Mark Warzecha is something of a star at work these days. The IT manager for the Connecticut Department of Developmental Services in Hartford was getting complaints from users about aging desktop equipment. Although the agency was months away from refreshing desktops, Warzecha swapped out the department's old cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors for larger liquid crystal display (LCD) monitors.
Warzecha's Desktop Services Support Group started with a pilot group of 250 users in business and human resources who ran Microsoft Office applications, which were easier to work with visually on larger LCD screens than on their old 17-inch monitors.
"They were all thrilled that [it] was so much easier to navigate through spreadsheets [with] the larger screen. Even when they had to go onto the web, it was much easier," says Warzecha. Replacing the old monitors resulted in approximately 70 percent more visual space for the users.
LCDs have grown to be a popular choice for state and local government. Along with sporting a crisp screen resolution that's visually pleasing, these monitors reduce energy consumption and offer a smaller footprint to conserve desk space. To get the best return for your investment, consider environmental factors, interface, adjustability and visual quality.
Much of the market growth for LCDs occurred through 2006, and the movement now is from a standard aspect ratio to a widescreen monitor, says Tom Mainelli, a senior research analyst at IDC. "Just as TVs have moved from square to a long rectangle, monitors have been making that transition as well."
Making the cost adjustment from a 19-inch monitor (the standard size for new desktops) to 22 inches was an insignificant cost difference, Warzecha says -- about $17 more per monitor.
Before broadly deploying LCDs, start with a pilot group of critical users, he advises. The Connecticut Department of Developmental Services tested four different LCD monitors in a lab and, after three weeks, decided last October to go with Acer based on user input.
Those who have made the switch to LCDs share these purchasing tips:
· Cut energy consumption. LCD monitors consume less power than CRT monitors, according to Dmitriy Nikolayev, a procurement manager for facility and environmental services in the Massachusetts Operational Services Division. The state's comparison showed a CRT in active mode consumed an average of 94 watts compared with only 44 watts for an LCD monitor.
Minnesota requires its monitors to meet the highest Energy Star standard, which rules out CRTs, says Jim Schwartz, spokesperson for the Minnesota Department of Administration in St. Paul. Over the past two years, Minnesota state agencies have purchased close to 7,500 LCD monitors. The changeover to LCDs has "reduced our computer monitor energy consumption by nearly two-thirds," Schwartz says. "Replacing CRTs with LCDs is really a no-brainer. For our typical 17-inch monitor, we learned that the CRT version consumes two and a half times more power than the LCD model."
Minnesota has found that, on average, a 17-inch CRT monitor uses about 80 watts of electricity while a 17-inch LCD monitor uses approximately 30 watts, says Schwartz. "Our electric rate in the capital area is about 8 cents per kilowatt-hour. Based on that, the energy cost to the state is about $6 less per year for an LCD monitor when compared to a CRT monitor."
Research from the Environmental Protection Agency also demonstrates significant energy savings. "The energy consumption of an average LCD display is 60 percent of that for an average CRT," says Steve Ryan, Energy Star product manager for the EPA. Depending on usage patterns, the average cost savings with an LCD monitor is up to $40 a year if the monitor is on 24x7, according to the agency.
· Pick the right interface. "The thing everyone has to consider as they buy and roll out new monitors is how they're going to connect to today's PCs and the next-generation PCs, because more often than not the monitor will outlive the PC,'' IDC's Mainelli advises. Be sure to consider whether the monitor has the right interface or port to connect to the next generation of PCs.
Today just about every commercial desktop and notebook offers an analog VGA port, so every monitor should support this. But VGA quality is inferior to that of digital interfaces such as DVI, HDMI and DisplayPort. DVI works well but is reaching the end of its life as manufacturers turn to the newer standards. HDMI and DisplayPort are just starting to appear on desktops, notebooks and monitors.
· Aim for adjustability. Do you want to spend more for a monitor that can be height adjusted, or is a one-size-fits-all approach adequate? If users sit at standard desks, the monitors might need to be adjusted higher based on the employee's height. LCD monitors cost more with an adjustable stand, so decide whether to buy a separate stand or a standard one that comes with the monitor.
· Go for visual quality. Kevin Asher, supervisor of special projects at the Miamiâ€“Dade County Park and Recreation Department, is happy to have the added desk space that a flat screen LCD monitor has provided for a year now, not to mention less strain on his eyes while he's staring at it all day.
"The visual quality of an LCD is superior, and there's no burn-in when you leave your computer on for days and then you look at the screen,'' says Asher. "CRTs weren't always able to go into sleep mode so they didn't go blank or into some other energy reserve mode, and the burn would diminish your ability to use the screen because it gets corrupted and can't be repaired."
LCD monitors take up a smaller footprint on desks because they're only a few inches deep. Asher notes that conserving desk space is a major priority for most of his colleagues. He points out that prices have dropped enough that his no-frills 19-inch LCD monitor is less expensive than the 15-inch CRT monitor he got four years ago.
Mainelli advises agencies moving to notebooks to also consider a standalone monitor for users who spend most of their time at their desks. "With a 19-inch or 22-inch monitor, you'll get a lot of work done,'' he says.
Finally, be sure to buy as much monitor as you can. "You'll never wish you had a smaller monitor,'' he says.
CRTs contain 6 to 8 pounds of lead in each screen, making them more problematic to dispose of in incinerators or landfills, according to Eric Friedman, director of the Leading by Example Program. Part of the Massachusetts Executive Offices of Energy and Environmental Affairs and Administration and Finance, LEP works statewide with all agencies to identify and reduce the environmental impact associated with state government operations.
"CRTs are also larger, so it takes more energy to transport them and fewer can be packed onto a truck," he says. "LCDs generate less heat because they're using less energy, which has an impact on the air conditioning loads as well, so that decreases." In 2000, Massachusetts became the first state to ban disposal of CRTs.
If you're undergoing a large-scale deployment of LCDs, experts recommend contracting with a company that dismantles the CRTs to ensure the components are either recycled or disposed of in an environmentally responsible manner.
Visual search times for text are 22 percent faster with LCDs than with CRTs, 15 percent fewer eye fixations are needed to read the same information from an LCD as opposed to a CRT, and LCDs eliminate geometric image distortions and flicker, according to a study from Cornell University.