Selecting a Monitor
de Dave W6DE
Selecting and setting up Computer Monitors for your Amateur Radio operation requires tradeoffs between 1-cost, 2-resolution and 3-size. You can optimize for any two. But for detail work you will inevitably need 2-high resolution (pixel size) and a 3-larger screen size—which means the 1-cost will be higher.
How do you decide what will work best for you? First you need to decide what resolution you can read on a monitor.
Resolution starts with the pixel size on the monitor. A pixel is a dot of color on your monitor. A ‘standard’ monitor now-a-days is an HDMI monitor and it has a resolution of 1920 x 1080 lines, that is 1920 horizontal dots per line across and 1080 vertical dots per line up and down on the monitor. Notice that a resolution specification is in line/pixel quantity, not physical size! For the same resolution (lines) pixel size is determined by the physical size of the monitor. So if you buy a big HDMI monitor you get bigger (easier to read) pixels and buying a small HDMI monitor you will get smaller (harder to read) pixels.
Pixel density or how many pixels/lines per inch do you need? Referred to as Pixel Pitch, at an arm’s length I can see and read 0.233mm pixel density. One of my good friends needs 0.274mm pixel density. My recommendation is to visit a Computer Store and look at computer setups with monitors where you can right click the desk top and request the “Screen resolution” and not only know what you are looking at but see what small print looks like on that monitor.
There are a number of placement/ergonomic issues about monitors that will affect the ease of reading/use and thus your choice of monitors. First, put the monitor at the same level as your radios. Placing the monitor above the radios will have you tilting your head back to read the screen. This will give you neck cramps and/or a sore neck and make operating an unpleasant experience. Moving your head side to size is easier on the body than tilting your head back.
How far away should the monitor be away from your eyes? For me the correct distance is the length of my arm. Making a fist and extending my arm, my knuckles are very near the screen. If you absolutely have to get the monitor off the desk top, compromise and place the monitor stand/base alongside the radio. Extend the monitor stand and then slide the radio under the monitor. The lower edge of the monitor should then be physically on top of the forward edge of the radio. This will allow you to move your eyes to see the monitor with no tilt, or a very slight tilt, of your head. You can also use a VESA wall mount to hold the monitor over the radio—be careful to select a monitor with a VESA mount, not all of them have a VESA mount.
Monitors are measured diagonally corner to corner. My previous 27” diagonal, 2560 x 1440 monitor is 23.5 inches wide and has a pixel density of 0.233mm. This is calculated this way: 23.5 inches equals 597 millimeters; dividing 597mm by 2560 pixels; yields 0.233mm per pixel.
Comments about monitor refresh rate
Pay attention to refresh rate. In some individuals looking into a 60 Hz refresh rate monitor will give them headaches. It depends on your visual acuity, as your brain can detect the near invisible flashing of the refresh. Most all 4K monitors and TVs have rates higher that 60 Hz, but I have seen a few at 60 Hz. If you have a choice, pick a monitor/TV that will perform at 100 Hz refresh rate or higher.
Comments about using TVs as monitors
Large TVs can be sometimes be used a computer monitors. Before you select a 40 inch or 50 inch 4K TVs consider the following:
- These take up enormous amounts of desktop space;
- They require a Display Port or an HDMI V2 interface on your computer for best resolution;
- When placed on a wall behind your equipment you won’t be able to touch the screen without getting up from your chair [like you would to read a long line of data in a table],
When placed on a wall it will be raised above the equipment in front of monitor [this will give you a sore neck when you tilt you head back when operating for extended periods of time.].
I tried using cheap Thrift store monitors and what I had laying around at first. After a year of frustration of not having enough monitor landscape, I bought some proper HDMI displays. I selected two 21.5 inch (diagonal) HDMI 1920 x 1024 monitors (Dell S2216) to view most of my needs. The problem is those two monitors, when sitting side-by-side, took up almost 38” of desk space. So, I had to stack the one over the other, which of course gave me a sore neck. I gave up after a couple more years and went to a monitor set up of one WQHD 27”, 2560 x 1440 (ASUS PB278Q) monitor along with one of the 21.5” HDMI monitors from my previous set up. The 27” monitor takes up 25” of linear desk space but I place it diagonally on the right of the radios at the end of the operating position where it only takes up 18” of left to right operating desk width. The second monitor is stacked over the radios and is only used for DX Atlas’ map and a DXSherlock 6-meter propagation map. These two maps are glanced at information displays; they aren’t typed into or manipulated after start up—so, no sore neck.
I now have a 3440 X 1400, 34” diagonal, curved display, 100 Hz refresh, at 0.235 mm pixel size, Acer ED347CKR monitor. This is placed at the right side of my operation position, diagonally across the deck top. I find this comfortable from an operation point of view. Depending on sales this monitor ranges from $400 to $500.
If you want to see most of your Software Applications’ windows open simultaneously without overlaying windows—make your selection carefully. There are lots of choices, but pay attention to the pixel density and desk space available. Make sure your current computer can operate with your selected monitor’s: Interface, HDMI, DVI, Display Port, etc.; Resolution: 3440 x 1440 pixels, pixel size at 0.235 mm, etc.; and Quantity of monitors. Note: higher pixel densities [density not size] driven by a computer will require one of the following interfaces [in order of preference]: Display Port, HDMI V2.1 or V2, DVI-D (now obsolete). Note: these interfaces are computer interfaces, not TV interfaces although you will find them on some 4K TV sets.