretag Macbeth colorimeter.  I finally gave up, and went to take the colorimeter off.  On doing so, I noticed that the ambient light filter was still on the puck that I had used to measure ambient light.  That explained it!  Sans filter, I placed the colorimeter back on the monitor, and within 5 minutes, had things dialed in pretty close to perfect.  My luminance is 0.5 off, the color is at 6500, and contrast is spot on dead center.  It’s got 30 days to satisfy me (and assuming nothing else goes on sale…)  So, word to the wise – when calibrating your monitor, remove the ambient light filter – it can save a lot of headache!

I’ve now moved the 19″ into the secondary position, the 23″ has become the primary, and the added benefit of the monitor stand has given me two new rows of surface area to store things like my thumb drives, media cards, businesss cards, and other bric-a-brac.  More storage in an increasingly cluttered life is a good thing!

So, watch that contrast, check to calibrate, and exercise caution in spending habits – especially if you can’t return things easily.

Thew New LG Monitor

Thew New LG Monitor

Now it’s your turn – got any purchasing stories or tales to share where you learned something in the experience?  Sound off in the comments, let me know your thoughts on the above, or to share your own “war stories”.  Thanks for stopping in and we’ll be back tomorrow with more photo goodness.

P.S.  Another heads up reminder, that the November Newsletter will be coming out this Friday, so if you’ve not signed up – make sure you pick up a subscription for it either in the sidebar or here.  It’s free, and only available to subscribers!

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3 comments for “3 Things to Beware Of…

  1. photog
    November 3, 2010 at 7:57 am

    is the LG an IPS? there have been some great sales on HP and dell IPS monitors online,

    when you calibrate, do you do it at multiple positions on the monitor?

    • November 3, 2010 at 7:25 pm

      What’s an IPS? Ya got me there! 🙂

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