Okay, so it’s a slightly sensationalist headline – I don’t really hate HDTV as such, but I do hate what it’s done to the market for computer monitors.
There was a time when televisions and computer monitors were universally 4:3 aspect ratio. You know, the nearly square screens of years gone by. Then came the “flat screen revolution”, and the market was flooded with LCD screens. Monitor manufacturers, in an effort to keep costs down, often used the same LCD panels as TV manufacturers. So the market was filled with 4:3 LCD monitors and geeks worldwide knew a few “standard” resolutions off by heart: 640×480 and 800×600 were the screens of old CRTs or broken Windows installations; 1024×768 was a common laptop screen; 1280×1024 and 1600×1200 were nice desktop monitors.
Then widescreen arrived. 4:3 was old hat. 16:9 was the new ratio to have. Yet still the 4:3 monitors held on as LCD manufacturers squeezed the last out of their production lines. But widescreen inevitably prepared the way for my nemesis: high-definition TV.
Suddenly all the LCD panel manufacturers began to churn out 16:9 screens designed to match (or come close to) the magic vertical resolutions of 720 pixels and 1080 pixels. 4:3 monitors were nowhere to be seen – other than at the extremely low and extremely high ends of the market.
And therein lies my issue with HDTV. I already have a perfectly usable 17″ LCD monitor with a native resolution of 1280×1024. But I want more space. In particular I want more vertical space, but don’t want to take up much more horizontal space on my desk. Back in the day I would have bought a 1600×1200 LCD screen and been happy, but such things now only seem to be available for silly money. Yes, I could go for a 1920×1080 widescreen monitor, but that resolution only seems to be available on 22″ screens or bigger – and it doesn’t even give me that much extra vertical space! If I want 1200 vertical pixels then I’m looking at the realm of 24″ monitors.
A little Pythagoras for you: for historical (and marketing) reasons monitor screens are measured across the diagonal. To find the horizontal width of the screen (roughly, at least), you need to multiply the monitor size by 0.8 for a 4:3 monitor, or by 0.87 for a 16:9 screen. So my 17″ 4:3 screen is about 13.6″ wide, and I really don’t want to add more than two or three inches to that width.
If I could still get a 19″ 1600×1200 screen it would be about 15.2″ wide. Perfect. Even a 20″ 4:3 screen would be an acceptable 16″ wide. But to get an improvement in vertical resolution I need to go for a 22″ 16:9 screen. And to get a worthwhile increase in vertical resolution I need a 24″ 16:9 widescreen panel.
That’s a hefty 19.1″ wide at best, or a whopping 20.8″ for a decent vertical resolution! And you know what? I just don’t have the space for that.
So I’ll continue to muddle along with my 17″ screen, hope it doesn’t die anytime soon, and keep an eye out for an old secondhand bargain screen. I love HDTV when I’m sitting down to watch a film, but I hate what it’s done to my choice of monitors. 🙁