Setting Up A Monitor
In theory, all monitors are set to their optimum settings in the factory, so you should never have to adjust anything. If you're shopping for a new monitor and find that you have to change the settings much in order to get a good image, then you should probably look for a different monitor. However, there are numerous factors that can cause a monitor to need some adjusting, now and then.
Although the human eye is a very sensitive light-measuring instrument, just looking at a monitor won't tell you much about its quality. Unless you know exactly what to look for, you're going to need a little help when evaluating a monitor. I would strongly recommend getting a display calibration package such as those from DisplayMate Technologies. Their software can help you calibrate and adjust any monitor, as well as help you identify any problem areas. Their test screens are specially designed to accentuate specific display properties one at a time, making it easier to see things like geometric distortions, color accuracy, convergence problems, focus, moiré patterns, glare, etc. Trying to detect these kinds of problems without good calibration screens is very difficult, though not impossible.
Most people don't calibrate their monitors ever, let alone on a regular basis. It is worth the time and effort, though, particularly if you are working in video or print. With the proper software, it isn't too difficult to get your monitor in the best possible shape, and once you become familiar with what to look for, keeping it properly calibrated should only take a few minutes every month or so. You can also use these calibration techniques to evaluate monitors you're thinking about buying. Even without the proper test screens, you should be able to do a rough calibration in any store (if you know what you're looking for) and get a good idea of the monitor's performance.
When calibrating any monitor, start by adjusting everything to the factory settings (including the graphics card settings). Set the resolution you'll be using most of the time, using the graphics card settings panel. As I mentioned earlier, if possible, try to run your monitor at 80 to 85Hz or higher. This will reduce eyestrain. Wait a while before you begin calibrating the monitor. CRT monitors need time to warm up and settle before you start calibrating. I usually let a monitor warm up for at least 20 minutes before starting, and even then I run through the brightness and contrast calibrations a few times in between the other tests, just to make sure that it hasn't 'drifted' since I began. Of course, if you've got a good monitor, you shouldn't have to do much waiting or calibrating.
When adjusting any monitor, the first calibration step is setting the brightness and contrast levels properly. Oddly enough, brightness controls actually adjust the black levels of the CRT, while contrast controls adjust the maximum white levels. Higher contrast will make things 'pop' on the screen and can make them seem sharper and brighter, while lower contrast gives you more shades, at a cost of 'smoothing' the image and losing a bit of brightness. Ultimately, you want a contrast balance where you can see the maximum number of shades of gray, yet whites look nearly white and blacks are nearly black.
Most people tend to run their monitors (and TV sets) a little too 'hot,' since brighter seems to look better (particularly in an office environment, with lots of lights and windows). If your brightness and contrast settings are at their maximum, you won't get the best picture and you can shorten the life of the monitor (monitors should last between three and five years).