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Saturday, June 22, 2013

Monitors, more monitors

This is the topic that won't die, or it's going to kill me along the way.

When we last left off, I had picked a 19" Samsung desktop monitor to use on the boat.  Although it blurs and distorts the display image from my Simrad NSO, it was still deemed better than paying 20x to 30x the cost for a "marine" monitor.

Since then the decision has had time to simmer, and I moved the Samsung monitor to my Grand Banks to get some actual run time with it.  Two things have come from this simmering time:

1) If the Simrad only puts out a 1024x768 video signal, why am I trying to force it onto a 19" screen that insists on blurring and distorting the image?  Why not put it on a 15" screen that matches the Simrad resolution and will display a clear, sharp, undistorted image?  Duh?  And there is a side benefit.  By using 15" screens for the Simrads, it frees up enough space on my console to use 24" widescreens for the computers.  This gives clearer images, and allocates the screen space to the devices that can use it.  This makes much more sense.  I think I was hung up on all four monitors being the same size so the console layout is attractive, but I realize that the center of the console can have a 24" widescreen in the middle, flanked on both sides by 15" screens, then the second 24" on the right console "wing".  It will look fine.

2) Brightness really matters to me.  Part of this is just that I'm getting older and need things to be more brightly lit than I used to.  I remember as a kid when I'd be working on something, my father would always ask me if I needed more light.  Now I understand.  Monitor brightness is measured in NITs.  A desktop monitor goes to 250 NITs, where a sunlight readable screen is typically around 1000 NITs.  This really struck me using the Samsung on the boat next to the Furuno MFDs.  The Samsung's 250 NIT brightness was much harder to see than the Furuno's 1100 NIT brightness.  And this was at the lower helm, not out in full sunlight.  And the reality is that only the marine and other specialty monitors offer the higher brightness.

This last issue of brightness has caused me to seriously consider bellying up to the bar and forking over for marine monitors.  I never though I'd get there, but I know I'll be unhappy if I always feel like someone turned down the lights.

So I've started researching the marine monitors more closely, looking for a 15" monitor and a 24" widescreen monitor, preferably from the same company so they match.  I also started checking the brightness specs as well as other features like dim-to-black and DC power.  I figure if I'm going to pay a fortune, the monitors should be exactly right with no compromises.

15" monitors are not a problem.  Everyone seems to have one, but I did find that the brightness varies a lot.  Some companies have "Pilot House" versions of their monitors along with "daylight visible" and "sunlight visible".  Each has very different brightness specs.  And of course these different models come at different prices.  One of the more affordable 15" monitors that I was looking at turned into a $7000 monitor when I was specific about wanting the brightest model.

The 24" widescreen is more of a challenge.  None of the big-name navigation equipment vendors offer one, and not all of the specialty vendors offer one either.  And pricing still hovers in the $7000+ range for the larger monitor.

Back to Google, I searched and searched for any form of sunlight readable monitor and finally stumbled across a company that appears to actually manufacture them along with a wide range of hardened PCs for harsh environments.  They have a very impressive list of customers, have been around for 20 years, and based on the specs, dimensions, drawings, phones, etc., make the monitors that one of the larger specialty marine suppliers sells.  But unlike the specialty vendor, they offer a wider selection of sizes including the ones I want, and sell them for about 1/3 to 1/2 the price.  Bingo.  This might be it.  I won't name any names until I have vetted it out, but once I have a solution, I'll share all.

Link to next article on monitors

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