Under the Desktop: Powering Your Way to a Desktop LCD

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Following this winter's energy supply emergency, California-based creative professionals (and many other cost-conscious individuals) may be looking to LCDs to help lower their energy bills over the next few years -- and to meet the 10-percent reduction in energy consumption requested by the state's governor last week. If you're in the business of providing content, however, don't count on the savings yet. Content creators may need to use more power in the future -- and more hardware, too.

Less is More?
The reputed advantages of LCDs over CRTs include their small footprint, low weight, sharper images, and better ergonomics, and I'll consider these and other LCD issues in an upcoming column. For the time being, at least, energy conversation is getting all the attention when it comes to LCDs.

The energy savings of desktop LCDs is no myth: LCDs use half as much power as CRTs at most. For instance, the newly announced 18-inch NEC MultiSync LCD1830 consumes a maximum of 49 watts, which is about a third of the 140 watts needed to power a typical 19-inch CRT. Such power savings make LCDs an attractive option for buyers who don't mind paying more for "green" choices.

The news isn't so good if you're hoping that an LCD might pay for itself anytime soon in power savings. The marketing department of the NEC-Mitsubishi joint venture created a PDF brochure that compares the power usage of LCDs and a variety of competing CRT models. According to NEC-Mitsubishi's figures, each 5 watts of power consumption costs about a dollar per year. Using the 49-watt MultiSync LCD1830 as an example, the yearly LCD energy cost is about $10; the cost of a typical 19-inch CRT, which draws about 140 watts, would be $28. Over a period of five years, savings would add up to $90. Unfortunately, the retail cost of the LCD1830 -- one of NEC's "aggressively priced" models -- is $1,899, which is well over $90 more than you'd pay for a comparable CRT.

Of course, LCD prices may eventually fall to the point that LCD energy savings carry more weight. Increasing energy costs could also play a role.

View to a Proof
Whatever the energy savings for end users, designers and other content creators may find themselves using more energy, not less. In an all-digital workflow, from creation to viewing, the content creator must "proof" the work on the final output medium. If content will be experienced digitally, then consideration should be paid to the real-world viewing environment and the characteristics of the display. For the future (and, I suggest in many cases, the present), that means proofing work on both LCDs and CRTs.

Proofing on both LCDs and CRTs may seem like overkill to many. After all, what's the big deal? Aren't all monitors created equal? Sadly, such is not the case. All LCDs used in notebook computers and most desktop flat-panel displays offer a greatly reduced color gamut -- on the range of 50 percent -- when compared with almost any recent CRT monitor.

There are many reasons for the constrained gamut of LCDs, and with the millions being put into R&D, LCD performance will no doubt continue to improve. One reason for the reduced color gamut, however, is the size and placement of LCD backlighting, particularly in notebook displays. Even Apple's top-of-the-line desktop LCD model -- the 22-inch Apple Cinema Display -- just comes close to the gamut of CRTs, according to a report by Pfeiffer Consulting. Regardless of the Control Panel setting, display resolution, OS platform, or graphics chipset, some colors visible on a CRT will fall outside the range of an LCD. So a nice blend in an image on your desktop monitor may become a muddled mess when viewed on a notebook.

To Each Its Own
This situation is really nothing new. As we all know but may only selectively grasp, every color device possesses its own color space and characteristics. Color-profiling standards can help with some of the translation between devices, but sometimes color differences fall outside the range of a particular device. For example, some colors on a CRT display can't be printed by four-color process and vice versa.

Content creators have long compensated for these color-space differences in order to accomplish the best possible image. While this accommodation is well understood in print workflows -- following long decades of experience and communication between designers and the production side -- it is too often ignored for presentations and the Web. Odds are high that the CRT will be the imaging platform for conception and development of a design. But now it's also up to the content creator to check the image on an LCD, and at different likely display resolutions. In other words, the differences between display technologies must join other new items on the image-quality checklist, such as the colorspace differences between the Mac OS and Windows, and the mishandling of content by an increasing list of browsers and viewing applications.

Such considerations are vital to the creation of quality images as well as to the maintenance of your brand as a creator of quality. The modern sage, the Chofetz Chaim, offers this insight to the situation: "The profits of compromise are nothing compared to its losses."

Read more by David Morgenstern.

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