How Computer Monitors Work

By: Jeff Tyson & Carmen Carmack

LCD Features and Attributes

To evaluate the specifications of LCD monitors, here are a few more things you need to know.

Native Resolution

Unlike CRT monitors, LCD monitors display information well at only the resolution they are designed for, which is known as the native resolution. Digital displays address each individual pixel using a fixed matrix of horizontal and vertical dots. If you change the resolution settings, the LCD scales the image and the quality suffers. Native resolutions are typically:


  • 17 inch = 1024x768
  • 19 inch = 1280x1024
  • 20 inch = 1600x1200

Viewing Angle

When you look at an LCD monitor from an angle, the image can look dimmer or even disappear. Colors can also be misrepresented. To compensate for this problem, LCD monitor makers have designed wider viewing angles. (Do not confuse this with a widescreen display, which means the display is physically wider.) Manufacturers give a measure of viewing angle in degrees (a greater number of degrees is better). In general, look for between 120 and 170 degrees. Because manufacturers measure viewing angles differently, the best way to evaluate it is to test the display yourself. Check the angle from the top and bottom as well as the sides, bearing in mind how you will typically use the display.

Brightness or Luminance

This is a measurement of the amount of light the LCD monitor produces. It is given in nits or one candelas per square meter (cd/m2). One nit is equal to one cd/m2. Typical brightness ratings range from 250 to 350 cd/m2 for monitors that perform general-purpose tasks. For displaying movies, a brighter luminance rating such as 500 cd/m2 is desirable.

Contrast Ratio

The contrast ratio rates the degree of difference of an LCD monitor's ability to produce bright whites and the dark blacks. The figure is usually expressed as a ratio, for example, 500:1. Typically, contrast ratios range from 450:1 to 600:1, and they can be rated as high as 1000:1. Ratios more than 600:1, however, provide little improvement over lower ratios.

Response Rate

The response rate indicates how fast the monitor's pixels can change colors. Faster is better because it reduces the ghosting effect when an image moves, leaving a faint trial in such applications as videos or games.


Unlike CRT monitors, LCD monitors have much more flexibility for positioning the screen the way you want it. LCD monitors can swivel, tilt up and down, and even rotate from landscape (with the horizontal plane longer than the vertical plane) to portrait mode (with the vertical plane longer than the horizontal plane). In addition, because they are lightweight and thin, most LCD monitors have built-in brackets for wall or arm mounting.

Besides the basic features, some LCD monitors have other conveniences such as integrated speakers, built-in Universal Serial Bus (USB) ports and anti-theft locks.