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High-Resolution LCD and Bad Eyes

Last response: in Computer Peripherals
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January 11, 2007 5:29:29 AM

Greetings (again),

I'm still searching for an LCD monitor that will work for me. With many thanks to KevinAr18 for the advice, I've tried the NEC 90GX2, and it's much better than the ViewSonic VP930b. However, it still has some major problems. Using it gives me serious eyestrain, for one.

I did a bit of research on this, and it seems it's related in part to pixel size. The pixels on many LCD monitors are just large enough for the human eye and brain to be able to detect each one, to try to form patterns from them, and to develop eyestrain and headaches as a result. This also explains some of the "shimmering" I see in most text and images, I think; it's still present even with the clear coating, though much diminished from an anti-reflective LCD. Viewing angle is also an issue, as each eye is processing a slightly different image.

One suggestion for dealing with this eyestrain (in case anyone else out there experiences this) is to use ClearType font smoothing. This helped, though it doesn't eliminate it entirely. Also, it means that the nice crisp LCD text is no longer crisp, it's fuzzy and has odd colors appearing in it (black text edged with red, for instance).

Another suggestion was to try a monitor with a higher resolution, so that the pixels will be too small for the eye to distinguish; and/or one with a wider viewing angle. I'm thus planning to try the NEC 20WGX2. This does raise some other issues, though. My eyes aren't the best, despite being good enough at pattern recognition to give me pixel-headaches.

At 1280x1024 resolution, text is as small as it can be without requiring me to lean in three inches from the monitor to read it. At higher resolutions, it's going to get quite a bit smaller. Is there a way to tell Windows to increase the size at which it displays all text? I know that I can change the font size for Windows title bars and the like, but when a point size is specified for text (on a website, in an IM, etc.) it will still be displayed at that size. Is there some setting that will instruct Windows to display 12-point text, for instance, at a size which is still 12-point relative to other text, but is large enough to be readable on a high-resolution monitor?

Also, whatinhell does one do with all the screen real estate? So many websites are already weirdly squeezed into the middle or to one side of the screen with 1280x1024, and that's only going to get worse. Is there a way to make a web browser display as if it's at 1024x768 when it's really working at a higher resolution, so that site elements with defined pixel sizes aren't ridiculously tiny?

Finally, what about games? I have an ATI X1900XT, but even so some games (like EQ2) are slightly clunky. Am I going to wind up playing a slideshow at 1680x1050?

I know these super-high-res widescreen LCDs are incredibly popular, so how do you all deal with everything being micrscopic?
January 11, 2007 9:40:35 AM

For web browsers and other applications, you can make the font as large as you want and even make it bold. (However, many toolbars don't get resized.)

Display/Properties/Appearance/Advanced/Item, then try various font sizes and spacings.

Some of the problems you experience are unusual. Are you viewing at native resolution, or is you video card quite old? Do you have old on-board video?
January 11, 2007 2:38:21 PM

The 90GX2 is TN based (worst viewing angle), while the 20WGX2 is AS-IPS based (best viewing angle), so you could give it a try if you want.

Text: I don't like ClearType either (due to the blurring you mentioned) and run without it. Did you try text with regular anti-aliasing? Other than that, bolder and/or bigger text might be another solution.

Quote:
Is there some setting that will instruct Windows to display 12-point text, for instance, at a size which is still 12-point relative to other text, but is large enough to be readable on a high-resolution monitor?
I believe there are programs around that will scale windows for you (I've seen them listed as bundled with an LCD), so you might want to look around.

Quote:
So many websites are already weirdly squeezed into the middle or to one side of the screen with 1280x1024
Oh how I dislike those websites. Such sites just show to everyone that the person does not understand good website design and/or is not skilled enough to make it correctly. Restricting the width, instead of making it dynamic, is just a bad idea.
Back to your solution, about the only really good solution that I know of is Opera's full page zoom abilities. Firefox only zooms text (shame on them).

Quote:
Finally, what about games?
While this seems like a problem, I have actually found that a number of games look fine if you use a lower resolution and let the video card or monitor scale it. While you would not want to do this for the desktop, it is actually not bad for gaming.
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January 11, 2007 2:38:27 PM

Hose, those are exactly the problems I'm hoping to solve. I know how to set a new font size for various Windows items in the display properties, but as I said not all Windows text will be resized. Fonts with a given point size are drawn with the same number of pixels regardless of the screen resolution, so unless I can convince every document creator, Web designer, and IM/email sender to use 20-point text as a minimum, I need some solution other than increasing the font size for Windows toolbars.

I'm using native resolution -- that's the entire source of the problem, if I could just force a widescreen LCD to use a smaller resolution, all would be well -- and my ATI X1900XT is neither onboard nor old.

These problems are unusual, but the research I've done thus far suggests I'm not alone in experiencing them. Unfortunately, I've yet to find a way to solve the problems, which is why I'm hoping to find some help here. :) 
January 11, 2007 2:51:04 PM

Quote:
"... Fonts with a given point size are drawn with the same number of pixels regardless of the screen resolution... I need some solution other than increasing the font size for Windows toolbars...."


I'm confused by your wording. Through Display and/or "ctrl+mouse wheel", you can increase the font size of Windows, Office documents, browser pages... to 20+ if you want... it's the toolbars which do not change (too bad about that, eh?)
January 11, 2007 3:21:33 PM

Kevin, thank you again. :)  I didn't know there were window-scaling programs. I'll search for one if nothing comes with the new LCD.

Hose, what I meant is that if a document, Web page, or whatever else specifies that it uses 12-point Times New Roman text, for example, then that text will be displayed using the same number of pixels whether your screen resolution is 640x480 or 1900x1200. So, while I can tell Windows to display some text with a 20-point font as opposed to its standard 8-point, I can't tell it to make that 12-point Times New Roman text look bigger on my screen. And that's the problem.
January 11, 2007 3:44:06 PM

Quote:
Kevin, thank you again. :)  I didn't know there were window-scaling programs. I'll search for one if nothing comes with the new LCD.

Hose, what I meant is that if a document, Web page, or whatever else specifies that it uses 12-point Times New Roman text, for example, then that text will be displayed using the same number of pixels whether your screen resolution is 640x480 or 1900x1200. So, while I can tell Windows to display some text with a 20-point font as opposed to its standard 8-point, I can't tell it to make that 12-point Times New Roman text look bigger on my screen. And that's the problem.


Nani? (Japanese slang for "huh"?) 12-point is a "size", not a number of pixels. When you make the 12-point bigger, you're no longer looking at 12-point font, but maybe 20-point... regardless of what size it started.
January 11, 2007 4:20:47 PM

A font's point size was originally a measure of its size on a printed page. This wound up being translated, when displayed on a computer monitor, to a set number of pixels. The problem is that the apparent size of the "page" increases with resolution, but the apparent size of the type does not.

Increasing the font size from 12-point to 20-point, where possible, is a sort of a kluge. It works, but only just, and not for everything. It also makes things appear other than the way they're designed to appear, which can make everything look wrong. If text is supposed to be 12-point Times New Roman, making it 24-point may make it easier to read, but since nothing else is changing size it will make the rest of the document look strange.
January 11, 2007 4:40:34 PM

Quote:
A font's point size was originally a measure of its size on a printed page. This wound up being translated, when displayed on a computer monitor, to a set number of pixels. The problem is that the apparent size of the "page" increases with resolution, but the apparent size of the type does not.

Increasing the font size from 12-point to 20-point, where possible, is a sort of a kluge. It works, but only just, and not for everything. It also makes things appear other than the way they're designed to appear, which can make everything look wrong. If text is supposed to be 12-point Times New Roman, making it 24-point may make it easier to read, but since nothing else is changing size it will make the rest of the document look strange.


Yes, that's true. You can make the text as big as you want but the pics are still the same size.

Seems the only way to make "everything" bigger is to use a CRT instead of an LCD. Might I suggest craigslist? I saw some used 21" CRTs in my area for $50-$100.
January 11, 2007 9:35:47 PM

As an interim measure before you install third party accessibility programs assign your middle mouse button to magnify. It really helps for things that don't get scaled up on web pages like images and you can easily control the level and area of magnification.
January 12, 2007 5:07:17 PM

I hope I won't have to rely on Windows accesibility options like the magnifier in order to compensate for poor design from both the LCD manufacturers and Microsoft.

Thank you all for the assistance. I'm off to order the NEC 20WMGX2. I shall hope there's some solution to this problem. Otherwise I suppose I'll just have to wait for Windows Vista. Plus six months so they can work out the bugs.
January 12, 2007 6:56:25 PM

To solve the text readability problem, you can change the dots-per-inch (DPI). Go to the Display Properties dialog (right-click on an empty space on the desktop and select properties), then to the Settings tab, and click on Advanced. Another dialog should pop up with a General tab. That tab should have a DPI setting. The higher the DPI, the larger the font.

As the OP noted, the problem with higher dot-pitch screens is that as the pixels get smaller (higher DPI), the size of text gets smaller. This is because we all leave the DPI setting at the same value, typically 96.

I bump up the DPI when I use a TV (640x480) as a display, because text readability is severely impacted by interlacing, and this makes the text big enough so that "brush strokes" take up more than one scan line, and hence don't flash on and off.
January 19, 2007 11:26:05 PM

Thank you, I've done that and it helps a bit. Some things are still smaller than I'd like, but not so freakishly small that I need to hold a microscope up to the screen. :) 

There is, however -- and pardon me for seeming an endless complainer! -- another problem. Is an inability to display colors accurately, or indeed the same across the width of the screen, a characteristic of the NEC 20WMGX2? Or did I get a bad one? On a blank white screen, there are patches of greenish-yellow at the bottom and sides, and they're not artifacts of viewing angle (when my viewing angle is 90 degrees from that spot, it still looks greenish-yellow).
January 19, 2007 11:41:39 PM

Sounds like a bad monitor or backlight issues -- though I really don't know.
January 20, 2007 3:05:58 AM

Are there any 19" LCDs based on this AS-IPS panel? One problem I hadn't considered is that I have no option to set the refresh rate to anything other than 60 Hz. This is too low for my eyes. I can see the screen flickering, all the time (I have the same problem with CRTs, anything below 75 Hz flickers). With the 90GX2 I could set it to 75 Hz.
January 20, 2007 3:17:04 AM

Quote:
Are there any 19" LCDs based on this AS-IPS panel? One problem I hadn't considered is that I have no option to set the refresh rate to anything other than 60 Hz. This is too low for my eyes. I can see the screen flickering, all the time (I have the same problem with CRTs, anything below 75 Hz flickers). With the 90GX2 I could set it to 75 Hz.


19" with IPS screens are few. Check out NECs... like the 1990SXi or 1970NX... maybe a couple of others.
January 20, 2007 6:18:42 PM

Quote:
Are there any 19" LCDs based on this AS-IPS panel? One problem I hadn't considered is that I have no option to set the refresh rate to anything other than 60 Hz. This is too low for my eyes. I can see the screen flickering, all the time (I have the same problem with CRTs, anything below 75 Hz flickers). With the 90GX2 I could set it to 75 Hz.

Nearly all LCD monitors do not flicker if the picture does not change - period; that is simply how the technology works. They remain constant as long as the image does not change. This is one of the strengths in choosing an LCD for continuous computer usage.
However, there are several things that are related.
1) Some 6-bit LCD monitors use a method of rapidly changing between colors to simulate (fool your eyes) into seeing 8-bit colors. This does involve a transition back and forth between colors, but is not anything like CRT refresh (where the pixels fade considerably between refreshes).
2) During any type of motion (where the pixels must change) LCDs do go though a transition process. This results in smearing, motion blur, or whatever you want to call it. It may also be noticeable in other ways, though I don't know how.
3) I have read that the lighting used in most LCDs has a refresh rate, but it is a very high rate over a thousand Hz; howewver, some people have noted issues with certain backlights used on some older LCD monitors.
4) I have also seen an LCD in the store that was flickering (closer the 60Hz or likely slower range) -- either it had a poor choice of backlight or it was defective or some other cause. However, this appears to not occur often.
5) BenQ and Samsung, have introduced a method of reducing the "smearing" effect perceived by your brain during motion. However, to achieve this involves something that is eerily similar to what occurs during the refresh on CRT monitors. However, this implementation is quite new and likely not to be on any monitors in the stores yet.

So... If you are experiencing issues during motion on LCDs, then maybe you are finding some link between refresh rate and response time. However, if you are experiencing issues when the picture remains the same, either you are looking at a monitor with a weird backlight or weird 6-bit to 8-bit conversion or the issue is something else.
January 20, 2007 7:30:30 PM

If LCDs do not redraw the screen 60 times per second when set to a 60 Hz refresh rate, then what does the 60 Hz refresh rate signify? What changes when they're set to a higher refresh rate? And if they don't redraw the screen, why do some have options for multiple refresh rates (or, for that matter, why do they bother listing a refresh rate at all)?

As it's difficult to tell with text postings, allow me to state clearly that I'm not disputing you, nor am I arguing with you. I'm just trying to reconcile this information with what I see. I'd hear this before, by the way, and it does seem to make sense. But on every LCD with a 60 Hz refresh rate, I see the same sort of screen-flicker that I see on a CRT, and it goes away at 75 Hz or higher. It's much worse on a CRT (and doesn't disappear entirely until I bump it up to 85 Hz), but it's still present on an LCD.

Could it be that Windows and video cards are set up to animate by re-drawing the screen at whatever refresh rate is set, and even though the LCD can display a static image, the basic mechanics of the computer force it to redraw 60 times per second anyway?
January 20, 2007 8:10:10 PM

Quote:
If LCDs do not redraw the screen 60 times per second when set to a 60 Hz refresh rate, then what does the 60 Hz refresh rate signify? What changes when they're set to a higher refresh rate? And if they don't redraw the screen, why do some have options for multiple refresh rates (or, for that matter, why do they bother listing a refresh rate at all)?

As it's difficult to tell with text postings, allow me to state clearly that I'm not disputing you, nor am I arguing with you. I'm just trying to reconcile this information with what I see. I'd hear this before, by the way, and it does seem to make sense. But on every LCD with a 60 Hz refresh rate, I see the same sort of screen-flicker that I see on a CRT, and it goes away at 75 Hz or higher. It's much worse on a CRT (and doesn't disappear entirely until I bump it up to 85 Hz), but it's still present on an LCD.

Could it be that Windows and video cards are set up to animate by re-drawing the screen at whatever refresh rate is set, and even though the LCD can display a static image, the basic mechanics of the computer force it to redraw 60 times per second anyway?

Yes, refresh rate is how often the monitor attempts to change the information on the screen (I say attempts, because LCDs have response time issues that may cause them to change the pixels slower)..., but let's put that all aside for the moment and just focus on a static image that does not change at all.
On a CRT, of course, the electron gun fires electrons at the screen that causes that pixel to light up for a brief split second and then the pixel starts to fade back to black (no light). So, on a CRT, the screen updates, the picture starts to fade back to black, and the screen updates again (restoring the color), it fades back to black again, etc... etc.... A CRT simply cannot hold a constant color; it must continue to fire electrons at the screen to make it at least look like it is a constant picture. When refresh rates are set at 60Hz, many people can notice the fading of the picture back to black between cycles (whether subjectively by getting a headache or objectively by knowing what they are looking at).
On an LCD, however, things are completely different. You have a "screen" with millions of little LCD pixels on it. Behind it, you have a light. The light shines through the screen producing a picture. The screen (with the millions of LCD pixels in it) changes to different shades to change colors. Again, refresh rate comes into play. Whatever, the refresh rate it, that is how often the all the LCD pixels on that screen change to show whatever the computer looks like now. Between refreshes, nothing happens. The LCD pixels stay the same... the backlight remains turned on... etc.... It is a constant picture that does not fade back to black like on a CRT. At least this is what we are told about LCD screens. :) 
So, Windows and the Video card.... The answer is yes, the computer still sends the latest picture to the monitor 60 times per second (for 60Hz) whether that image is absolutely the same on every single pixel as the one before it or not. The video card simply sends the latest picture the monitor every refresh cycle, no matter whether it is LCD, CRT, or Plasma. However, the difference is in how the monitor works. On a CRT, it MUST redraw the picture (or else you will see black because the monitor has faded by now). On an LCD, nothing needs to change to keep the monitor going.

Now, having said all that raises an interesting possibility. What if the LCD monitor is still trying to make a transition despite it not having to change the pixel. Could this cause issues? Maybe I'm afraid the only person that can answer this might be a panel maker or someone at xbitlabs.com.

Back to your issue... where can you spot the difference? Can you describe a specific way of looking at the monitor (and a specific image to look at) to see this effect?
Have you looked at monitors in different stores (and not just one store) to see if you notice it?
What does it specifically look like? Can you literally see a strong flicker like it blatently obvious on CRT monitors?
January 21, 2007 10:27:33 AM

Thank you for the very detailed description of how the two monitor types work. :) 

That description fits what I knew of CRTs and LCDs (though obviously with more expert knowledge than I possess backing it -- and thank you again for taking so much time to puzzle this out!), which is why I was so very surprised to see flickering in an LCD.

What I see is a scaled-down version of the standard CRT screen flicker. It isn't always noticeable; it becomes more apparent on bright screens with large expanses of light color and when there is a great deal of vertical movement on a fairly light-colored screen. I don't play many games (yet I've had to purchase a $600 gaming monitor, how's that for irony?), so I'm not sure whether I'd notice it in most gaming situations. In one of the few I do play, EverQuest II, I only see the image flickering when watching wide, open, brightly-lit places, and falling. That seems to require enough vertical redrawing that the flicker appears. I also see a slight flickering (repeated minute dimming and brightening of the image) on any blank white page.

At this point, I'm just curious about what produces this effect. I don't hope to correct it. Thanks to Best Buy's return policy, I have about a week and a half to decide whether or not I can live with it.

Speaking of living with a widescreen monitor, is there any way to cause windows to open at a particular pixel size? The eye doesn't track well across a broad expanse of screen like this, so reading will be fatiguing. I know I can resize windows at will, but windows that open at a constant size and don't require tweaking and re-sizing will be much less distracting. I have a feeling the answer is, "hahaha, no, it's Microsoft," but it's worth asking anyway. :) 
January 22, 2007 5:28:30 PM

I'd suggest getting a second monitor and comparing it to the one you have now to see if it does that. The monitor should not flicker like you describe. It might even be a bad backlight.
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