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Fast internet & new Monitor.

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It's been a while since I posted my introductory post and I thought I should make a note of what I am up to presently and what's been going on (if only for prosperity, given that it is entirely plausible that no one will bother reading this entire post).

So, what has been happening? Well, I signed up with a local ISP yesterday for one of their 24/1MBit plans which coincidentally happens to be the only available plan of that speed range in our locale. Closest speed is 1.5Mbit which given the comparison is undeniably slow (though not as slow as some connections...)! Of course, why do I need 24MBit? Well, I don't really - but having had nothing other than Dialup internet my entire life, I figured if I only have to pay an additional 20 bucks a month, why not?

The provider implies that I'll be up and running within 5-10 business days, though there's always the chance it might take longer. I'm not worried though, if it takes 11, or even -12- days at least it will get done.

Speaking of payments though, I did invest in a LCD monitor last week. This was pure indulgence, though I would argue that it was in my best interests given my terrible eyesight. The monitor in question is a Samsung SyncMaster 730BF - for anyone who cares, here are the specs on the Samsung website (Clicky).

Since this is a journal and not, therefore, a column which requires strict objectivity when critiquing devices, I'm going to make a summary on what I discovered while in the market for an LCD.

First of all.

  • Size
    Just exactly how much desktop is too much for development? I've read a few posts lately concerning dual monitor setups etc, but if you're like me - your desk space is at a premium and so you have to make some choices about primary monitor size. I settled for a 17" display, for a couple of reasons.

    1. Maximum Resolution. - 1280 x 1024.
    2. Refresh rate.

    The other option (in my budget range anyway) was a 19 inch display - which, confusingly enough has the native resolution (in what seemed to be most cases) of 1280 x 1024. Now, in the olden days people would have said 'wow, that's great - go for it!'. But these are not the olden days. All but the poorest 17" screens appear to do 1280 x 1024 by default and in the case of the Samsung I purchased its emulation of lower resolutions is fairly acceptable. So, the question is - why are many of the larger displays hobbled to such a low resolution? Obviously, the answer is multi-faceted. Perhaps it is cheaper to manufacture them that way, maybe manufacturers expect people have horrible graphics adapters and hence their systems would be incapable of sustaining say: 1600 x 1200? Either way, what I saw didn't convince me that 19" was the way. The only substantial argument you could make would be that it is easier to read text on the larger size - or perhaps that watching movies is more pleasurable on a larger screen.
    The latter argument doesn't carry any weight with me - I have a DVD player and TV for movies - the only shows I ever watched on the monitor were ones where the regular DVD player for some reason hated a particular disc and hence the DVD-ROM drive was the only answer for playability.
  • Cost
    Does anyone else feel that prices in Australia are artificially inflated when it comes to technology? Whenever you have to cart tech over an ocean, you're looking at an increased cost - but when the same monitor (as an example) costs significantly less in the States after conversion to Australian currency than it would if you bought it locally, you gotta ask the question 'to whom is the extra money going??'. Especially in the case when said monitor is manufactured in say, Taiwan - which as far as I know, is no farther from Australia than it is from the USA!
    Still, apart from that digression, I decided to settled for a sub-$400 monitor - a year ago, I'd end up with a horrible 15". Now, it's quite possible you can buy an 8ms 19" from BENQ, LG or Viewsonic for beneath that price. In each of those cases however, I discovered something that made me think twice: dot pitch (size of individual pixels). Something that CRTs have been great at for a long while seems to be varied depending on whose LCD you look at. Take the BENQ for example. The 19" has the same dot pitch as my 17" Samsung. Sharpness of picture it has, but it looks quite grainy still. Worse, the Viewsonic 19" has a much larger dot pitch - resulting in such a granularity that it is quite unpleasant to look at. So what to do? Find another variable to compare things by!
  • Contrast ratio
    This one seemed the least important when I first set out to get a monitor...but after some research, it turned out to be a key issue. For anyone who doesn't know what this is (probably lots of folks), Contrast ratio is a property of a device that dictates a ratio of the luminosity of the brightest and darkest colours that a device can display respectively(Check out the wiki entry here). This means in laypeople's terms - how black is the black, how bright is the white...etc.
    In the case of LCD, higher is usually better (but note, not always as the rating manufacturers give is not always indicative of actual performance) - the Samsung I bought has a contrast ratio of 600:1, which while pretty good - isn't the best (I saw some monitors, usually for high price with ratings of 1000:1). That said, playing a game like Doom 3 - the black looks pretty damn black. Meaning that either my eye isn't capable of noticing the difference between this and my old 19" CRT, or that I just don't know how to test it correctly.

    Either way, testing a DVD on here (Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring) worked like a charm - I didn't notice any tearing or ghosting - both undesirable effects that people associate with LCDs. For most 19" systems I looked at, they had either quite high contrast ratio - like the Viewsonic - 800:1. Or quite low...like the BENQ at 550:1. I found that the best way to decide on what works better is to actually try out the monitors in question - as no amount of reviews can tell you what it will look like when you plug it in...if you haven't seen it run ?

  • Response time: The final of the things I paid a bit of attention to when looking up this stuff.
    Usually measured in milliseconds, response time is an indicator of how long it takes the crystals in the display to return to their natural state from being wound up into displaying something on the screen. This is important for some people because they might want to display fast moving stuff on the screen (like a game, or a movie). In my case, it was games - with a low response time, you get 'ghosting' where objects have noticeable 'ghosts' trailing after them as they move around the screen. Worse than ghosting in my opinion is tearing - where the screen can't keep up with the speed it is meant to be displaying...and the image appears to tear up where colour transitions were apparently intense - looks kinda like a DVD that has got scratches...nasty artifacts.

    For most 19" screens I saw locally - they were running 8MS response times. Which is (reputedly) very good. Or should I say - acceptable for gaming and movie watching. I decided to go a bit faster - the Samsung boasts a 4MS response time, and while it appears to be great at things like Battlefield 2 - or Doom3/Quake 4, on my favourite game (Natural Selection, free Half Life 1 Mod - check it out here -- requires steam) - which runs considerably faster than aforementioned titles - there is some ghosting. However! It is hardly noticeable, just something I put down to the game wanting to run at 200+ frames per second and the display having to downsample in order to keep up ?

So, to conclude on the investigation - bigger is better, I suppose - but in my case, quality 17" beat out mid-range 19" monitors any day of the week. And for anyone considering buying an LCD...be sure you see the thing running before making a decision - salespeople have any easy time of talking up good specs...but it seems that specs are subjective in some circumstances, this being one of them.
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There's a trick to the response time. It's usually measured in the time that a pixel takes to go from full off to full on (and/or back, I can't remember exactly). The trick is that, on a lot of LCD monitors, it can take quite a bit more time to transition between different grey levels, because they normally use less power, meaning that it's slow. That's why, even on a 4ms response panel, there can be considerable ghosting.

There are monitors that don't, though there's no good way to tell the difference that I know of...the trick with these is that they do the transitions at full power, but stop them short. This makes them more expensive, but much less succeptable to ghosting.

However, the game's framerate being 200 has nothing to do with it - the monitor is only going to display at 60Hz no matter what (unless the refresh rate is something else like 70 or 75), meaning that a game running faster than that isn't realy displaying all of the frames it's drawing (but it will display them in bits, which is why there's horizontal tearing in most games when there's alot of motion - if it's drawing, say, 3 times faster than the screen refresh, you should be able to see 3 distinct frames drawn in any one update, and there'll be tearing between them).

Hope that answers some questions.

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