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ATPM 13.04
April 2007





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by Mark Tennent,

Size Is Everything

Most men never believe the old chestnut that size isn’t everything. But now Pfeiffer Consulting has the evidence to prove them wrong.

They examined large-screen, high-definition monitors, in particular the 30-inch Apple Cinema HD Display, an object of lust for many a designer. Pfeiffer found that there are definite gains in productivity, and the return on investment can be paid off over the period of a year or even less. The complete report is available online.

I’m of the generation who started “real” computing on the old Amstrad Joyce with its little green-and-black screen, before moving via the Atari Mega ST to a Mac that came with a brilliant (for 1990) 13-inch color display. My colleagues bought even larger screens that were hideously expensive and had lower resolutions than today’s laptops. Their fronts looked like the curvature of the earth. Moving the mouse from top to bottom saw the pointer travel in an arc and end up “underneath” somewhere.

For years I stuck with 17-inch displays, enough for any man, surely? But then a job that involved designing A3 landscape pages and 840mm spreads just wouldn’t show up large enough. An 23-inch Apple screen came to live on my desk, and I realized the error of my ways. Bigger is better, more productive, and easier on the eyes for just about any computing task. That’s exactly what Pfeiffer found as well.

Productivity and efficiency gains were measured and found to increase significantly for users of the display, in office applications as well as for digital imaging and design. Users changed their work strategies to incorporate the screen real estate and ended up working in ways that would be impossible on smaller screens. This is something I can vouch for, especially with the new widescreen format, compared with the old 4:3 ratio.

LCD screens are also a lot easier to use because they have a stable image and whiter whites. Whenever LCD users return to an old cathode ray tube screen, the first thing they notice is the flickering caused by the scanning of the CRT gun.

Modern computers allow multiple applications open all the time, each often with many windows. They can fit side-by-side on a wide screen, enabling easy access to them all. Pfeiffer found dramatic time differences between screen sizes. For example: applying selective formatting in large spreadsheets on a 17-inch screen took nearly double the time taken on a 30-inch one.

Application palettes are also an essential part of our work, and on smaller screens closing and hiding them to see what’s behind takes time. Pfeiffer measured exactly how much this cost when opening and closing palettes takes up to 10 seconds. Repeated 100 times that adds up to over 15 minutes wasted. If that’s time lost by a highly paid accountant or director, purely because they cannot see enough information on screen at one time, the extra costs of larger monitors are soon regained—a benefit I must remember the next time I want a new screen.

Finally, one thing Pfeiffer didn’t look at is the effect on games. If the game can handle it, and your video card up to it, games look absolutely brilliant.

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