What Is A Computer Monitor?

It wasn’t too long ago that I had an older monitor die on me when I first tried to turn it on in the morning. It sent me on a quest to buy a new one to replace it, and I realized how out of my league I was when it came to knowing what a monitor actually was. It caused me to do extra research and I wanted to share some of what I found.

So what is a computer monitor? A computer monitor is an image output device that takes information generated through your computer’s video card and displays it in an image format for you to view. Computer monitors work similarly to a television, but typically display images in much higher resolution.

Display monitors are very complex pieces of equipment and come in a couple different varieties and sizes. Most people are satisfied with a monitor as long as it turns on and displays everything as it should. I wanted to delve a little deeper though, and take a closer look at what a monitor actually is and what it does.


Important Terms to Know About Computer Monitors

Before we really get more into display monitors, I wanted to take a little time to make a list of common terms you might encounter when reading about them. Not all of this terminology will always be used in discussions about monitors, but it’s always a good idea to have a general knowledge of what these mean in case they pop up!

  • Pixel – The smallest element of a picture displayed on a screen. Large amounts of these all across a computer monitor are what make up the images you will see.
  • RGB – Short for Red Green and Blue. All computer monitors display pixel imaging with the RGB color spectrum.
  • Positive/Negative Filament – These are filter layers overlapping a layer of liquid crystal. Light will pass through these and eventually be filtered in such a way to create images on your monitor.
  • Liquid Crystal – Usually shortened to LCs. This is a state of matter that shares the properties of both conventional liquids and solids.
  • Liquid Crystalline – This is a thin layer of liquid crystal that is used in modern display monitors in order to create colored pixels.
  • Light-Emitting Diode – Usually shortened to LED. This is a type of lightning technology used in LED monitors, but is also extremely common in smartphones and traffic lights.
  • VGA – Short for Video Graphics Array. This has been replaced by DVI as the standard connection type between computers and display monitors. It’s still seen today, but isn’t common and modern computers no longer come with a VGA port.
  • HDMI – Short for High Definition Multimedia Interface. This is a type of cable that can connect your monitor and computer. HDMI is an industry standard for video and audio connections and is used in home theaters as well as computer monitors.
  • DVI – Short for Digital Vidio Interface. This has almost entirely replaced VGA as the standard connection device for display monitors and computers. HDMI and DVI can be compatible with each other with certain adapters or hybrid plugs.
  • Aspect Ratio – This is a ratio measurement of the horizontal and vertical length of a monitor. The most common sizes are 4:3, 5:4, 16:10, and 16:9.
  • Resolution – This is a measurement of how many distinct pixels can be displayed in each dimension. This is typically taken by measuring the height and width of the display.

A Closer Look at Computer Monitors

A computer monitor can be known as several different things. A computer screen, a video screen, a display monitor, video display unit, or display terminal. Some of these are a little more specific than others, but for the sake of simplicity, they all are essentially talking about the same thing.

Monitors are separate peripherals of your computer and are connected to the main computer with a video cable. The most common kinds are HDMI and DVI, but older models may use VGA. Usually this connection will be made at the back of the case either directly to the motherboard, or to a graphics card if you have one.

There will almost always be a separate power cord to supply power to your monitor. This is to ensure the monitor has the proper amount of wattage it needs being delivered to it at all times. This also means that turning off your computer doesn’t actually turn off your monitor. They have two separate power buttons.

It’s also important to note that there is a common misconception that the computer screen is the computer. This is not true, and they are entirely different components. In simple terms, the computer does the work, and the monitor just displays all that work.

Modern display monitors are typically between 17 inches and 24 inches in size. Some are wider and or larger like 32 inch or Ultrawide monitors for example. However, these are niche monitors usually reserved for gaming enthusiasts and are not as common as the other sizes.

Monitors sizes are generally measured diagonally from one corner of the screen to the other corner. The frame of the monitor is not included in this measurement, just the screen itself.

There are two main types of monitors these days. LCD and LED. There used to be a monitor type called CRT, but this has been entirely phased out by these newer models. LCD stands for Liquid Crystal Display, and has been around for quite some time. LED is a newer type of monitor that is thinner and runs cooler but is more expensive. LED technology is progressing quickly though, and prices are becoming more and more affordable each year.

Regardless of whether you’re interested in LCD or LED screens, both of them use the same aspect ratios and resolutions. The most common aspect ratios today are 16:9 and 16:10, though since 2010 16:9 has become the predominant ratio for monitors. This is because it has become the industry standard for high definition televisions and manufacturers have made an attempt to synchronize monitors and televisions for easier fabrication.

Your resolution is a measurement of how many distinct pixels your monitor can display in every dimension available. The method of measurement for resolution can get somewhat complicated, but for simplicity’s sake, just know that generally the higher the resolution your monitor is, the better it is and the more expensive it is as a result.

How Monitors Work

Display monitors at their core, use a white back light system that filters through different coloring layers. As it passes through these filters, the RGB spectrum changes how the light is displayed in each pixel.

A certain amount of red, green, and blue, and a different mixture of each, can create any color of any shade or saturation. This is how the monitor manipulates light by using the RGB spectrum to create each individual pixel on the screen.

By the time the light reaches the front of the display and your eyes, each pixel on the screen has been filtered in such a way that your eyes see an image on the screen. Pretty cool stuff!

LCD monitors do this by passing the white back light through a liquid crystalline filament. The liquid crystal acts both as liquid and a solid, and as light passes through it with the help of a positive and negative filter, pixels are manipulated with the RGB spectrum in order to create images on the screen.

LED monitors functions similarly to an LCD, but instead of filtering light through liquid crystal, it instead has layer of LED pixels. Each pixel contains three small LED lights that make up the RGB spectrum. Various light wavelengths are applied to each pixel, manipulating the RGB spectrum to create each desired pixel color. The end result is the image you see on the screen.

Note: It’s very important to emphasize that monitors are not user serviceable. It’s a complex machine and it’s highly recommended that it be taken to a professional for maintenance if it’s required.


Common Concerns With Computer Monitors

Display monitors work with lights as their main way of manipulating color to create images. On top of that, there are many different kinds of filaments and electrical components inside the monitor. As a result, this means that eventually things can go wrong in your monitor.

There are a few main issues that can affect monitor performance:

  • The connection cable between the monitor and computer can go bad and can sometimes need a replacement
  • The monitor can overheat in particularly bad conditions
  • The internal lights of the monitor can die, causing either part or the entire display to stop working

As mentioned before, it’s not advised to open up a computer monitor and attempt repairs. If the monitor is dead, take it to a professional. Ensure that you get an idea of the cost and time it will take for repairs as well, sometimes it can be simpler and cheaper to just buy a new monitor!


Shining a Light (Conclusion)

So now you know a little more about what a computer monitor is. I’ve tried to share all the knowledge I’ve acquired while researching a new monitor when I had to buy one. Now you’re just as informed as I am!

If you have any questions or comments about monitors, please feel free to leave it below and I will do my best to get back to you directly!

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