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Flicker- free viewing;Hardware

Advances in liquid-crystal technology means pupils can say goodbye to at least one ugly, power-hungry monitor. George Cole reports

We are often told that computers are getting smarter, faster, smaller and cheaper, but there's one computer device that has hardly changed through all these years: the monitor. Today, monitors offer features such as colour, high resolution graphics and stereo sound, but most computer monitors still use bulky cathode ray tube (CRT) technology.

Invented over 100 years ago, the CRT offers superb picture quality, as well as a wide viewing angle and relatively low production costs. But on the downside, CRT monitors are large, power-hungry and they can flicker and emit spurious electromagnetic radiation. Little wonder that many computer users find that their computer monitor takes up most of the desktop.

But now, flat-screen monitors, which use less power and take up much less space, are becoming a viable alternative to the conventional desktop monitor. Most flat-screen monitors are based on liquid-crystal technology (LCD) and this offers a number of benefits over the CRT.

LCD monitors require much less space (up to a third less) and use less power (up to 70 per cent less). But LCDs have tended to suffer from low picture quality and high prices. But the latest generation of LCD monitors has started to change that perception.

These offer flicker-free, high-resolution graphics, wide viewing angles (up to 140 degrees, making them suitable for group work) and some large screens are now under the pound;1,000 barrier.

Another benefit is that a flat screen display fills the entire screen (a CRT display has thick black bands on the top and bottom of the screen), so that a 15-inch LCD screen may have have a bigger display area than a 17-inch CRT monitor.

Most people who use a flat screen are amazed at the huge difference it makes in terms of deskspace and operating a computer - it's like using a new computer - and even more so if you can hide away the computer's processor box.

LCD monitor prices are still expensive when compared with CRT versions, but prices are falling and will continue to fall. It's worth remembering that the first colour TVs cost as much as a small family car, while today, many households have two or three sets.

But even at today's prices, some school departments may feel it is worth investing in flat-screen technology because of the space-saving benefits it brings, particularly in premium areas they don't want encumbered with technology that is, after all, rather ugly office equipment.

At this year's BETT 99 educational technology show, a number of stands were showing flat-screen monitors and it's safe to say that, by the time the next BETT comes along, some will have found their way into schools.

Philips 151AX (pound;590, all prices ex-VAT) Sold by RM, this monitor has a 17.6cm (7") footprint and weighs just 5.2kg. It offers three display modes up to XGA graphics (1024 x 768 pixels), and has an anti-scratch, anti-reflective screen cover. It can be used with PC or Apple computers. Includes built-in stereo speakers and microphone, and has a USB port. RM 01235 826000.

Sharp LL-T152A (pound;1,145) Includes a tilt-stand, built-in speaker and an auto-picture adjustment system which sets the display to suit the incoming picture signal. It's compatible with both PCs and Apple Power Mac computers. Sharp 0800 262958 Apple Studio Display (pound;699) Tilt-and-swivel and height adjustable, it offers a space-saving small footprint. Bright and sharp, the 15-inch display has an impressive contrast ratio and is designed to eliminate distortion. Capable of multiple resolutions. Apple 0870 600 6010 Panasonic LC50 (pound;995) Designed for both PC and Apple computers (an optional adaptor is required for the latter), the LC50 includes an anti-glare filter and Universal Serial Bus (USB) port and can be removed from its stand for wall mounting.

Panasonic 0500 404041.

Sony CPD-Li50 (pound;999) Weighing just over 5kg and with a 165mm depth, this compact monitor includes a one-push picture adjustment system and can be wall-mounted. Sony 0990 424424.

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