TVs, video monitors and computer monitors may look similar, but savvy videomakers know how they differ, and how to use them.
Ever wondered just how much you knew about video and computer monitors and how they work? Now’s
your chance to learn. Answer the following true-or-false questions to see just how well you understand
those hazy windows into the world of television and video.
True or False: TV sets, video monitors and computer monitors are all alike, they just have
Answer: False. Yes, each of them has a screen, and in one or more configurations they’ll all let you
watch video you shoot with a camcorder. Study them carefully, however, and you’ll see that they’re very
The most familiar of the three, the TV set, is actually more than a monitor. It’s a monitor and
receiver combined in one box. A TV set typically has one input, a radio-frequency (RF) jack, which feeds
signals from an antenna or cable system into the TV’s receiver section. The receiver section lets you select
a particular channel, and separates (demodulates) the video and audio signals from that channel. From
there, the video and audio signals go to the monitor section, where circuits decode the video signal into the
horizontal lines that make up the image, and the audio signals that make up the sound. The images go to
the picture tube, and the sound to the speakers.
Unlike televisions, video monitors don’t have receivers built into them. Instead, they have what
are called “direct” video and audio input jacks, and the circuits required to decode direct video and audio
signals into images and sound. For that reason, video pros often refer to these receiverless monitors as
“true” monitors. (Many video monitors, and most computer monitors, display pictures only and have no
provision for playing sound.)
Another very important difference involves the different video standards between televisions,
video monitors and computer monitors. Most televisions and monitors sold in the US conform to an
operating standard established back in the late 1940s by the National Television Standards Committee
(NTSC). It’s commonly called NTSC video, or just NTSC.
Computer monitors don’t operate on the NTSC standard. Instead, they may use one or more
computer video standards like VGA, SVGA or XGA. What’s most important to note about these standards
is that they’re not compatible at all with NTSC. That means that even if your computer monitor had a
connector similar to those on your VCR or television, it wouldn’t be able to show you pictures recorded in
the NTSC video format.
When referring to each type of monitor, be sure to use the correct terms. If you’re watching videos
on a television set, call it a television, not a monitor.
True or False: A “true” video monitor presents a cleaner, more accurate picture than a television
Answer: True. Television pictures don’t look as clean as those on a monitor because the TV’s receiver
section cannot reproduce as much detail as a monitor.
When you watch your videos on a monitor, the video signals go directly from your VCR’s video
output connector to the monitor’s video input connectors, which lead straight to the video decoding circuit
and then to the picture tube. Few or none of the details in the pictures are lost along the way.
When you watch a video on a standard television set, your VCR piggybacks (modulates) the video
signal onto a TV channel (either channel 3 or channel 4), and sends the whole shebang from the VCR’s RF
(cable) connector to the TV’s RF connector. The TV then separates (demodulates) the video images just
like it does a regular broadcast or cable-channel signal.
On the long piggyback journey from the TV station or cable station to your television, the
broadcast and cable signals are subjected to all kinds of interference and distortion. Today’s television
receivers have special “smart circuits” that help compensate for those problems. Things like ghosting,
horizontal or vertical rolling and weak or faded color are some of the problems these circuits can fix. But
while they work wonders cleaning up broadcast or cable signals, these circuits actually harm the original
Signals taken directly from your VCR’s video output connector don’t suffer the same harsh
treatment as those from its RF connector. In fact, they’re nearly perfect by comparison and often don’t
need any correction. A television receiver, however, doesn’t distinguish between what’s coming out of
your VCR and what’s coming out of the air. It processes any and all piggybacked signals fed into its RF
jack the same way.
The effect of the receiver’s smart circuits on your video is most often a slight dulling or loss of
detail in the image. It’s worth noting, however, that the circuits may also compensate for problems like
poor lighting or inaccurate color in your videos.
So while a true monitor may present pictures that are more accurate, a television may be more
forgiving. The end user wants “forgiving.” The videomaker wants “accurate,” i.e. a faithful representation
of the signal as it really exists on the tape.
True or False: Some TV sets share features of both standard televisions and true video
True. There are an increasing number of “hybrid” televisions available today. These feature the
standard receiver/monitor combination found in all televisions, along with some extra connectors for direct
video and audio inputs (typically RCA- or BNC-style connectors).
These connectors let you bypass the receiver section of the television set and feed video and audio
signals directly to the video and audio decoders and on to the picture tube and speakers. Bypassing the
receiver section will yield sharper, clearer images on your screen. Direct video and audio input connectors
let you use the set as a true monitor, instead of a receiver/monitor combination.
True or False: A good monitor will make bad video look better.
False. A good monitor or hybrid receiver/monitor often exposes more video problems and
imperfections than it hides.
Unlike television receivers, which can sometimes compensate for dark or improperly colored
video images, monitors show you exactly what’s coming from your VCR. If the tape in your VCR has dark
video with green skin tones, a good monitor will show you exactly that when you play it.
True or False: The best way to correct pictures that look bad on your monitor is to adjust
the picture controls.
Answer: False. Adjusting the brightness control to compensate for a dark picture, or hue to correct
green skin tones, is probably the easiest way to compensate for those problems, but it’s certainly
not the best way.
In any video playback or editing system, it’s very important to designate one monitor or television
as a color and brightness “standard.” To do this, you use the signal from a color-bar generator to set the hue
and brightness of the monitor. This monitor becomes the part of the system you can always trust as an
accurate representation of what’s on your tapes. You should evaluate whether colors look true and light
levels appear correct by looking at this monitor and this monitor alone.
If you should ever see a video problem on this “standard” monitor, then you know a part of the
system other than that monitor is probably causing it. You can use the standard monitor to help test every
piece of equipment in your setup to find the one causing the problem.
If you adjust the controls on the standard monitor, you’ll no longer have a standard against which
you can verify proper color and light levels in your videos. This will also make isolating and correcting any
future video problems exponentially more difficult.
Do yourself a favor and choose the best monitor in your system and deem it the standard
True or False: A tape played back on your VCR that looks fine on your TV or monitor may
not look the same played back on someone else’s TV and VCR.
True. As frustrating as it sounds, every model of VCR, television and monitor has slightly different
color and brightness characteristics that can affect how your tapes look when playing them back.
One VCR may play back “brighter” than another. Some decks may reproduce images with more
color, others produce images with less. Certain monitors may look more red or more blue, while others
seem to have more detail or “graininess.”
The best way to minimize how these situations affect you and your videos is to bring your VCR
and monitor for playback whenever possible. If that’s not an option, then you can only try a test run and
make any necessary adjustments to compensate for differences.
True or False: All videomakers need a true video monitor.
False. If the videos you produce will never see distribution beyond your circle of family and friends,
there’s no real reason to get a true video monitor for your projects. A television is where most of your
viewers will watch your programs, so it’s fine to create them on your set at home.
If you plan to create programs for either broadcast, cable or retail release, however, you want the
clearest, most accurate pictures in front of you when you make your videos. The only way to get that kind
of clarity is with true video monitors.
You may be able to use televisions as less critical monitors in the system, but you’ll want a good,
true video monitor or receiver/monitor to ensure your tapes leave your hands with nothing but perfect
True or False: A standard television can operate as a computer monitor.
True, with some extra hardware. In desktop video production, it’s often necessary, if not just handy,
to have more than one computer monitor for editing your videos. Although the images aren’t as clear as on
a genuine computer monitor, a VGA-to-NTSC converter and television can provide a budget-friendly
answer to the problem of getting a second computer monitor in a desktop video system.
Be warned that small graphics, or text in tiny letters may not be as legible on the screen, and high-
contrast images may appear fuzzy or distorted on the NTSC monitor.
There are a number of hybrid video/computer monitors available that work in both situations,
although they tend to be a bit expensive.
True or False: In computer monitors, a lower “dot pitch” value means you’ll see a sharper,
cleaner image on the screen.
True. The dot-pitch measurement refers to the distance between the centers of adjacent phosphor dots
on the monitor screen. The smaller the measurement, the smaller the dots, and the closer they are to each
Smaller dots packed closer together let a monitor present more of the detail and clarity in an
image. Large dot-pitch values means a monitor has to average the finer details in an image, and use only a
few large dots to represent it instead of a multitude of smaller ones. The result: fuzzier pictures.
True or False: Good monitors are expensive.
False. There are a wide range of excellent monitors and hybrid receiver/monitors that you can add to
your system without breaking your budget.
If you plan to create programming for broadcast or other large-audience release, you might look at
some of the pricier models to compare picture quality and features.
For most of you, however, a reasonably priced monitor or hybrid model will work perfectly for all
of your video production needs.
Those on tight budgets should check out a hybrid television set, because these offer uses beyond
your video system. It’s possible you can justify upgrading an older set you already have with a hybrid
model that can perform two functions.
Some sets to check out: Hitachi’s 20-inch 20SA2B ($349), with stereo audio speakers built in,
Panasonic’s CT-20G11 ($320), also with a 20-inch screen and stereo speakers. Also look at the Sony KV-
20S10 ($350), which has similar features. Hitachi also offers an inexpensive true monitor, the CT-1396VM
($249), with 13-inch screen and single audio speaker.
If you have a little more to spend, try looking at some true monitors. These will probably yield a
slightly sharper picture than the hybrids.
Sony Broadcast and Professional Group has the PVM-1380 ($455) and PVM-1390 ($745). The
difference between them is that the 1390 includes a Y/C connector for use with S-VHS and Hi8 systems.
Using the Y/C inputs will give you clearer, sharper pictures.
Panasonic offers the CT-2084Y ($435), a larger, 20-inch monitor that also offers Y/C inputs.
For those who want or need nothing but the best, you’ll want the top-of-the-line monitors with
features above and beyond the less-expensive models.
Some places to start: the Sony Broadcast & Professional Group 13-inch PVM-1354Q
($1390), the JVC Professional 13-inch BM-H1300SU, and the Panasonic BTS series BT-S1360Y. All
feature high-resolution screens and Y/C inputs.
If you’re in the market for a good computer monitor for desktop video, you’ll want something
with at least a 15-inch screen, perhaps even 17- or 20-inch. Proton offers the GM 1563X ($470) and GM
17864M ($700), 15- and 17-inch models respectively that work with PC-based computer systems. Sony
offers a 15-inch Multiscan 15sfII ($649), which can work with either a Mac or PC-based system.
What’s Your Score?
If you didn’t get as many correct answers as you expected, you might check out the Monitor Buyers
Guide in Videomaker‘s May 1996 issue. It features a comprehensive breakdown of different
features, what they mean and how they affect your videos.
If you aced the test or missed only one or two questions, congratulations! You know enough about
monitors to use them to your best advantage in your video projects!