Buying a Second Monitor

Concept: 3 out of 5
Execution: 1 out of 5
Yeah, but: It's not the getting, it's the having.

The Long Version: I still remember when having a monochrome monitor that was green and yellow was the height of cool, and I still enjoy the computer games that I played on my Commodore 64 and Mac Classic. I'm hardly cutting edge; in fact, I'm of the "never too late to have a happy childhood" school. And in this case, I have a long-held envy of a friend's wicked-fast Mac IIfx that was running dual monitors. Yes, I know that my mid-2007 iMac with its 24" screen completely stomps that historical footnote, with power and pixels that are straight out of science fiction. I've still wanted a second monitor for many years.

I'd find myself standing in front of the displays in the happiest place on earth, trying to decide if I had enough room on my desk for a new toy. Invariably, I'd decide that I didn't know enough to make a good monitor choice, and would wander back to the flash drives and paper shredders. (Look for reviews of those soon as well.) The final straw was when I found some really good 'boxing day' deals on a local store's website. I started researching a few models, and that's where the trouble really started.

I'm a reasonably technical person. I know what Linux is, worked for a couple of IT companies, and enjoy finding highly complex solutions to simple problems. Within photography, I'm swimming in a sea of technical information, and even though much of it is meaningless and/or hype - Samsung calls the processor in its newest cameras "DRI Me II Pro", I kid you not - an abundance of information is out there. DPReview takes 27 pages to discuss the merits and shortcomings of the model bump of the model bump of the entry-level Nikon D40 - one of the most straightforward cameras on the market. People who think a lot about buying cameras truly did wring their hands over the Canon 50D dropping to 6.3 frames per second from the 6.6 of the 40D, and the image-quality ramifications of more megapixels. Photographic technophiles could even make the overclocking quake-benchmark-addicted slashdotter shout: "17'5 1RR3L3\/4|\|7, dUD35!". Eris knows I've come close to losing it a time or two myself.

Shopping for an LCD monitor was like hitting a wall, except that the wall is solid, impenetrable NOTHING.

Forget about trying to learn the differences between TN, IPS, and PVA technologies. The manufacturers websites wouldn't even tell me if the panels were glossy or matte. I abandoned one possible purchase after fifteen minutes of hunting for information because of a minor aside in a user review. It mentioned that not only was the height not adjustable, the panel didn't even tilt. Isn't that worth mentioning on the products' web page? It should probably be right under the note: "May Not Be Suitable For Normal Use". Perhaps my frustration is because I was mostly looking at Samsung, as I have found more useful manufacturers, but it should never have been this difficult. The best source of information, virtually by default, were the single-paragraph "I bought it and it's the most awesome / it broke and sucks in every possible way" tragicomedy of aggregated user reviews. Trying to find a decent screen was the most frustrating thing I've done since choosing a cell phone plan.

I did eventually find an affordable matte-screen PVA monitor that tilts and swivels. (Model "F2380".) Its image quality, in terms of sharpness, contrast, and nuance, isn't a match my iMac; and I've yet to be able to calibrate it to get rid of a cool shift to its mid-tones. I actually expected that last part because of something I read somewhere, and partially expected the other attributes because of my price range. The aesthetic of the display is greatly improved by some black electrical tape to get rid of a cosmetic light that flashes obnoxiously when there's no input signal. And maybe it's just me, but for some reason it doesn't use a half-inch of its screen when it's horizontal, but uses it all when it's vertical. Such is life. At least it tilts.

Since it's not good enough to be my reference screen, I've discovered that I prefer it set vertically. It takes up less room on my desk, which is no small mercy, but it's also a useful way to work. For Lightroom, I typically keep the second screen in Grid view, which speeds my sorting and ranking immeasurably. In Survey mode (top photo) it gives jumbo previews of two horizontal images, and in Loupe mode it lets me see a vertical image in all its glory. For Final Cut, it lets me mix ten stereo audio tracks in the timeline viewer without reducing the other windows to nothing (second photo), and the custom configurations can be quickly flipped to put the Viewer in the main window and still have lots of room to work. Even Spaceward Ho!, which I first played on a 9" screen, benefits from the tall arrangement. After only a week, I know I'd suffer if I had to give it up.

Mac IIfx, eat your heart out.


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