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  • How to Measure a Computer Monitor
Technology Articles > Computers > Monitors > How to Measure a Computer Monitor

Shopping for computer monitors can be somewhat confusing. Without taking aspects like viewing area, backlight and brightness/contrast ratio into consideration, there are a number of variables and nuances in terms of choosing a monitor size that will factor into whether a monitor meets your needs. This article will take a close look at monitor sizes and how to measure a computer monitor.

Nominal Size vs. Viewable Area

Most monitors are advertised by their nominal size. That is the length of the monitor measured diagonally. This is misleading, because this doesn’t take into account the portion of the monitor that isn’t actually a screen. Any given monitor will have at least one inch around it that is part of the monitor’s structure. So, a 20-inch monitor will usually have a viewing area of about 18.8 inches and a 14-inch monitor may have a viewing area of 13.2 inches. The ratio between nominal size and viewable area varies by make and model, but generally, the nominal size isn’t the best way to compare monitors.
This is only an issue with CRT monitors, however. Flat panels and LCDs are advertised using their viewable area. But, it’s still important to note the difference, since an LCD monitor that is advertised with a viewing area of 20-inches will actually be a bit bigger overall. Keep this in mind as you look for a monitor to fit your desk.

Aspect Ratio

Standard aspect ratios are 4:3, while widescreen monitors are 16:9. Widescreen monitors are gaining in popularity, since they give you more width for placing windows alongside each other, and HD movies and TV shows are shot in 16:9. However, the downside of a widescreen monitor is that their surface are is smaller than a standard 4:3 aspect ratio of the same viewable size. For example, a 21-inch widescreen monitor has about the same viewable surface area as a 19-inch 4:3 monitor. Technically, you can fit more on a 4:3 monitor with the same viewable size, but given that most windows scroll vertically, a 16:9 monitor makes sense for most multi-taskers.

Native Resolution

The resolution refers to the number of pixels that are displayed on the screen at a time. The greater the pixel resolution, the more desktop space you will get. However, the higher the pixel resolution, the smaller the items will appear on screen. Each monitor has a native resolution that will look the best on that particular monitor. If you use a lower resolution, the text and icons may appear larger, but it will be less defined and the picture will be less crisp.

Furthermore, you cannot exceed the native resolution of any given screen. For example, if you have a monitor with a 1920 by 1200 pixel resolution, you cannot display a resolution of 2560 by 1600. If desktop space is important to you, go for a monitor with a high pixel resolution—however, keep in mind, if you have a monitor with a small viewing area, but a high native pixel resolution, it may be difficult to read.

Keep all of these pointers in mind as you shop for a computer monitor—but remember the best way to compare monitors is to see them for yourself. No specs can replace the judgment of the naked eye.