Choosing An LCD Monitor (Part 1): Are Higher Contrast And Brightness Better?

Posted on Friday, September 22 2006 @ 16:07 CEST by Thomas De Maesschalck
Over the last few years, LCD monitors have increased their contrast ratios and brightness ratings. But these ratings can be deceiving if you're not familiar with two important terms: Brightness and Contrast Ratio. In this article, we'll discuss these two terms and hopefully the viewer will understand these terms and use them when purchasing a new LCD monitor. In addition it is recommended you read the other parts to this article being released in the near future for a more robust overview of LCD monitors to give you more information when purchasing an LCD monitor.

If you've been considering purchasing an LCD monitor for your PC, and selling your favorite CRT monitor which keeps you warm in the winter as well as the summer, now is the time. Currently, as of this article publication release, a 22" LCD monitor can be purchased for as little as $300. This was unheard of only a few years ago. The reason is because, like so many other electronic devices, the manufacturing process has become better, and more efficient in producing quality LCD panels. LCD monitors are not only attaining the same quality as CRT monitors, but are now actually surpassing them in quality.

You May Not Need A High Nit Rating
What is a Nit? Well, it either means I'm talking about the eggs of lice, or luminance values. Let's take the latter. One Nit is equal to one candela per square meter (i.e., cd/m2).

When you view an LCD monitor's specs, you can't help but notice the higher contrast ratios of 1000:1 and brightness of level of 500 cd/m2 (or 500 nits). Is purchasing an LCD monitor with the highest specs of these two necessary? Well, not necessarily. For example, if you had an LCD monitor with a cd/m2 spec of 500, this means the ratio between the monitor's whitest white and its blackest black is 500:1. But rarely will you have the LCD monitor at it's highest level because it is just way too bright on the human eyes. And if you read any viewer comments on purchasing LCD monitors on websites which offer customer reviews, there is a large amount of customer feedback on lowering the brightness to half or even more. And if you're in a dark room with very little ambient light, you may want it even lower.

For example, if you have a rather bright living room where you view your LCD, your brightness level could be around 250 cd/m2 or 300 cd/m2. But once you reduce the ambient light (i.e., the light which is surrounding you and is shining on your LCD panel directly and indirectly), you may actually need to decrease your LCD monitor's brightness even more.

High brightness ratings on an LCD monitor also may not mean too much depending on how far away you sit from your monitor. The closer you sit to your monitor, the lower the brightness will generally be due to eye strain from the brightness.

Contrast Ratio
Contrast ratios are getting higher and higher every year. The higher the contrast of your monitor, the better it will resolve details hiding in the shadows of not only your photographic images, but with PC gaming as well. While nits can be lowered, contrast should remain as high as possible in order to bring out the subtle variations that exist in similar gradients of colors. This is very much different than the nit rating (brightness rating, contrast ratio, etc.) of the monitor, as contrast ratio is key to a more realistic interpretation of images and graphics.

LCD Monitors For Photographers
If you're a photographer, you will ideally want your LCD monitor down to a level of 140-100cd/m2 because the differences between a highly bright monitor and a print, will be extremely different and your colors will be off. Are there LCD monitors which allow you to lower the brightness this low? Well, there are, but you will be paying for these features. LaCie, NEC, and Eizo offer some of the best LCD monitors for photographers. For example, the Eizo CE240W will go as low as 80 cd/m2 (80 nits) in 5 cd/m2 (5 nits) increments up to 400 cd/m2 (400 nits). Basically, this means you can view your digital camera's images in very low ambient light, resulting in more accurate LCD-to-Print images. This is pretty impressive but does come at a cost. Currently, the Eizo CE240W costs about twice as much as a typical 24" LCD monitor offered from Dell, Acer, or even Samsung. However, if you are an avid photographer, you may want to invest in such a monitor.

LCD Monitors For PC Gamers
Play games? Well, you may want your contrast to be set on the higher end and the response time of your LCD monitor (especially the gray-to-gray) to be as fast as possible to prevent motion blur (i.e., Ghosting). Graphics and imaging LCD monitors generally do not have the fastest response time, so if you're a hardcore gamer, you will have to make some sacrifices. Currently, having the best graphics monitor while also having the fastest response times, is not possible. However, you could purchase a high-end monitor for graphics and still enjoy your PC games with little issue. It all depends on where your enthusiasm lies.

The typical all-purpose LCD monitor is splitting off into categories and other terms which specify the user. LCD monitors for PC gamers is something new which has been more prevalent in 2006. This has been most in part from PC gamers who have expressed their opinions on playing games and LCD manufacturers who are listening because in order to have a successful product, you must have a product which meets the consumer's current requirements. PC gamers make up a large segment of LCD sales, and having specific monitors for those gamers, is a great way to further the technology and research.

Overall, if an LCD monitor has a lower nit rating, such as 250 cd/m2, but has a high contrast ratio, you could still be getting a quality product. Be sure to put a high contrast ratio at the top of your ingredients for an LCD purchase.

By Jason Busch.

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by Anonymous on Friday, September 29 2006 @ 22:02 CEST
Your cd/m2 comment, although may make sense in theory, is incorrect when applied to real world applications.

What you forgot to mention is that when using a 300cd/m2 LCD, the white's on one's screen are NOT white. They are of yellowish hew, which, I find, are tiring on the eyes.
Now, the moment you go to a higher cd/m2 LCD, such as a 400, you will notice your white's be WHITE, I mean clear and crisp, very vibrant due to the high brightness. Sure, its bright, but once your eyes adjust (about 2 days), you will NOT want to go back to a lower rated cd/m2 LCD... GUARANTEED!

And the real test is when you go back to your 300cd/m2 rated screen, and you will realize how 'yellow' it looks and how tired your eyes become looking at it.

When it comes to games, ANY LCD will do, as long as its got the low 'ms' rating, that is all it matters.

  • Reply by Anonymous on Monday, February 26 2007 @ 23:55 CET

    Sorry to say so, but this is simply incorrect. I am working in graphics and there is too important things to know:

    1. The whitest paper still is not white and it does not actively shine.

    2. The eyes get used to bright screens, but they get used to less bright ones as well. It only takes some days. Very bright screens hurt the eye.

  • Reply by Anonymous on Wednesday, October 22 2008 @ 15:16 CEST

    I think it should be changed from:

    "the better it will resolve details hiding in the shadows of not only your photographic images"


    "the better it will resolve details hiding in the shadows of not only your pornographic images"

Re: Choosing An LCD Monitor (Part 1): Are Higher Contrast And Brightness Better?
by Anonymous on Tuesday, May 01 2007 @ 22:56 CEST
you said

"For example, if you had an LCD monitor with a cd/m2 spec of 500, this means the ratio between the monitor's whitest white and its blackest black is 500:1"

this is totally incorrect

cd/m2 has nothing to do with contrast ratio

very high, or very low cd/m2 (regarding background light) will result in low contrast ration

  • Reply by Anonymous on Tuesday, January 15 2008 @ 15:18 CET

    ya i noticed that too, was confused which he/she was talking about at that point

Amplyfying LCD monitor brightness
by Anonymous on Monday, August 23 2010 @ 14:18 CEST
Hello, after reading your material about LCD monitors I understand that the brightness of the screen is dependent on the light source behind the LCD.
Do you know of a way that I can increase the brightness of my monitor beyond the brightness scale provided by my computer? I know that very high brightness will not be comfortable on the eyes but still...any idea of way to do it?
Thanks! Yael