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Flat-panel monitor: a feast for the eyes

A flat-panel monitor such as IBM's T84H 18.1-inch LCD model is a feast for the eyes, offering computer users stunning images. It's still a luxury, with a $2,600 price tag, but I enjoyed every minute of a recent test run.

First, I reclaimed half my desk's work space when I replaced my old 17-inch clunker monitor with the IBM T84H. (It's even wall-mountable with the optional IBM Radial Arm, if I wanted to completely clear my desk.) Then I sat back and gave my eyes a holiday.

The IBM monitor was a Stealth black digital/analog hybrid. Newer model LCD monitors that have digital interfaces such as this one provide clearer and more stable images than displays with standard VGA interfaces.

To use the digital interface you need to make sure that your video adapter has a digital interface and that it is compatible with the monitor. There are three competing digital interfaces: Digital Video Interface (DVI), Digital Flat Panel (DFP) and Plug and Display (P&D). The IBM T84H uses DVI. However, even the analog VGA interface produced an extremely sharp, flicker-free image.

Still, even with the sharp picture, reduced power and space saving, the price would take some serious justification beyond the $36 a year that IBM says you can save in electricity cost.

Of course, smaller models cost less, and you need to keep in mind that the flat-panel's diagonal screen dimension is a true representation of the viewable image size. A 15-inch flat panel's viewable area will fall somewhere between that of most 16- and 17-inch CRT monitors. But even in these smaller sizes, the flat panels are two to three times the cost of the traditional displays.

One of the most important things to consider when buying a flat-panel monitor is the warranty, which can range from one to three years. Make sure that the display's backlight, a common failure point, is included under the same warranty as the rest of the display. The IBM comes with a three-year warranty (backlight included).