Buying a new monitor can give a new lease of life to a PC, with a bigger and brighter image, sharper text and more space in which to work.
Just plugging it in and switching on won’t always give the best results, however. It’s worth taking a little time to set it up properly so you can enjoy your new display to the full.
These steps all work for laptop screens, too.
Step 1: Position it properly
Where you put your monitor is almost as important as what model you buy. The monitor should be directly in front of you, at an arm’s length away, with the top edge of the screen at eye level when you’re sitting comfortably. You may need to adjust your chair height or the height of the monitor to achieve this.
Less easy to resolve is where in the room a monitor sits. Ideally, it should be away from any windows to prevent reflections on the screen (a particular problem with glossy coatings) and to avoid bright light behind it.
Try not to sit with a window or other source of bright light behind you, for example, or with the monitor in front of one. If you can’t move your desk to prevent this, it is possible to fit a simple shroud around a monitor to prevent reflections, and you can always close a blind or curtain. Not ideal in the summertime, admittedly, but it'll do your eye health the world of good.
Step 2: Calibrate the image
Just as with TVs, many people tend to keep their monitors at too high a brightness setting. This not only wastes energy, but can also cause eyestrain — particularly if the monitor sits in front of a darker wall, creating an uneven contrast with the rest of the room.
Windows has a built-in monitor calibration tool that will help here — just click the Start Button, type "calibrate display" into the search box and click calibrate display colour. The tool will walk you through a series of adjustments to alter the monitor’s brightness and contrast settings using its hardware controls, and will also adjust Windows’ own display settings to give the best image.
On Windows 10, you'll find this by searching for "calibrate display" using Cortana.
The whole process only takes a few minutes. Once complete, you’ll also have the option to check and adjust Windows’ ClearType settings to ensure text is as clear as possible.
ClearType blurs the edges of on-screen text to mask any jagged edges. The result, oddly, is sharper-looking text — although what's effective for one person might not be for another. The ClearType Text Tuner presents several options in succession — choose the ones that look best to you. Again, this takes just a few minutes.
If you tend to use your computer after sunset or in a dark room, it’s also worth lowering the monitor’s brightness to reduce eyestrain. Many laptops alter screen brightness to match ambient light levels automatically, but you can install a free utility like f.lux to do something similar based on the same of day.
Step 3: Check for dead pixels
All flat-screen monitors use LCD technology to display an image. This uses tiny square blocks called ‘pixels’ that display various shades of red, green and blue.
A monitor with a ‘native’ resolution of 1920 x 1080, for example, has 1920 pixels running horizontally and 1080 vertically, or 2,073,600 in total. With so many pixels making up a monitor screen, the odd manufacturing defect is inevitable. These can appear as black ‘dead’ pixels, or pixels that are ‘stuck’ on one particular colour.
Some manufacturers (usually of more expensive monitors) offer a ‘zero pixel defect’ policy, while others maintain that a handful can’t be avoided. Regardless, it’s relatively easy to check if a new monitor has a pixel problem, although you will need very sharp eyesight to do so.
Open the LCD DeadPixel test page and set your web browser to full-screen mode — usually by pressing the F11 key. You can then step through a series of full-colour screens designed to highlight pixels that don’t illuminate, or that are stuck on one colour. The fact that you may need to look very closely indeed to spot them should tell you something about how serious they are, so unless a problem pixel is very obvious, it’s not worth worrying about.
Step 4: Keep it clean!
The final step in setting up a new monitor is the easiest of all, but it never stops - keep the screen clean. Unless it’s touch-sensitive, try to avoid prodding the screen with a finger, as greasy fingerprints can be difficult to shift.
Dust the screen regularly with a soft, dry, lint-free cloth (never use a paper towel) and clean it with a dedicated screen-cleaning solution. Never use furniture polish and don’t use ordinary window cleaner — at best, they’ll leave distracting streaks behind; at worst, the chemicals they contain will discolour the screen.