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Computer Central

Ranting about computer companies
by James Derk
Scripps Howard News Service


January 04, 2005

Permit a New Year rant?

Thousands of you likely got flat-panel monitors for Christmas and most of you likely have them hooked up incorrectly because the companies who make them are weasels. (And therefore are missing out on digital-quality images.)
jpg James Derk

Some background: Flat-panel monitors come in two flavors. Cheap varieties are "analog" only (they don't accept digital input signals.) They have blue connectors. These are worth buying only if you have an older computer and need to save some desk space. You won't gain much, if any, image quality by buying one.

The other flavor? Actual digital flat panels. These also accept analog signals (they have the blue input connectors) but also have digital connectors (generally larger, narrower, white connectors). They cost just a little more than the cheaper ones but, if your computer has digital output, you will get major improvement with the right connection.

Now look at the back of your computer. Find the blue connector where your old monitor is connected. If there is a white digital one nearby (usually on the same card), you're all set. If you don't have a white socket, you need a video card upgrade (to one with digital video (DVI)) before you can take full advantage of a digital flat panel. You can get a decent video card at retail for $75.

However, and here is the evil empire part, most flat-panel companies are not shipping digital monitors with the required digital cable. Instead, they ship with the cheaper analog cable and hope consumers just figure out that they need it. (And here is the best part - after you shell out three or four hundred clams for the monitor, the big-box retailer will sell you the cable for a mere 50 bucks.)

No one reads the manuals any more, however, so nearly every computer I see in my computer repair business has their flat-panels hooked up completely wrong. And who can blame them? Who expects the cable included in the box to be the wrong one for most current PCs?

This whole cable thing reminds me of the debacle involving printers. Printers used to cost a lot and included everything you needed in the box. Now they cost nothing and have nothing in the box, often not even the cable you need to make it work. But at least they don't go so far as to include the wrong one. Monitor companies would be better to include no cable at all and let people ask the sales drone. At least most would then be sold the most expensive cable (and therefore the right one).

Weekly Web Wonder: Many of you also got Pocket PCs for Christmas too. If you want Themes (the backgrounds for them) for free, head to PocketThemes. (


James Derk is co-owner of CyberDads, a computer repair company, and a computer columnist for Scripps Howard News Service. His e-mail address is jim(at)


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