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Don't arbitrarily attach the monitor cable to a socket just because they physically mate or have the same number of pins!
It can be very risky to experiment with scan rate settings either because you have no idea of what is valid or to 'explore the envelope'. Either of these could result in expensive repairs. The only hint you may get just before the smoke comes out are unusually poor geometry or instability but it would be foolish to depend on these possible warnings.
Although flat panel monitors based on LCD and other discrete technology are increasing in popularity, their higher cost and spotty performance, especially when not used at their native resolution, means that CRT monitors will continue to be important for several years to come. And many of these tests apply to flat panel displays as well.
WARNING: No monitor is perfect. Running these tests on your monitor or one you are considering may make you aware of deficiencies you never realized were even possible. You may never be happy with any monitor for the rest of your life!
Note: the intent of these tests is **not** to evaluate or calibrate a monitor for photometric accuracy. Rather they are for functional testing of the monitor's performance.
Obviously, the ideal situation is to be able to perform these sorts of tests before purchase. With a small customer oriented store, this may be possible. However, the best that can be done when ordering by mail is to examine a similar model in a store for gross characteristics and then do a thorough test when your monitor arrives.
As with every piece of machinery built in mass production, monitors have performance specifications which define tolerances on performance, as well as operational limits. This has always been the case for monitors, and, in fact, front of screen performance specifications have not changed appreciably over the last ten years. Other items, such as for video & scan rate capabilities have changed, but those items do not appreciably affect the front of screen issues which most users find disappointing.
Most users never see the detailed specifications which the manufacturer works to, but may see a sub-set intended to "feature" the product's strong and/or competitive points. There are some variables which may be compensated for with more sophisticated circuits, but that usually results in higher product cost (*not* necessarily sales price; see below). There are other variables which are subject to normal state of the art production tolerances, and because of this, some units will actually come off the line looking better than others, even though they all meet spec.
For an example, misconvergence is a variable subject to production tolerances, and practically all monitors have similar spec's, even though most people would not like to settle for a unit which is at the limit of the spec. The typical spec. is 0.3 mm in the area within a circle equal to the height of the image, and 0.4 mm outside that area. That is actually more than the theoretical pixel size on a 14" monitor, and hardly anyone will want to use a display with that performance. However, the spec. allows such variations to exist.
An example of a feature which can be affected by additional circuit sophistication is Geometry, or line straightness - each manufacturer has specifications to meet, but here some units may allow as much as 6 mm of non-straightness, where other units may have the ability of being adjusted to a straightness of less than 1mm.
So, what the user runs into are variations of two kinds:
Furthermore, digital scan converters need to be built into autoscan (SVGA type) flat screen monitors since they are basically fixed format devices. These are needed to accommodate the multiple scan rates and resolutions produced by PC based video cards when used with DOS/Windows or any situation where the resolution does not match the native resolution (number of pixels and lines) of the physical display device. Problems can arise from less than optimal resampling or inadequate conversion speed where motion is involved. These include: reduced sharpness, Moire, flicker or limited frame rate of changing/moving images, stability, and more.
Therefore, much of the testing information provided below can still be used to at least provide guidelines as to what to look out for when selecting a flat screen display, and evaluating and comparing sample units side-by-side.
So, don't base your decision only on the contrast specifications. Check out the monitors personally if possible and determine which you like best under a variety of viewing conditions and screen material (e.g., text, photos, graphics).
There are additional issues like maximum brightness and viewing angle which may be equally or more important.
A monitor with high brightness may also end up with a bright "black screen". Those with best contrast specs may have a mediocre viewing angle. The contrast ratio spec may only apply at maximum brightness.
One of the things I dislike about all LCDs is that remaining illumination even for a totally black display. Compared to a properly adjusted CRT, displays like the "Flowerbox" screen saver really look bad, especially in a dark room.
Note: we use the term 'auto-scan' to describe a monitor which accepts a wide (and possibly continuous) range of scan rates. Usually, this refers mostly to the horizontal frequency as the vertical refresh rate is quite flexible on many monitors of all types. Fixed scan or fixed frequency monitors are designed to work with a single scan rate (though a 5% or so variation may actually be accepted). Multi-scan monitors sync at two or more distinct scan rates. While not very common anymore, multi-scan monitors may still be found in some specific applications.
CAUTION: since there is no risk-free way of evaluating the actual scan rate limits of a monitor, this is not an objective of these tests. It is assumed that the specifications of both the video source/card and the monitor are known and that supported scan rates are not exceeded. Some monitors will operate perfectly happily at well beyond the specified range or will shut down without damage. Others will simply blow up instantly and require expensive repairs.
Note: throughout this document, the term 'raster' is used to refer to the entire extent of the scanned portion of the screen and the terms 'picture', 'image'. or 'display', to refer to the actual presentation content.
For computer monitors, software programs are available to conveniently generate the required test patterns. However, an application like Windows MSPAINT in conjunction with a picture with vibrant colors can be used to create anything that is needed. It just will not be quite as easy to switch between patterns. Video cards like those from ATI come with a software Install program which provides a bounding box pattern and at all (PC DOS/Windows) resolutions and scan rates.
Test pattern generators for TV monitors are readily available and relatively inexpensive. However, a camcorder viewing appropriate printed material or a prerecorded tape can be used in a pinch.
Before starting the series of tests, allow the monitor to warm up for at least 1/2 hour and make sure it is completely degaussed (see the document: Notes on the Troubleshooting and Repair of Computer and Video Monitors for details on degaussing techniques. Power the monitor up in the physical orientation you will be using it (front-back facing North-South if you do not know how your setup will be arranged) and don't rotate it on its tilt swivel base after degaussing and for the duration of these tests. Make sure the monitor is not near any sources of electromagnetic interference (i.e., other powered monitors, loudspeakers, motors, transformers, etc.). Subdued lighting is best.
Use only the original video cable that came with the monitor or high quality BNC cables as appropriate. If you have a choice, opt for a BNC cable - the quality at higher scan rates will be noticeably better. Do not use any extension cables, any video switch boxes, or excessively long BNC cables.
Obviously, if you can do any of this in a store at all, then you may not quite have the luxury to fully control your environment!
Note that for an auto-scan monitor, all tests should ideally be performed at several points including the extremes upper and lower limits of each scan range. Most aspects of a auto-scan monitor's performance are affected by scan rate.
Unless otherwise noted, all controls are those available to the user.
For each test, adjust the size and position controls so that the raster fills as much of the screen as possible or as appropriate for the particular test.
So you thought you were buying a 17 inch monitor, right? Wrong. A monitor that is advertised as 17" (or 15" or 21") will rarely give you anything near that viewable size. The specification is of the CRT - including what is covered up by the front bezel and not considering the actual maximum size picture that may be possible in all scan modes.
Easily, 1.5 to 2 inches of your valuable diagonal screen real estate may be lost to marketing hype. As a result, you might find as much as a 20% difference in usable screen area between monitors which claim to be the same size. This is like buying a 17" monitor and getting one that is only 15"!
At certain scan rates, it may not be possible to get a picture corner to corner so even more usable area will be lost. Check out the section: Size and Position Control Range.
Some advertisements now include actual viewable screen size. Hopefully, this will become a universal practice but I will not hold my breath.
Other aspects of the monitor to check out:
The raster should be of uniform intensity and neutral gray. If it is not of uniform intensity or has hum bars - full width areas of varying brightness - or full height vertical rippled areas, the monitor's power supplies may be defective or of poor design. The only way to be sure is to compare several samples of the same model.
If the raster is not a neutral gray but has a tint, the color balance may need to be adjusted. See the section: Brightness and Screen Uniformity, Purity and Color Saturation.
Make sure you can actually set the brightness for total black (turn out the lights and check). If not, you will never have truly dark shadow areas in your display. Blacks will never be black and the display will always look a washed out. This may be adjustable internally.
However, inability or difficulty in adjusting for a totally or nearly black raster and vibrant bright display - or if the background brightness shifts as the picture content changes - may indicate a deficiency or defect in the black level retention circuitry. Since video signals are usually AC coupled, a clamping circuit is needed to set the black reference. If this does not work correctly or is poorly designed, the black level may shift depending on the picture content. Modern monitors should be nearly perfect in this regard. This problem is still seen in some cheap TVs, however.
Now set brightness to make the raster just disappear. Set the contrast control all the way up. Display a pure red (R) full intensity raster. The entire screen should be a pure, fairly uniform fully saturated red. There should not be any areas that are not pure red. Repeat with the other two primaries - green (G) and blue (B). Follow this up with tests of pairs of primaries resulting in yellow (R+G), cyan (G+B). and magenta (R+B). Again, these should result in pure vibrant colors.
Finally, display a pure white full intensity screen. The raster should be pure white. There should be no patches of discoloration. It may be a warm white (somewhat redish) or a cool white (somewhat bluish) but not objectionably so. Some monitors permit this color 'temperature' to be adjusted by the user (e.g., NEC AccuColor models like the 4FG or 5FG). If the screen is noticeably colored and there are no user adjustments, then the internal video gain controls need attention - see the section: Brightness and Screen Uniformity, Purity and Color Saturation.
Note that the term 'vibrant' here is a subjective term but relates to the boldness, saturation, and, well, zappiness! However, this is affected both by the choice of spectral output of the primary color phosphors and to your perception. For a given CRT, the phosphors set the spectral characteristics of the display. Expensive studio monitors can be ordered with a specific CRT to suit the needs of the video standard. This is rarely an option with computer monitors. You probably do not have control over your visual perception (but do take off those autocompensating sun glasses!) In other words, your mileage may vary.
If any of these tests detect a problem, the color purity may need to be adjusted. (By you or by a professional as appropriate). A brand new monitor should not have purity problems unless it is near a source of magnetic fields like a loudspeaker or MRI scanner.
The pure white screen can also be used to evaluate the brightness uniformity of the CRT. Don't expect perfection. The actual quantitative measured brightness may vary quite a bit even with a high quality monitor. The corners and edges may be noticeably darker than the center even on the low deflection angle CRTs used in high performance monitors. With the high deflection angle CRTs in TVs and cheap monitors, this may be even worse.
However, local significantly darker or brighter areas could indicate defects in the CRT dot/slot mask or aperture grille or phosphor screen which should not be tolerated.
Should you see color or uniformity problems at full intensity, try turning down the contrast control. If the uniformity improves after a few seconds, the shadowmask in the CRT may be heating and deforming. This is not unusual with color monitors. One of the advantages of an InVar shadowmask is that it is less prone to these problems, however.
Also note if there is a brightness limiter circuit that is kicking in with the full white screen. As you turn up the contrast, is there a point where further increase has no effect on the intensity of the display or where the intensity actually decreases? These brightness limiters are designed to maintain the beam current at supposedly safe levels to minimize X-ray generation and/or to mimize the shadowmask heating effects. Is the maximum brightness adequate for you needs and viewing enjoyment?
Using the full white screen, adjust the contrast and brightness controls through their full range. The size of the raster should not change noticeably. A significant change in size - more than 1 or 2 percent - would indicate poor power supply regulation.
Examine the entire screen closely for blemishes both in the surface finish and for dead spots.
If you see any dead or darker spots, confirm that these are not due to the video source: if they are CRT defects, they will not move as you adjust the position controls.
There is a specification for the number and size of acceptable CRT blemishes so you may have to whine a bit to convince the vendor to provide a replacement monitor under warranty. Defects in the corners will likely only be noticed if if you are looking for them. However, dead spots in the central area of the screen will always be a distraction. Before the purchase is the time to find these.
(From: Jamie Carter (email@example.com).)
The specification for display brightness has always been subject to specsmanship. For example, a CRT or CRT based display will quote lux or lumens/m2 based on a 10% white field which is a small square in the display set at maximum output. A CRT display cannot achieve the same current density on the phosphor with the whole screen being white and thus the full white screen will give a significantly smaller value not to mention that the resolution suffers significantly with the high electron beam density.
These effects are obviated for the most part with LCD or DMD displays because the brightness engine is decoupled from the resolution engine. But even in these cases, the color temperature of the white field, the color purity (saturation) of the color channels and gain of the screen (distribution of the luminous flux) all factor into the perception of display quality and image "goodness" (a very subjective quality at best). Your best bet is to compare the actual display units under your specific viewing conditions and intended display content. Note that the "Compu-Hut" will line up a whole bunch of displays for your comparison but only display photographic images with rather limited spatial bandwidth. This gives no indication of display quality when viewing 1 pixel wide strokes for desktop and application fonts. Make the sales ape show some of the GUI windows and a text file before you buy.
Then there's an industry term: "Market Comparable Lumens". I am sure that the real basis for this is to create a metric that cannot be disputed or independently tested by the buyer. :)
At refresh rates beyond 70-75 Hz, even a very bright display should appear rock solid. Turn off any fluorescent lights (whose possible flicker at twice the power line frequency can confuse the test) and examine the screen closely. There should be no shimmering, wiggling, jittering, or dark or light flashes. Any of these would indicate either (1) external electromagnetic interference or (2) a poorly designed or defective power supply in the monitor. It is also possible, though less likely, that the incoming AC power is noisy but modern monitors generally do a decent job of filtering the power lines to eliminate most of this.
Display a white crosshatch pattern with boxes about 1/2 inch square. IF you do not have this, use a white-on-black graphics or text screen with a lot of fine detail - small fonts or intricate patterns.
The lines should appear white without excessive color fringing. The individual primary colors should not be visible at a normal viewing distance. First, examine the center. This should be nearly perfect. If your monitor has any user adjustable convergence controls, set these for best center convergence. Convergence will be worst in the corners but even there, it should not be objectionable.
A serious convergence problem in the center of the screen is definitely an indication of a defective monitor or one that needs internal adjustments. Slightly poorer convergence at the corners may be within specifications. A new monitor with significant convergence problems should be rejected.
Adjust any user pincushion controls (amplitude and phase) for minimum distortion along the vertical edges. Amplitude moves the sides in and out. Phase sets where, vertically, this effect takes place. If there are any other user controls that affect raster shape, optimize these for a perfectly rectangular display.
Now, examine all edges for curves, wiggles, dips, keystoning, or trapezoidal deviations from a perfect rectangle. These are all considered defects in the geometry of the raster. These will likely be more pronounced at high scan rates - near the limits of the specifications for the monitor. In particular, you may see a wiggle or wave on the left and right edges near the top of the screen which will be come more pronounced as you approach the highest scan rate (this is a deflection problem, however, not strictly a CRT geometry problem).
During manufacture, various magnets are strategically glued around the CRT or carefully positioned on rotating swivels on the deflection yoke frame or elsewhere. You need to decide if any remaining errors in geometry are acceptable or not because improving upon these settings is not something that is easy or fun to do - by you or a professional! As noted, if the geometry becomes noticeably inferior at high scan rates, this indicates a problem in the deflection circuitry - adjustments will probably not help. Consider another monitor if you intend to run at these rates.
Linearity may or may not be adjustable.
For computer monitors, these tests may need to be done in conjunction with the video card you will be using and the software setup program for that video card. Ideally, all size and position adjustments can be done in software with the monitor's controls left at their center (default) setting. However, this is not always the case.
Some people want their computer monitors to extend to or past the edges of the CRT. Many monitors may leave a large border around the picture particularly at higher scan rates. Test at the resolutions and scan rates you expect to use. Obviously, a monitor that will not fill the screen is shortchanging you in terms of how much screen size you purchased!
Often, slightly reducing the scan rate at a given resolution will allow for a larger picture. This is one alternative if the flicker is not objectionable.
Vertical edges should be crisp and clear. Examine these for smearing, ghosting, or trailing darker or lighter lines. Any deficiencies will be most evident at high scan rates since these require the most bandwidth from the video card, cables, and monitor. Also, any ringing, undershoot, or overshoot, will extend for a longer space following the edge.
Without substituting video cards, cables, and monitors, it is not usually possible to determine which is the limiting factor.
The most common cause of these types of problems are inferior, defective, or excessively long cables; use of cable extensions or video switch boxes; or improper termination if there are termination options on the monitor.
Full brightness vertical edges should not smear or bloom to the right - possibly with a color change. This is due to the internal video gain controls being set too high and may be correctable but possibly with a reduction in maximum brightness.
There should also be no trailing lines to the right of long bright or dark horizontal areas. Similarly, the edges of the raster should not bulge out where the picture is very bright. These types of problems would indicate problems with the power supplies or just poor design.
Display a fine dot pattern. The individual dots should be tiny, crisp, and fairly symmetric. If the spot size changes drastically with brightness, focus may need to be adjusted or the monitor's power supplies or CRT may be mediocre or defective.
Note that it is not always best to have super sharp focus as long as the spot size is small enough. A slightly defocused spot will result in a smoother display and less likelihood of Moire effects.
There are several causes of Moire. The following will address two of these: scan line Moire and pixel Moire.
Try these tests with any 'Moire reducing modes' both off and on. However, the use of such 'features' may reduce the quality of the display in other ways like reducing sharpness or stability.
Display a solid white screen at mid brightness. Look for patterns that look similar to contour lines on topographic maps. Adjust the vertical size and position controls to see if these move around or change their severity and spacing. Repeat with a display of alternating black and white horizontal lines.
Now, display a pattern consisting of alternating black and white vertical lines at the maximum possibly frequency (alternating dark and light pixels for a computer display - make sure your software is not doing any dithering). Look for serious contour lines in this display. Adjust the horizontal size and position controls to see how these affect any Moire.
Try these tests at multiple resolutions including the highest you will ever use. However, the highest may not necessarily be the worst with respect to Moire.
Other than using any 'Moire reducing mode' provided by the monitor, there may not be anything you can do to reduce the severity of Moire other than running at resolutions which do not exhibit a serious problem.
Nonetheless, I think it is ironic that some people will end up returning otherwise superb monitors because of moire - when in many cases this is an indication of most excellent focus - something many people strive for! You can always get rid of it - the converse is not necessarily true!
Note: there have been some monitors that blow up - fail completely and require expensive repairs - simply as a result of the video card initialization at boot time due to its power on self test when the video signal may be unspecificed and driving the monitor at an invalid scan rate. However, this is not likely to be a problem with any modern auto-scan monitor.
Listen carefully through the grille in the cover for any indication - even momentary - of annoying sounds. Try all scan rates - very often various resonances will only occur at particular horizontal or vertical scan frequencies. Even with high quality monitors, these problems sometimes occur erratically and no quick test will identify such faults. Obviously, doing this in a quiet location is best.
Note that any decreasing hum or buzz that may be heard at power-on is due to the internal degaussing coil and is usually normal and unavoidable.
(From: Andy Cuffe (firstname.lastname@example.org).)
The best way to tell is to look at the picture quality. There is no way to tell the exact number of hours. Also, the life of CRTs varies quite a bit. some will go down hill much faster than others.
(Portions from: Jerry G. (email@example.com).)
You cannot tell the hours used by just looking or even measuring a tube. A tube can go at any time. There are no hour counters!
Turn on the unit and see if there is any unusual bleeding of the image in the picture at high contrast levels. When turning the brightness up and down, the color temperature should not change, only the brightness. When turning the contrast up and down, the focus at the center should also be very stable. It may change only a little bit. When turning on the set, the color temperature should be stable within about 3 to 5 minutes.
Look at the colors in the corners to see if the purity is good. Bad purity can be attributed to a miss-adjusted yoke assembly, to a bad shadow mask.
To know the manufacture date of the unit, it us usually on the back with the model and serial number. Most TV sets are on about 5 to 8 hours a day if it is a family TV. If it is a bedroom TV the hours may be 1/2 that amount. Monitors may be on 24 hours a day - or much less.
A good way to know if the emission of the CRT is up to specs is to get a CRT analyzer and measure the gun emission. Some service centers own one.
When buying a used monitors, particularly sight unseen (as on eBay), asking the proper questions will be most important. Age alone isn't necessarily a reliable indication of performance or future reliability. I'm typing this on a 10 year old NEC 5FG which I still consider to be as good as any monitor sold today. However, a 2 year monitor run 24 hours a day could be ready for the dumpster. It's probably best to stay with a major brand name. If possible, ask about most of the items listed above, but particularly the brightness, focus, convergence, geometry, and overall picture quality.
Here are a few pointers:
(From: Mark E. Nikl (firstname.lastname@example.org).)
In the download section of the Web site, there is a file called monitors. It will give you all the test patterns and setups for gray scales, HV regulation, tell you about you video card and much more. I just ran across it the other day. You can even set up the pincushion and lots more.
A demo version with a few test patterns, more information on their products, and some video tech tips, and some test patters are available at:
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