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Front Page » March 7, 2006 » Tech Tips » Digital Flat Screens: Care and Use
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Digital Flat Screens: Care and Use

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Last Saturday, I had a very mis fortunate experience. I was sitting on the couch, with my notebook computer on my lap (which is about four and a half years old), trying to decide what I should write about for this week's Tech Tips column. Unsure, I decided to get a bite to eat while I made up my mind. So, I shut the lid to my computer and set it on the seat of the couch.

I got up, and took one step forward, not knowing that the computer's power cable was wrapped around my ankle. To my surprise, the computer was swiftly pulled from the couch and landed harshly on the floor, up-side-down. I am typically very careful with my personal property, so I'm unsure how the cable became tangled as it was.

Fortunately, the computer still runs and is usable for the most part. On the negative side, the flat screen took irreparable damage. There are now large black streaks that run on 45-degree angles through the lower-right corner of the screen. Because repairs would be far more expensive than replacing the entire notebook, this computer will carry these scars to its grave.

So, with digital flat screens on my mind, I decided to discuss flat screens and how to properly care for them.

Flat screens, often called "Liquid Crystal Displays (LCDs)," are relatively new comers when compared to their traditional CRT (cathode-ray-tube) cousins, and have come a long way since their inception several years ago.

The benefits of flat screens (in contrast to CRTs) are:

1) Take up less desk space

2) Use far less power

3) Higher quality imagery

4) Brighter, crisper images

5) Emits far less radiation (heat)

Many desktop flat screens offer two different computer connectors: VGA and DVI. Traditional monitors also use VGA, an analog technology. DVI is fairly new, and uses a 100% digital signal.

Unlike CRT monitors which have glass surfaces, flat screens are usually composed of plastic. On notebook computers and many cheaper flat screens, this plastic is very soft to the touch and needs to be handled with extreme care. More expensive flat screens may be covered with a harder plastic, but are still far more delicate than a traditional monitors.

When handling flat screen monitors, never jab, poke or prod the screen (this includes fingers)! If touching the screen is necessary (i.e. cleaning), be extremely gentle! Excessive pressure or force can permanently damage the screen! Excessive shaking or jarring can also cause damage. Notebook computers should be transported in a padded case and should be handled with care, especially when you're on the go.

Cleaning instructions vary among manufacturers, but here are some general guidelines:

1) Most manufacturers frown on spraying cleaning agents directly on the screen. Instead, most recommend spraying a soft cotton cloth which can then be applied to the screen.

2) Do not use rags or paper towels (moist or not) to clean the viewing area of the screen. This can lead to permanent scratches in the plastic surface! If a cloth is eye-glasses safe, it is probably fine to use on the flat screen.

3) Many manufacturers recommend wiping in one direction to prevent glare

4) Cleaning the screen while it is on won't hurt it. However, dirty spots are often easier to see when the screen is turned off (it doesn't have to be unplugged).

5) Many people use disposable anti-streak eye-glass cleaning wipes, which can be purchased in most vision stores.

6) In addition to keeping the screen clean, keeping dust from collecting on the unit is a good idea. Canned air works wonders in this arena! Note that canned air will not hurt the viewing area of the screen.

If an accident occurs and your screen does incur damage, it may be repairable.

1) If the image on the screen isn't as bright as normal (and the brightness settings don't help), it can probably be repaired.

2) If the image flickers or blacks out entirely, there is a good chance it can be repaired.

3) If the screen contains black "smudges" or "scars" on the screen that won't go away when the computer is shut off and restarted, the screen likely cannot be repaired and will need to be replaced. If the computer happens to be a notebook computer, then you will have to ship it to the manufacturer (if it is under warranty), or to a repair shop, which will have to dismantle the computer to replace the screen.

Flat screens are a wonderful part of a modern computer system, and will last a long time, given they are properly taken care of.

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