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Adjusting your computer monitor, part 2
technofile  by al fasoldt
Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology 
Simple gray rule

Adjusting your computer monitor, part 2

Technofile for March 9, 1997
This is an expanded version of the column that appears in print.

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1997, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 1997, The Syracuse Newspapers

You've found just the right monitor for your computer, using the advice I offered last week. You haul the beast home and hook it up—and find the picture is terrible.

Don't despair. Anyone familiar with TV sets knows they are often delivered out of adjustment. The same is true of computer monitors, which work just like TVs in many ways.

Fortunately, computer monitors are easier to adjust than TVs are, so get a cup of coffee, close the curtains and turn down the lights. Turn on the computer and let everything warm up for 10 minutes.

Why should you dim the lighting? A properly set-up computer display is designed to look right in a room that has subdued lighting. To make sure you're not working in the dark, place a small lamp at the side of the monitor—the right side if you are right-handed—and shine it down on the keyboard and your general work area. If the light bulb is slightly behind the plane of the screen, you won't see any glare. Keep other lights on, too, of course. But keep them dim.

Why do this? If you adjust your monitor in a bright room, the electron guns (the devices that light up all the dots on the screen) need to be turned up well past their normal settings just to make the screen image bright enough. And that means the dots, called pixels, will swell up and become indistinct. (This is called "blooming.") The picture will look fuzzy in a garish kind of way.

Now you're ready to twiddle with the knobs or play with the push-button controls.

First, I suggest you ignore any detents in the positions of knobs—the places where the knobs seem to rotate into a set position—or the factory presets in the push-button adjustments. (These are usually called digital controls.) These detents and presets are often meaningless.

Make your own preferred settings instead. Get out a felt-tip marker that you can use when you're through to mark the 12:00 position of each knob. That way, you can return to your carefully set adjustment at any time.

Next, find a way to show a picture of known quality on the screen. If you have access to an online service or direct access to the Internet, use your Web browser to open a Web page I've created for monitor adjustments. You'll find the page at The images linked to the page were carefully designed to look good when your monitor is adjusted right.

If you can't get onto the Internet and don't have a good-quality image to display, adjust the color patterns of your desktop so that the background is black, some small objects are white and the rest of the items are a mix of other colors.

Now start playing with the controls. Turn the color controls (you probably have two of them, for brightness and contrast) all the way down, then each one all the way up while the other is turned down. You'll find that one control has no effect when the other one is all the way down; that's the contrast control. Mark it in some way if it's not already labeled. The other control is for brightness.

Start with both controls all the way down. Turn the contrast control all the way up. Then turn the brightness control up until the colors start to become saturated—until, in effect, they begin to "bleed" and take on a bright glow—and then back off on the brightness a little. If the black areas are not totally black, back off a little more.

Now slowly turn the contrast control down. At some point, the darker and lighter colors will seem to snap into a normal relationship, with the white areas remaining bright white and the black areas still solidly dark.

At this point you should check the setting of the brightness control again, but do not move it very far in either direction. Then mark the 12:00 positions of the controls if they are knobs. (If they are digitally controlled push buttons, you'll just have to hope they remain set where they are.)

The second kind of adjustment enlarges the display to fill most or the entire screen. Most monitors come from the factory with an unlit border around the image area, for no good reason. (Engineers set them that way so that variations in each monitor won't cause some to end up with images hidden inside the bezel, but that's just poor quality control.)

Every monitor but the cheapest ones provide buttons or knobs that enlarge the picture horizontally and vertically. You'll undoubtedly also find controls that shift the picture up or down and to each side.

With your normal desktop showing, expand the horizontal image area until it almost fills the screen. Do the same for the vertical adjustment. You'll probably have to shift the overall image sideways or from top to bottom while you are doing this to keep it centered.

If you are using push buttons, the settings you make should be saved in the monitor automatically. If your monitor has knobs for these adjustments, you'll probably have to mark them so you can reset them if something happens.

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