The Best Monitor Setup to Reduce Eye Fatigue and Distraction

For years I’ve struggled to find a monitor setup that allows me to be the most productive, without causing eye fatigue or eye strain. Here’s my best answer so far:

I now use a vertical monitor with high pixel density. It helps reduce eye fatigue, clicks, and distraction.

Why?

How?

The Right Monitor Setup

The picture above is a screenshot of my monitor’s display. Below is one small portion of it. Look carefully at the New York Times article and compare it to what you see on your own monitor, here.

You’ll see that on my monitor:

  • There’s no clutter from the web site or the browser.
  • The background color is similar to the FilterJoe site, which is easier on the eyes than bright white.
  • It’s easy to read!

Furthermore, this 21.5″ 1920×1080 monitor is 34 inches from my eyes, so that I can’t distinguish individual pixels. The enlarged text appears very crisp from this distance, and this means easier reading and less eye fatigue.

To achieve this setup, you need to:

  1. Use a vertical monitor. For added flexibility, use a monitor that can pivot between vertical and horizontal positions.
  2. Sit far from the monitor and increase screen font size to increase effective resolution. See “Reduce Eye Fatigue” section below for how to calculate this distance for your monitor.
  3. When reading or writing a long article, use “fullscreen mode” which can be invoked with the F11 key on most browsers for Windows or Linux users.
  4. For cluttered web sites use tools like Readability or Readable to rid a web page of everything except the main content.

For more details on all of the above, keep reading.

A Widescreen Monitor is Not the Best Setup

Reasons people use a widescreen monitor include:

  • Entertainment such as video, pictures, games
  • Working at two related tasks, such as writing and researching
  • Multitasking unrelated activities

The first two uses seem perfectly reasonable, but multitasking unrelated activities is a productivity killer for most people.

Can a widescreen monitor be used effectively for the first two uses? Yes. Many people do. And it may be ideal in certain homes where the display is used for both entertainment and light work. But if you’re trying to work without distraction for hours at a time, you may find that a widescreen monitor will lead you down the dark path of multitasking unrelated activities.

I tried for two years to use a 24”, 1920×1200, widescreen monitor effectively at my office, because I often find myself flipping back and forth between writing and researching. I failed. With the combination of a widescreen monitor and a tabbed browser, I too often succumbed to multitasking unrelated activities.

I had other issues with the wide screen. The short monitor height required too many clicks to scroll through long articles. I couldn’t use fullscreen mode because text stretched super wide. And though tools like Readability or Readable could be used, much of the screen space was wasted with wide margins.

I did distracted myself with many experiments to try to improve the situation, including various utilities or plug-ins designed to manage large screens or block distraction. It turns out that most content is meant to be displayed vertically, and this is assumed in computer software and operating systems. I found myself constantly battling this vertical display assumption, and often losing. So after two years of reduced productivity I gave up on widescreen monitors.

Now I have the best of both worlds. I have a widescreen monitor, but it can pivot into a vertical position. It is in vertical position over 95% of the time.

Reduce Eye Fatigue

Steve Jobs claims that you can’t distinguish individual pixels on a device with more than 300 PPI such as the iPhone 4 or iPod Touch 4g, which both have a 326 pixels per inch (PPI) “Retina Display.” He’s right. That is likely the main reason my eyes get less tired with this device than any other LCD display I’ve used.

This display is so good that the iPod Touch 4g makes for a great e-reader. So I began to wonder: could I get a display this good for reading on my computer?

The answer is yes . . . sort of. You can’t get consumer grade monitors with such high pixel density, but you can simulate it. Here’s why, and how:

Have you ever noticed how a massive HDTV looks great 6 or more feet away, but not so great close up? You can see the individual pixels on a 46” HDTV if you’re 3 feet away, but not if you’re 6 feet away. The same principal applies to an LCD display. Move it twice as far away, and you’ll only be able to distinguish half the detail.

The distance (in inches) at which people cannot distinguish individual pixels can be calculated with this simple formula (see this Discover article for details). Note that PPI is Pixels per Inch:

3438/PPI = number of inches from eyes to display

Example 1: iPod Touch Retina Display 326PPI

3438/326 = 10.55 inches from eyes to display

Example 2: My 21.5”, 1920 x 1080 monitor 103PPI

3438/103 = 33.4 inches from eyes to display

See Wikipedia for the PPI of many common devices.

In other words, you cannot distinguish individual pixels on a 326 PPI Retina Display that is more than 10.55 inches away from your eyes unless you have better than 20/20 vision. The same applies to my 103 PPI monitor at a distance of greater than 33.4 inches.

So doesn’t putting a monitor so far away make it difficult to read tiny type? Yes, but that’s not a problem. I just increase font sizes. To do this in a browser, type control+ on Windows, and command+ on Macs. Or you can use the Readability or Readable bookmarklet with a large font selected.

Enlarged text nearly three feet from my eyes is very easy to read. Another subtle benefit is that page elements such as tabs, menus, and status bars do not get larger. They look tiny relative to the enlarged text, so they’re less noticeable and less distracting.

Note that by enlarging your web pages or documents, you do end up with less information on the screen. I find that I don’t usually need 1920×1080 pixels worth of information on a screen at one time. But when I do, I can simply move the screen closer to my eyes. Yes I lose the benefits of having the equivalent of a Retina Display, but the trade-off is sometimes worthwhile, particularly with large spreadsheets.

Reduce Clicks

Read a web page with more than a few hundred words, and you’ll need to advance the page using a mouse click or your keyboard’s “page down” key. If your work involves reading hours per day, you may do this hundreds of times per day.

On a vertical monitor, you have much more vertical space than on a horizontally positioned widescreen monitor. So you’ll need fewer clicks to scroll through the vertically arranged content, and you’ll be able to see more of it at a time.

For example, my Dell 21.5″, 1920×1080 monitor (HDTV resolution) can pivot between vertical and horizontal positions. The vertical position means 1920 pixels of vertical space devoted to a web page, while a horizontally positioned screen means only 1080 pixels of vertical space

You could theoretically get the same amount of text on the screen by filling up the entire monitor with your browser, but that stretches the text very wide. It is very difficult to read text which has 150 characters per line. Various studies show that people can read fastest at somewhere between 60 and 95 characters per line, which is what I get by positioning my monitor vertically, 34 inches away, with enlarged text.

Reduce Distraction

The advantages of working using the cloud are numerous, but endless web distractions can lead to wasted time and feelings of information overload. I’ve discussed tools for reducing distraction for both writing and reading on the web. These tools work well on vertical monitors but poorly on widescreen monitors.

For example, the simplest distraction blocker is to simply put your browser into fullscreen mode by pressing the F11 key. Try it on a widescreen monitor and you’ll see your text stretches so wide that there’s more than 150 characters per line. This is difficult to read.

Fullscreen mode works as intended on a vertical monitor. You eliminate menus, toolbars, address bars, bookmark bars, and status bars. You also get more vertical space so you’ll display more of what you’re reading, leading to fewer clicks to read a long article.

My favorite distraction blockers these days are tools like Readability or Readable. Readability is built in to the Safari browser and it can be added to Firefox or Chrome with plugins. You can also use Readability or Readable bookmarklets on any browser. These tools do work on widescreen monitors as you can specify the text width, leaving wide margins. But using these tools on a vertical monitor is better because much more text is on the screen, which means less clicks when reading a long article.

But What if You Really Need to See More than One Window?

There are times when it truly is helpful to have two Windows displayed simultaneously. You may be writing while frequently consulting one or more sources. Perhaps your work requires you to monitor numbers, graphs, or images from several different points of view. So what setup works best for this?

Two choices allow you to use vertical monitors.

  1. Get a second monitor. You’ll need to make sure that your computer has the graphics card and software to support it and that you have enough desk space. If you need to spend many hours per day with two or more windows displayed, this is the best solution. You can always turn off one of the monitors if it’s a distraction.
  2. Get a widescreen monitor that has the ability to pivot. Keep it in vertical position most of the time. Rotate it horizontally only when having more than one window open at a time will really help your productivity.

So What Monitor Models do I Recommend?

If you’re convinced you want to use a monitor setup like mine, you can do it with any monitor that can be arranged in a vertical position.

Inexpensive 19″, 1280×1024 monitors will do. But with 86 PPI, these monitors need to be 40” away to achieve the equivalent resolution of a Retina Display that is 10.55 inches from your eyes. Worse, you’ll need to enlarge the text in order to read it and then won’t be able to see much more information than you can on an iPod Touch. More likely is that you won’t want to position your 1280×1024 monitor so far away, so you’ll notice the individual pixels.

Luckily, high quality 1920×1080 monitors can be purchased for $200 to $400 these days. The diagonal length of monitors with this resolution ranges from 21.5” to 26”, but the larger sizes of these monitors usually cannot pivot. Furthermore, the bigger the monitor is, the farther you’ll need to place it away from your eyes.

So I recommend getting a monitor with the following characteristics:

  • Can pivot (vertical or horizontal)
  • Is smaller than 24” diagonally
  • Has a resolution of either 1920×1080 or 1920×1200

There’s nothing wrong with a resolution higher than 1920×1200, but prices are much higher and you’ll need a powerful graphics card on your computer.

I recommend the Dell UltraSharp U2211H 21.5″ monitor that I’ve been using for the past two months. Clicking on this link takes you to Amazon, which usually sells this monitor for a lower price than Dell.

The 21.5” diagonal screen size was the smallest I could find on a 1920×1080 monitor. It needs to be only 33.4” from my eyes (to achieve the same effect as a Retina Display at 10.55 inches), as opposed to the 37.5” required for a 24” display. Closer is better so I don’t have to lean forward as far when I need to look at something small.

Other notes about the Dell UltraSharp U2211H:

  • Its IPS LCD display allows for much wider viewing angles than traditional, cheaper LCD displays.
  • This model has dimmer backlighting than most other models. You’ll need to set brightness and contrast higher than you may be used to.
  • A modestly more expensive 23″ diagonal version of this model exists: Dell UltraSharp U2311H

There are plenty of other models to choose from, as you can see if you search Amazon for the word “pivot” in the monitor section:

Amazon listing of LCD monitors which pivot

If you’re planning to also use your monitor to watch video, you might want to go with a larger and/or brighter model than my Dell UltraSharp.

Final Comments on Vertical vs. Widescreen Monitors

Having failed to make good use of a widescreen monitor after two years of trying, I’ve obviously given up on them in the office. But many people use them for home entertainment purposes. And some people are very productive with them. Maybe you’re one of them, and you’d like to share about it below.

I’d love to hear about useful alternatives and so would my readers. So please share your comments below about your own experience with monitors or any other related words of wisdom you may have. Thanks!

Filed in category: Product Information, Reading and writing.

40 Comments

  1. September 5, 2011 at 7:58 AM

    Ben Carroll asked me about eye fatigue on a monitor he purchased recently: Dell Full HD/LD/backlight- ST2420L. He said: “Wish I had read your article on monitors earlier. Asked for a large monitor because of eye fatigue and lack of clarity with old AOC monitor. Getting eye fatigue with new Dell but can’t turn it vertical.

    Any suggestions?”

    I don’t know anything about your specific monitor model but I have a few pieces of general advice that might help. The above article focuses on how to simulate higher resolution: Just move the monitor further away. If print is too small, enlarge with control+ in your browser.

    But there are also things you need to do with any new monitor, particularly if you have sensitive eyes like me. There are many potential monitor adjustments you can make but I’ve found by far the most important are contrast and brightness

    Default settings on most monitors are very bright so that they can show off vibrant colors in demo videos in the store. That sells monitors. But it’s unnecessarily bright for office work that involves reading or writing lots of text. Experiment with different (probably lower) brightness levels in your monitor. You’ll also likely need to change contrast level. While you’re doing all these experiments, your eyes may experience a lot of fatigue (mine do). So maybe just fiddle for a minute or two then see how the new contrast and brightness settings work for you over the next day or two. If you still don’t like it, try a new combination. You’ll probably find after a couple weeks that you find a combination that works well for you. Once you find that combination, stick with it.

    The other big thing is glare from sunlight coming through a window (or worse for me, fluorescent lights). You’ll have to deal with that by using window shades at certain times a day, repositioning your desk and monitor, or changing the lighting in the room. Experiment until you get the glare down to where your eyes aren’t bothered any more.

    There’s other more subtle adjustments you can make but for me personally the big three are brightness, contrast, and glare. Good luck!

  2. Nicole
    September 11, 2011 at 8:45 AM

    Hi. I am looking for options to reduce computer related eyestrain, headaches, and mental fatigue (I have tried about a dozen monitors, anti glare films, brightness/contrast alterations, and other ergonomic setups). I currently have the dell U2311H monitor which has been somewhat of an improvement, but I may try to get a U2211H as well after reading your site (I don’t see them available for regular purchase on the dell website anymore though, so I may have to go used). I am curious what graphics card you run it with, as I am beginning to think that system configuration/components matters too. Do you use a DVI or VGA cable? Thanks, Nicole.

  3. September 11, 2011 at 9:18 AM

    Hi Nicole,

    I’m assuming that you’re talking about using a monitor for typical productivity tasks like reading, writing, and spreadsheets. If that’s the case, graphics cards do not matter, and the difference between DVI and VGA will be pretty small (But DVI could be a slight bit better). I really doubt a U2211h will be any better for you than the u2311h as they’re very similar other than the small size difference. Dell just replaced them with the u2212hm and u2312hm. I don’t have any knowledge about what changes they made and whether the replacements are any better.

    There are so many things that cause eye fatigue and it sounds like you haven’t figured out the main issue(s) that’s causing your eye strain and fatigue. Here’s a few more things you can explore:

    1) look at the previous comment about fiddling with contrast/brightness, if you haven’t already played with contrast and brightness.
    2) think about the lighting situation in your office. If you have fluorescent lights you should try experimenting with them off and using incandescent lamps instead. That has had a huge impact on my eyes in the past. If you have windows, experiment with different shade/lighting combinations.
    3) Some people are very sensitive to refresh rates on monitors and therefore get fatigued by 60Hz refresh rates that is the default for most monitors. If you can borrow a monitor from someone that has 75hz refresh rates or higher, perhaps you’ll noticed a big difference.
    4) Try shifting some of your reading if you can to E-ink screens like a Kindle or Nook. For example, if you have a Kindle and an Instapaper account, you can save longer articles from the web into Instapaper then read them on the Kindle. Most people with eyes sensitive to LCD flickers have no problems at all with E-ink screens. You can also shift a lot of your reading into Google Reader and use the Kindle to read it, as I suggest here:

    http://www.filterjoe.com/2010/07/23/can-you-read-anything-with-the-kindle-almost-with-google-reader/

    5) Another thing to try is the Retina display of an iPhone 4 or iPod touch 4g. If several hours of reading on such a device is great on your eyes, then you will love the iPad 3 when it comes out in 2012, as that too will have a Retina Display (don’t get the iPad 1 or 2 with their ordinary displays). I discuss the incredible Retina display and the iPod touch for reading, here:

    http://www.filterjoe.com/2011/02/07/ipod-touch-vs-kindle-which-is-best-for-reading/

    I hope at least one of these ideas is of some help. I totally sympathize with your eye issues as I’ve had many myself over the years, which is why I’ve experimented so much over the years with different displays and setups. If you find something that works great, I’d love it if you could leave a comment here saying what worked for you a month or two from now when you’ve got your solution.

  4. September 11, 2011 at 9:24 AM

    Nicole – One more thing I thought of. Microsoft has been pushing “cleartype” font rendering and I find it to be blurry and it gives me headaches if I use it for more than a few hours. On my Windows XP systems I always have cleartype turned off. The majority of people find Cleartype to be easier on their eyes but a significant minority react like I do.

    Also, Cleartype can be tuned more to your liking:

    http://www.microsoft.com/typography/cleartype/tuner/step1.aspx

  5. Nicole
    September 20, 2011 at 6:24 AM

    Hi Joe,

    Thank you so much for your advice. I know I have a convergence insufficiency (my eyes don’t work well together/converge properly upfront). I’ve probably always had this, but my eye doctors never tested for it until I started complaining of eye strain and headaches. I was fine using computers day and night until around 2007. That’s when I first bought a mac book pro and starting getting brutal headaches after about 30 mins of use, which saddened me because I loved the laptop and had such a great experience using a cinema display with a mac desktop at school. That was around 2005 and I thought the cinema display was heaven to look at. Unfortunately, when I tried buying one, it was super painful to look at, but I think the back-lighting used in those screens changed by the time I got one (2008). I traded my macbook pro for an Imac, which I thought was better at first, but within 3 months I had double vision and constant tension in my forehead and temples. I’ve tried many other monitors and computers since, including with CRTs (several of which I found better but unfortunately they died).

    Since 2007 I have tried close to 20 different monitors, 8 computers, various anti-glare covers, and special glasses (including the gunnar optics as well as prescriptions for upfront work, mid-range, and distance, and with and without prism, but I have such a small prescription my eye doctors don’t think the nuances I have requested for different distances are significant enough to matter). I have also tried vision therapy and different brightness and contrast configurations (including the “neutralizer” application to reduce the brightness and contrast even more than the monitor controls let me). When things get very painful, I find covering one eye with an eye patch helps a lot (which suggests my convergence issue is likely a major factor in my discomfort, but I don’t respond the glasses with prisms which are supposed to alleviate the strain on my eyes, so there could be more to it).

    Right now I am running the dell u2311 at 1440 x 900, with brightness at 8, contrast at 55, and with the screen about 3 feet from me (sitting further back is supposed to be better for people with convergence issues, but I still get headaches from LCD TVs no matter where I sit). The 1440 x 900 configuration on my dell seems less irritating, which makes me think I should ditch the widescreen. I will definitely try your suggestion about reading on an E-link screen. And I will try turning off clear type (I had it off for a long time and don’t think turning it on made a difference, but that was on a different monitor). With so many factors at play I should be more systematic in my experimenting! My next experiment is going to be with a plasma tv with a 600hz refresh rate. I was told to get the panasonic TC-P42ST30 in particular for the moving lines of resolution (someone on another forum with similar issues recommended it). I pick it up this Friday and will report back shortly if it helps. Thanks again for your advice!

  6. September 20, 2011 at 6:46 AM

    Hi Nicole,

    This is the first I’ve heard of convergence insufficiency and it sounds like a really tough issue. One thing that jumped out at me about your setup is 1440 x 900 on the u2311. Why not set it to the max resolution of 1920 x 1080? You can then use various kinds of scaling to make the print bigger. In browsers, this is Apple+ on a Mac (or Control+ if you’re back to using Windows). MS Word allows you to enlarge type. By leaving in native resolution and enlarging, you get more PPI which all other factors being equal will be easier on your eyes.

    Hopefully turning off Clear Type will help you as well. I’ve tried ClearType many times on Windows XP and I always get eye fatigue and headaches from it.

    Reading the definition of convergence insufficiency, I can see that using a display as far away as possible from your eyes would help so theoretically your current setup should be ideal (assuming you put the resolution back up to native 1920 x 1080 and use scaling as I suggest). If you do try E-ink e-readers, you want the largest screen possible held as far as possible from your eyes. Which means you should try the Kindle DX, set to a fairly big font size. If the Kindle DX is way better for you, then you could shift much of your reading to it (for tips on how to use Google Reader to do this, read my post: http://www.filterjoe.com/2010/07/23/can-you-read-anything-with-the-kindle-almost-with-google-reader )

    One thing I’m curious about – can you read a book? If not a regular book, then one with large print? What I’m wondering is how much is due to the convergence/distance issues, and how much to LCD, backlight, monitor, or ClearType technology.

  7. Nicole
    September 20, 2011 at 10:47 AM

    Thank you. Books used to be fine for me, but now they bother me quite a bit too, but I am a PhD student in the middle of reading for my area exams right now, so I do an excessive amount of reading and computer work. My theory is that something about monitors post-2007 blew whatever ability my eyes/brain had to compensate for my convergence insufficiency and astigmatism, and now anything visually demanding is difficult for me. I am waiting to see a neurologist and an ophthalmologist though, so maybe there is something else going on.

    As for the 1920 x 1080 resolution…it just seems harder for me to read, like the text is stretched sideways too much.

  8. September 20, 2011 at 12:42 PM

    Nicole – Is your monitor set up vertical or horizontal? If horizontal and you use full screen mode or close to it – then you’ll have a huge number of characters per line (140? 150?) which is very uncomfortable for most people to read. 60 to 90 characters per line is what most people find comfortable. I tend to prefer the low end at 60-70 characters per line, which is the choice I made for the way FilterJoe posts appear.

    Your Dell U2311 can be rotated into vertical position, and then you rotate the screen using the keyboard shortcut (or control panel settings for display).

  9. Jennifer
    September 30, 2011 at 7:28 PM

    Hi Joe,
    Is there a way to set my computer (or browser) to display webpages with a tan background color like your site instead of the typical white? I never realized how much of a difference that makes but it is definitely easier reading your site than one with a white background.
    Jennifer

  10. September 30, 2011 at 7:36 PM

    Jennifer – Firefox has a way to do it that is kind of complicated. If you’re just trying to read long articles more easily, I would strongly recommend using a web page reformatting service. Readable and Readability are the two best, as I describe in these two posts:

    http://www.filterjoe.com/2011/04/11/web-page-reformatting-services-readable-and-readability/

    http://www.filterjoe.com/2009/03/25/filters-for-reading-on-the-web/

    Note that the “Readable” service literally has an option to choose FilterJoe colors. Click on “color themes,” then “Olive” which is designed by Joe Golton. That’s me. I use Readable hundreds of times per month to read long articles and it looks pretty close to FilterJoe.

  11. Nicole
    October 2, 2011 at 3:27 PM

    Hi Joe,

    Thanks for the info on rotating the monitor. I didn’t know I could do that. I gave it a try but prefer the horizontal version. I did pick up my plasma tv and am getting some relief with it (I can’t say my headaches and eyestrain are gone, but the discomfort is different and much less noticeable). It could simply be because I am sitting 5-8 feet away from the screen…although I don’t get the same visual disturbances with the plasma that I do with IPS or LED LCDs (if I look at LCD screens and then look away or close my eyes I can see dark and light shapes similar to what was on the screen (usually dark lines for text and light for the white space) even if I turn the brightness and contrast way down).

    On another note, I saw an ophthalmologist who told me he didn’t think there was anything wrong with my eyes and that everyone gets eyestrain, so I need to toughen up and deal with it. I refused to leave his office until he checked my optic nerve (another eye doctor of mine recommended having someone look at it). He found that my optic disks are “full” which is a sign of intra-cranial pressure. I managed to get a CT scan and see a neuro-ophthalmologist shortly after, but the CT scan came back normal and the neuro-ophthalmologist said my disks were “full” but “quite” and recommended that I see a neurologist. Have you ever seen an ophthalmologist or got back any info about your “optic disks”?

    Best,

    Nicole

  12. October 2, 2011 at 3:53 PM

    Nicole,

    I’ve never had my optic nerve or disc examined. My own eye strain issues are mild compared to yours so I’m out of my depth here. Sounds like you’re getting closer by moving to a larger display that is farther away. Hope you get to the bottom of it soon.

  13. mcfly2309
    October 29, 2011 at 11:44 AM

    hi joe,

    is there any benefit to using a monitor with hdmi connection versus vga one for reading? or is the benefit only for viewing videos and playing games?

    also, what is your opinion about matte vs glossy screens for reading? it seems to me that text looks “sharper” in glossy screens…
    best,

  14. October 29, 2011 at 11:54 AM

    Regarding VGA vs HDMI (or other digital connects such as DVI), I have noticed little difference when Truetype is turned off. Cleartype doesn’t work for my eyes so I always keep it off. However, with Microsoft’s Cleartype enabled, HDMI or DVI renders crisper text than VGA.

    Matte vs glossy seems to be a personal thing that impacts people differently. Glossy is always going to be worse in glare from sun or poorly positioned lights. However, in a dim room with no glare problems, I personally find that Glossy screens produce text that is crisper and less tiring for my eyes. This is one of those things though that is best for you to test out personally – if you have an opportunity to borrow someone’s monitor for a week or two you could check it out for yourself. To further complicate the issue, there are a variety of different types of matte screens. So you may find you dislike one matte screen but like a different one.

  15. November 28, 2011 at 11:03 PM

    What do you think of buying a high-density display like Samsung and Dell 27″ 2560 X 1440 monitors and then setting the resolution in OS to a smaller one? If you keep it proportional 1280×720, there should be no distortion… 1280×720 is not fantastic, but magnifying everything through browser or Windows is not very acceptable in my line of work (we can call it web-sites design for the sake of a simple metaphor), as it makes the user interface look not as designed. It might be a stupid idea, and these monitors are not sold at local stores and are pretty costly to try via buying for the sake of trying… I wish local Costco stocked them:-)

    I’m shortsighted, so I can’t keep the monitor far away – I don’t see much then. At the same time I don’t want to keep the monitor too close to the eyes, as I think it may make the shortsightedness even worse (not immediately, but when we speak about 60-80hrs a week for years, it does accumulate…)

  16. November 29, 2011 at 6:01 AM

    Andrew,

    I’ve never used a display higher than 1920 x 1200 so I can only speculate. But let me state the obvious first: how about wearing corrective lenses, either glasses or contacts? I’ve been near sighted since the age of 10 so I’ve worn glasses at nearly all times except when sleeping or in water. I’m currently on the edge of needing bifocals (or better yet progressive lenses) but just haven’t got around to doing it yet – so keeping the monitor far away is actually easier for me as I don’t have to switch from my regular glasses to my one-foot-away glasses (I don’t need glasses at less than 9 inches away, so I take my regular glasses off sometimes when using my new iPhone 4s).

    Back to your original question – my experience with monitors of the 1920 x 1200 or smaller size on Windows XP and Windows 7 is that you get far better text and graphics clarity running the monitor at the native resolution. I’m assuming you’ll get the same results on a larger monitor. If you’re going to keep the monitor close to your eyes, then go for the smallest monitor you can find with 2560 x 1440 resolution.

    Also, you could run a 2 monitor setup. One with the large monitor for testing and design connected with your work. The other monitor could be like I’m suggesting in this post—to be used for your on-line reading. I would imagine that even if you design all day for a living, you still have to do quite a bit of reading. The solution I suggest in this article is aimed at reading content. For other types of work such as design or finance (big spreadsheets), the faraway vertical monitor setup will not be appropriate.

  17. December 21, 2011 at 12:08 AM

    For my part, I make sure that my monitor is atleast an arm’s away from my eyes. Then I lower the brightness and sharpness on the setting. Lastly, I have an anti-glare / radiation cover on the monitor.

  18. Martin
    January 23, 2012 at 10:17 PM

    Dear Joe

    I was wondering regarding your monitor of choice, have you not been disturbed by the heavy anti glare coating of the Dell monitor? I have just purchased Dell U2212HM yesterday and I feel a little uneasy as to wether or not I can get used to the anti glare coating that brings this graininess/sparkling effect especially on white backgrounds. Like you, I also will be using the monitor for reading, thus spending most time reading pdf’s or word documents with black text on white background.

    Have you overcome the anti glare coating? :-)

    Cheers
    Martin, Denmark

  19. January 23, 2012 at 10:27 PM

    Martin- The anti glare coating is my least favorite aspect of my Dell monitor. I did get used to it after a few weeks. I needed to turn up the brightness much higher than I do with other monitors and that took care of it for me. I do have a window in my office and the anti-glare coating is effective when the sun shines bright.

  20. Avi
    February 27, 2012 at 2:02 PM

    Interesting article.

    For reading a book on the computer (.e.g a PDF), I’ve found that two pages side-by-side view greatly enhances my reading experience.

  21. Tahsin
    March 29, 2012 at 9:51 AM

    THANKS SO MUCH for this article. Was considering upgrading from my 21.5″ triple monitor setup to triple 23.6″ monitors. Your info really helped me understand how this is a waste of money considering they won’t be any further from my eyes.

  22. Joe
    July 5, 2012 at 7:44 AM

    Thank you for this informative thread. Previously, I experienced headaches when I attempted to use a large-screen LED TV as a computer monitor. I did this in an effort to relieve a repeated stress injury by creating a suppine workstation. I switched back to my old CRT monitor and sitting upright – the headaches disappeared, but the repeated stress problems returned. So, I decided to try again with a different setup using your recommendations. I purchased an ASUS PA246Q monitor (http://www.asus.com/Display/LCD_Monitors/PA246Q/#specifications) because it seemed comparable to or better than the Dell Ultrasharp at a lower price. Sadly, the headaches returned after just two days of use. In addition to your recommendations regarding distance, I’ve also tried maxing out the brightness with the monitor controls and then lowering the brightness with the driver. I read that this helps with backlit monitors, although I don’t believe the Asus is backlit. I like the pivot feature and using the monitor in portrait orientation very much (impossible with a CRT), and I’m worried that it’s becoming difficult to find CRT monitors. Also, using my CRT monitor in a supine workstation would be difficult and probably unsafe, since it weighs 90 lbs. I’d appreciate any advice you may have specific to my situation before I return the ASUS. Are my symptoms (a splitting headache) similar to the ones you address?

    Thanks again,
    Joe

  23. July 5, 2012 at 8:03 AM

    Joe – It’s really unfortunate that you and many other people are adversely affected by what has become standard office setup – sitting at a chair in front of a desktop all day. I am by no means a leading expert on the related health issues, but the one thing I’ve noticed for sure is that are many different issues people have and the way to find out which steps will most benefit you are to experiment, experiment, experiment. In your case it sounds like you’ve already proved for yourself that CRTs work well for your eyes and many types of LCDs do not. However, you may want to explore other types of LCDs such as those with very high resolution (i.e. iPad 3 Retina display) or different technologies. Or how about a different screen technology altogether like a small Plasma TV? How do your eyes do with E-ink displays found in E-readers like the Kindle 4 and Nook Simple Touch? If other screen types are better for you, you can read long articles on these displays instead of your monitor.

    On the other hand, you know that CRTs work for your eyes (no headaches) and there are still many used CRTs available out there as most people find LCDs easier on their eyes. So how about setting up your workstation so that you use a CRT but also sit in an upright position? It’s just a matter of getting the CRT at the right height and angle, right?

  24. Joe
    July 5, 2012 at 10:12 AM

    Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I imagine that as more people experience problems after decades of office work, solutions will become more available. I’ve heard that plasma displays aren’t ideal as computer monitors because the image burns in, but it’s worth a try. I’m afraid that simply sitting (or standing) upright for an extended period of time has become painful for me. (I’m only comfortable when I’m lying down or walking). The solution I’m pursuing is similar to this company’s products: http://www.ergoquest.com/. The monitor will be over me, so I’m reluctant to have a 90 lb CRT in that position. Ergoquest makes custom solutions, which might be an option, although very expensive. Of course I won’t be able to pivot the monitor into portrait orientation, which I’ve quickly come to love.

    Joe

  25. July 5, 2012 at 10:25 AM

    Joe – have you tried simply moving much of your computer work to tablets, so that you can lie down while using them? Do really high quality displays like iPad 3 give you headaches? Seems like it might work to use your monitor in upright position for less than an hour a day while doing most of your work on tablets.

  26. Joe
    July 5, 2012 at 10:44 AM

    I’ve never tried an iPad or e-readers. I do relatively little reading without also copying/ pasting and taking notes, but it might be helpful to break up the day.

    Joe

  27. July 5, 2012 at 11:05 AM

    Joe – there exists some software to aid note taking such as Evernote or Microsoft Onenote (Supposedly Evernote’s tablet efforts are more advanced at this point). Later this year when Windows 8 is released, it may become a lot easier as tablets which also use stylus as input become more prevalent.

    It is already easy to simply copy and paste sections of text from tablets but inputting a lot of text can be a chore. Voice dictation can help with that.

  28. Mike
    October 24, 2012 at 5:27 PM

    I would like to join in on what seems to be a growing list of people that have problems using LCD or plasma TV’s and computer monitors. I first discovered this in 2011 when I tried to upgrade from my CRT computer monitor to an LCD computer monitor. Within 30 minutes I was developing a serious headache. I thought it might have to do with the anti glare matte screen, and promptly returned it with the intent of getting a glossy screen. Procrastination and the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mantra kept me from following up on getting a glossy LCD.

    I forgot about this over the year, and just a few weeks ago decided to replace my old CRT TV with a plasma. Same problem developed, with headaches within 30 minutes. I tried to tough it out the next night and watched a movie, and had a headache and felt nausea for the next 2 days (low-grade migrane?). Unfortunately I had to go back to the old CRT. I’m sorry I don’t have the specs on either.

    I’m hoping that someone in the tech world or in the health care profession is taking note and has some soutions, beacuse the CRT’s aren’t going to be around forever. Any updated advice/info would be appreciated.

    Thanks, Mike

  29. Andrew
    March 5, 2013 at 4:56 PM

    You don’t need to purchase a monitor with a stand that pivot. Buy a cheaper monitor with a fixed stand, that you’ll remove anyway and with the money you saved, buy yourself a good LCD arm, like the Ergotron LX with Desk Mount (only 106$ at Amazon). Your monitor that did not pivot now will, and you’ll be able to adjust it any distance you need very easily.

  30. GB
    May 10, 2013 at 7:29 AM

    I’ve been looking at pivotable monitors for vertical viewing after reading your blog. I already have a dual monitor stand, allowing for any mountable monitors to pivot. My question is, with this stand, do I still need to get a pivotable monitor? Or can I get any LED/LCD monitor and set it in vertical position using the OS without any issues? Thanks

  31. May 10, 2013 at 7:42 AM

    GB – I really need to update this post. As you say, if you use a monitor stands with pivoting, then there’s no need for a pivotable monitor. I have not used a monitor stand so I can’t speak for which models are best or how well they work vs. a monitor with pivot. Pivot generally tends to add to the cost of a monitor (perhaps around $50?) so once you have the stand, you don’t have to pay extra for future monitors.

    On the other hand, some of the better monitor brands include pivot anyway on their better monitors. I just purchased a phenomenal 27″ Dell monitor when it was on sale for $560, the U2713HM. As with all higher end Dell monitors, it includes pivot, tilt, rotate, and lots of connectivity (I’m driving it with HDMI as my currenty system doesn’t have DisplayPort). I’ve never been happier with monitor.

    As it turns out, I’m doing a lot of development work right now where having 2 monitor, both in the wide position is helpful (In my current project I’m seeing HTML on one window, CSS on another, photoshop on another – all on the same big wide monitor – and then the output web site on the other smaller screen) – but at times when I’m not doing development I’ll use this as the only monitor and rotate it into vertical position.

  32. Shaun
    May 14, 2013 at 7:30 PM

    Hi Joe,

    Reading your article, I was sold on the idea of a pivot monitor until I read your very last post. You seem to have gone to 27 inch wide screen position mostly (as opposed to 95% vertical position as mentioned in the post) nowadays even for reading?

    I’ve not had experience with 27 inch screens but in the past week I’ve been playing around at shops the 27 inch screens and I realise my eyes get tired easily with big monitor (whereas when using my 13inch macbook pro I can last for whole day without much of a eye strain).

    Right now, I am still considering whether to go with a 23 inch or 27 inch. Your current thoughts please?

  33. May 14, 2013 at 9:05 PM

    Hi Shaun,

    I am still a big advocate of vertically rotated monitors for general purpose use such as email, web sites , writing, etc. for all the reasons stated in the post. That being said, some professions and use cases require viewing 2 or more windows. Examples:

    Design
    Web development
    Monitoring data

    There are many more. Such uses will steer you towards multiple monitor use or large wide screen monitors.

    Of course, these days many people, including me, are shifting to mobile devises for email and browsing . . .

  34. Shaun
    May 15, 2013 at 8:57 PM

    thanks Joe for the advice. I agree that mobile devices like the ipad is great for reading and emailing, but I sort of needed to read large PDF files from time to time (e.g. annual financial reports). to pinch and zoom from time to time, while reading 100 pages can be a challenge. So I was hoping a larger screen would work.

    Thanks again for your great website.

  35. Pam Burrows
    July 6, 2013 at 3:54 PM

    That “Readable” is wonderful. I have a corneal disease that causes double vision even w/ one eye closed.
    I’ve been using a 2007 computer w/ Win95 & lower resolution to make my fonts large & thick enough. But it is dying & the new PCs all have higher resolutions. I came across ur piece trying to figure out how to get the same size fonts (in inches) in a higher resolution & which computer is the best for the visually impaired.
    Thank you.

  36. Pam Burrows
    July 6, 2013 at 3:55 PM

    Oh, I posted this article on Google+.

  37. Massimo
    November 30, 2013 at 2:38 AM

    Hi Joe,

    first of all thanks for your article. Now a huge dilemma:

    24″ 16:10 1920×1200 94.34 PPI
    versus
    21.5″ 16:9 1920×1080 102.46 PPI

    16:9
    Pros
    - It seems to be the standard
    - Higher PPI
    - Smaller on my desk
    - Less expensive
    Cons
    - It seems to me too much wide and short in vertical size

    16:10
    Pros
    - More pixels
    - The ratio seems more balanced compared to 16:9
    Cons
    - It seems to be not the standard
    - Slightly less PPI
    - As it is bigger could require more head movement from side to side

    I am going to use 2 monitors: 1 in landscape (as I use wide Excel worksheets) and the other in portrait mode for web surfing, reading, writing docs. I will also try to use both in portrait mode anyway …

    What is your advice?

    Thanks and best greetings from Milan, Italy.

    Massimo
    Italy

  38. November 30, 2013 at 6:36 AM

    If you have the space and the money, go for 1920 x 1200. I find 1080 often too narrow when in portrait (vertical) position. More sites are gearing for wider displays these days than when I wrote this post a few years ago.

  39. Massimo
    November 30, 2013 at 9:58 AM

    Many thanks Joe for your advice. Have a nice day :-)

  40. Tim
    February 28, 2014 at 8:22 PM

    Reply or Email me to Join in a Group-Buy for Eye-strain relieving Transflective LCD Displays!

    One of the main causes of eyestrain using a computer monitor is THE ARTIFICIAL BACKLIGHT that we’re staring directly into, plain and simple. Our eyes evolved to take in natural sunlight, not the artificial light sources mass-produced in LCDs. I’m an individual tired of eye-strain and in need of a better solution like many others here and I’m in the process of getting factory quotes to buy Color Transflective LCD Panels (to use as external computer monitors), with about a 19″ screen size. This lcd tech. allows you to switch off the backlight and completely use sunlight or ambient light to see the display, similar to e-ink but with the high refresh rates that LCDs offer. Many people find that using devices that use a display type similar to this experience significant reduction in eye-strain and related issues, because the artificial light is eliminated. I’m looking for others that would be interested in going in jointly on a group purchase of these LCD displays with me, because factories require a minimum order quantity for production that individual end users like us are typically not able to purchase by ourselves, and unfortunately these aren’t available to just go out and buy at a local store here in the US. If you’re interested please post a reply comment or email me. Thanks!

    -Tim