Going widescreen and dual-monitor

I recently splurged and bought a Dell UltraSharp 2407WFP, a 24-inch widescreen flat panel. I had been using a Samsung 172T for the past 3.5 years, and it has served me well, but I was looking for something a little more. All the reviews of this baby seemed to indicate that it was “the one” to get, so I decided to use some of the money I’d been saving to indulge a little. All I can say is that I’m very impressed – this display certainly lives up to the hype. Not only does it provide a large native resolution of 1920 x 1200, but it does so with a great picture quality. Gaming is also very nice on it, even at non-native resolutions.

Another key feature was the inclusion of many inputs. Not only does it support the standard DVI and VGA connectors expected of any LCD monitor, but it also has composite, component and S-video inputs, making this of jack-of-all trades when it comes to displays. It also has a 4-port USB hub and a memory card reader built in, adding extra value. About the only downside I can think of is that I now have a reason to upgrade to HD-DVD or Blu-ray for movies!

Wide open

This was another big jump for me, not only because of the resolution change but also because it’s the first widescreen monitor I’ve used. Initially, I was hesitant to move to a widescreen aspect ratio, since some games didn’t support it, and so you’d either get a weird stretched image or black bars on the sides of your screen, depending on the monitor and videocard used. However, with the increased prevalence of the widescreen format (either 16:9 or 16:10 aspect ratio), game developers are including support for it more and more. Sooner or later, widescreen will become the dominant format, I believe. Just look at laptops/notebooks – the majority of them come with a widescreen nowadays.

The benefits of a widescreen can be numerous. Firstly, they’re better for watching movies, since they’re closer to the aspect ratio, and thus maximize the space better, leaving less vertical black space. It can also be better for general desktop work, as the greater horizontal space gives more room, all things equal. For example, browsing in Firefox is a lot easier since there is more room for tabs, so you can have more of them open without the tabs overflowing to a new row, or requiring scrolling.

However, there are also some drawbacks, especially when browsing the web. If you’re like me, you always browse with a maximized window, so that websites take up the full width of the display. This can be problematic for websites that don’t have some sort of limit on the number of characters per line, or the line length. Usability research indicates that there is an optimal line length when it comes to reading text, whether that optimal length is just a preference or indicative of something more basic. It’s similar to how we like to see a body of text broken up into smaller paragraphs, separated by whitespace.

Without a limitation on the line length, widescreen formats can make the reading area of websites longer than optimal, and thus perhaps harder to read. This effect is amplified when you’re running at a high resolution such as 1920 x 1200, so beware of this. Additionally, some improperly designed layouts “break” when viewed at higher resolutions, simply because these higher resolutions were not considered when designing the site. Remember, most people run at a resolution of 1280 x 1024 or lower.


After upgrading to 24″ of screen real-estate, I gave my old Samsung 17″ LCD to my parents, replacing their old 17″ Samsung CRT. Since I hate seeing stuff go to waste, I decided to set it up as a secondary display on my PC for some dual-monitor action. Why would you need a secondary display when you already have 1920 x 1200 pixels of resolution? Why not? My first idea was to use the secondary display to hold communication applications like IRC and IM, so they are always in constant view and don’t need to be alt-tabbed to. This can be a good thing, or a bad thing.

Another nice use of a secondary display is during web-development. I can code on one screen, and view the output on the secondary – this can be helpful when you have a lot of windows open and don’t want to keep alt-tabbing to find the right one. It’s also nice when you have a full-screen game/movie running on the primary, and have applications like chat/IM that you want to keep an eye on in the secondary.

There are, of course, downsides. Besides being distracting, and possibly detrimental to productivity, this also takes up more (physical) desk space, and obviously uses more energy, which isn’t a good thing if you don’t like melting glaciers or ice caps.

The old days

One thing I noticed after firing up the old CRT was how much worse the display quality was compared to any LCD. Text was not as clear, or vibrant as on an LCD; in fact it looked almost greyish, compared with the crisp text on an LCD. I just don’t know how I stared at these things for so many years. Maybe that’s why I now require corrective vision. Or, maybe I’m just now spoiled.

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