Buying 24″ monitors – is now the right time?

I’m doing my bit to reduce the impact of the global financial crisis. Yesterday, I went out and bought a couple of new 24″ monitors to replace my perfectly functional pair of 19″ LCDs. It now looks like I’m facing a huge wall of pixels and I don’t quite know where to look, but I felt like that after moving from my old 19″ CRT to the pair of 19″ LCDs, so I’m sure I will get used to it soon enough. The 19″ LCDs haven’t gone to waste, they are now adorning an older PC which was previously attached to the old and now slowly-dying 19″ CRT.

Why was it a good time for me to buy new monitors? Because of the way monitor aspect ratios are going. The “sweet spot” for monitors right now is 22″ or 23″, where a serious number of pixels are available for very little cash. Trouble is, the pixels are in the wrong place. Almost all monitors of that size have a resolution of 1920 x 1080, a ratio of 16:9, same as a full HD TV. A vertical resolution of 1080 doesn’t provide a significant advantage over an old 19″ 1280 x 1024 (4:3 ratio) monitor.

When I’m not doing CAD or image manipulation, I’m generally doing things that involve lots of vertical scrolling; word processing, reading web pages, that sort of thing. Often, those web pages have a fixed-width design (e.g. AutoCAD Exchange), so adding extra screen width gains me nothing but extra wide stripes on each side. With more and more software having a deep horizontal stripe dedicated to user interface elements, there’s not much point investing in only 56 extra pixels (5.4%) of height.

From my point of view it’s better to pay a bit extra and go for an extra 176 pixels (17.1%) of height: a 1920 x 1200 (16:10 ratio) monitor. These are available in various sizes, but the cheapest ones, and the ones that will fit side-by-side on my desk, are 24″. But these are becoming less common. Even as I’ve been looking over the past few weeks, the number of 24″ 1920 x 1200 monitor models available in my area has dropped off significantly. Unless you’re very careful, if you buy a 24″ monitor it’s likely to be 1920 x 1080.

Why? Many of these monitors are now being used for games consoles; 1920 x 1080 is all they will use. Same with HD TVs; 16:9 is the current fashion in LCD panel ratios, and it looks likely to stay that way. It makes sense for manufacturers to make 16:9 panels, so 16:10 panels are only going to get rarer.

That may make sense for the manufacturers, but it doesn’t help me as a vertical-pixel-hungry customer. Unless I’m prepared to go for much bigger, desk-hogging and expensive monitors, all I’m going to gain with a 16:9 screen is a bunch of width. Even a 27″ monitor I considered, at roughly twice the price of a 24″, offered “only” 2048 X 1152.

I made the decision. I bought a pair of 24″ 1920 x 1200 monitors while I still could. I found a good-value model I could view in the store, with a small enough bezel (important if you’re using them side by side), a height-adjustable stand, and an excellent warranty (3 years pixel-perfect). For me, it was the right time. Maybe it is for you, too?

8 comments to Buying 24″ monitors – is now the right time?

  • I’m curious whether you’ve considered (or tried) rotating your screen so that the vertical dimension is the largest one. I haven’t, but I think I would try it if I went to a 24″ screen.

  • I sometimes wonder if a square monitor would makes the most sense.

  • I have considered buying a screen that supports rotation, but didn’t go for it this time. For word processing, desktop publishing, etc., where documents are generally portrait, I think it makes perfect sense to have a portrait screen. For CAD use where documents are generally landscape, probably not. How about one portrait and one landscape screen?

    As a side effect of buying large monitors, I’ve just noticed that the background images displayed behind comments on this blog aren’t large enough for a 1920-wide screen.

  • Where I work, most of the software guys run dual 24″ monitors, one in landscape, and one in portrait (as Owen mentioned above). It makes a big difference when looking at a bunch of code or any other long vertical information, such as web pages.

    I have considered running one of my secondary monitors like that, but I generally have specs or a second instance of SolidWorks open for reference, and landscape works better for that for me. Especially when zooming in on stuff…

    Brian

  • It’s not the screen that does the rotation, but the graphics driver. Newer drivers from ATI and nVidia support rotation in 90-degree increments.

  • Earl Kubaskie

    I’ve been running a pair of 1920×1200 24″ screens for close to a year now.

    Both CAD and GIS are vastly better here than the 2 1280×1024 19″ screens at work.

    Try it if you haven’t already – the ribbon is actually nice to work with on this setup, with palettes for layers &, properties (and many more with C3D) on the other screen!

  • Ralph, actually, it is the screen, or at least the stand that is supplied with it, that is the important factor. As you say, recent drivers support rotation, so that should be no problem. But if I can’t physically rotate the panel because the stand doesn’t support it, then that option isn’t open to me. I guess I could rig up something, but if I really wanted to do this I should have made a rotating stand one of the critical factors in my buying research.

    Brian, the point about viewing code is well worthwhile. If I spent most of my day coding, it would be a really good idea to have one portrait and one landscape monitor.

  • You’re right that most screens lack the physical rotate feature. I have a spare 19″ that I want to rotate 90 degrees; at some point I will have to craft a custom stand or something, perhaps this summer.

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