Sometimes things work out

By | Sunday, March 6, 2011 at 10:16 am

Dual Monitors (sorta)This week one of our monitors died.  No big surprise—EVERYTHING has been dying or breaking lately… Over the past couple weeks, Sandy’s cell phone broke, our laptop died, the PS3 died, and our expensive Harmony Remote died.   It’s like Karma knows we got our tax refund checks and wants to just eat that money up as fast as possible.  The thing is, we need that money to fix up the house in the spring so the city doesn’t fine us!  Yes, the neighborhood inspectors nailed us last season, and we have a big list of things to fix on our house and property now.

Anyway, back to the dead monitor.  I can’t stand seriously working on a PC with just one monitor.  There’s just so much I do at once, I can’t fit it onto a single monitor, or, even if I could, it gets too confusing switching back and forth between open applications and windows.  With 2 screens (minimum) I can separate things enough to work smoothly and get things done efficiently.  Just ask Randy Pausch from Carnegy-Mellon University.   Once monitor on a PC just doesn’t cut it.

So anyway, it died.  The backlight constantly flickers and repeatedly goes black, rendering it useless.  Yes, it was very old, so it’s not worth fixing.  It was just a standard, cheap 17” LCD monitor that I had broken the base off of so it would fit into the little right nitch on my desk to use as my right monitor.   So I scrapped it.  Not sure what to do next, I took some measurements and checked many vendors for monitors that would fit in that spot.  It’s not an easy task to find the FULL dimensions of a monitor (including the stand) when you need it.  Some sites provide it, but most don’t.   What to do?  I found a few monitors that came with removable stands, which would be perfect, but their size without the stand attached was then questionable.  Arrggh.

Well, another completely unrelated task that Sandy had during this whole dilemma was with a client of hers.  She needed an inexpensive TV and wanted to know if it was possible to get a new flatscreen LCD TV for as little as $100.  So I looked around and found a couple at Best Buy—one for $89.99 and one for $99.99.  She ended up choosing the $99 one, which was on sale from $150, so Sandy had to pick it up for her.

Yesterday, while the TV was sitting at home waiting for Sandy to deliver it to her client, I got an idea.  I wondered how something like this would fit into our desk cubby.  So I carefully removed it from it’s box and did some measuring.  It looked pretty close!  So I attached the stand and set it in place.  It fit PERFECTLY!  All of Best Buy’s smallest monitors (18”-19”) were around the same price, but none of them would fit in this space on our desk.  This TV was on sale, $50 off, so it was normally $150.  It was a 15” screen, so it was a bit smaller, but it had all the right ports—a VGA port, HDMI, and all the others.  I even had an extra AT&T box I could use on it that I haven’t used since 3 PCs ago, because I didn’t have a TV antenna or HDMI input on any of our replacement PCs.  The only other issue I could foresee would be with its resolution.  I know TVs are not quite up to the specs of monitors, so I expected the resolution to be lacking.

I went ahead and unboxed the rest of the package and set everything up.  I connected the cable box to the HDMI, and the PC to the VGA input.  Everything worked perfectly, and it has quite a nice image!  Yes, the quality is a bit less than a monitor, but I was expecting as much.  Surprisingly, however, the specs say it has a maximum resolution of 1366×768, but when I set that resolution in Windows 7 it told me that it’s not optimum and recommends 1920×1080 as the optimum resolution, and when setting the TV’s resolution to 1366×768, the monitor went black and displayed a “Not Supported” message!  I tried other resolutions, but only 1920×1080 and 1600×900 would work, so I compared the two with a standard web page displayed.  1600×900 is what my main monitor is at as optimum, and it turned out that looks exactly the same on the TV, but leaves about a 1” border around the edge of the picture area, resulting in a LOT of wasted screen space and simply eliminates the extra pixels from the 1920×1080 resolution instead of “stretching” to use the full screen.  So 1920×1080 it was.  It’s kind of bizarre that this TV is actually smaller than my main monitor, yet I have to use a higher resolution on it.  It worked well enough though, fit perfectly in its spot, and I can now optionally watch cable (or our DVR recordings) on it by simply switching from the VGA port to the HDMI port on the remote.  That’s awesome, especially since a lot of the time I will drag a Netflix browser window over to my right screen to watch a movie while I work anyway.   And 15” isn’t as small as it sounds sitting next to my 20” main display.  In fact, there’s only about a 2” height difference in the actual screen displays.    So it really goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that I then had to return to Best Buy and pick up another of these TVs for Sandy’s client.  Sometimes things work out in strange ways.  But after having so many things die unexpectedly, this seems like little consolation.