Shallow Thoughts : tags : monitor
Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.
Wed, 23 Sep 2009
Back in March I wrote about a
I was seeing with my Dell S-IPS LCD monitor.
I got varying reports on the web on whether this was likely to be a
temporary or a permanent problem; so here's an update six months later.
The problem I noticed back in March was that my xchat window, always
positioned at the same spot on the screen, was getting burned into
the monitor. Against a blank white or grey screen, I could clearly
see where that window's titlebar normally was, and rows of horizontal lines
where the text was.
First, I changed my ways to avoid having windows in the same place all
the time. I changed my window manager settings to remove most window
placement settings, I removed directives to show any windows on all
desktops, and a worked on developing a habit of moving windows around
periodically to slightly different locations (I think I'll have my
Firefox window on the upper right this afternoon). I don't really
like that -- I guess I'm enough stuck in my ways that I like knowing
that I can look to the upper left for web pages and the lower right
for IRC -- but it's not that bit a deal.
And, happiness, my burned in xchat lines went away. My old bad
behavior had not permanently burned in the pixels on my nice monitor.
But that's only part of the story -- because if you look at the photo
from March, xchat is not all you see that's burned in. There's also
the wavy stuff going across the lower 1/4 of the screen -- and that
didn't correspond to any window I'd been running.
I thought maybe it was left over from some Windows wallpaper used by
the monitor's previous owner. But none of the standard wallpapers on
my Vaio's WinXP partition have this pattern. (What it reminds me most
is the data I used to analyze from a cell-sorting machine in my first
computer job. Somehow I suspect that's not the culprit.)
These patterns, unfortunately, are not going away. In fact, the ones
along the top and bottom left edges are pretty clearly getting worse,
and eventually, alas, I'll probably have to replace the monitor.
But meanwhile, they vary a lot.
When I first turn on the monitor in the morning, most of the time
I can't see the burn-in at all. After a long day of use, it's usually
pretty obvious. In between, though, there's huge variation. Sometimes
they appear after an hour of use; sometimes I can go most of the day
before the burn-in starts becoming visible.
It doesn't seem to be
particularly temperature sensitive, and it doesn't seem to vary much
with which background image I'm using that day.
Sometimes when I'm going to be away for a while, I display an all
white screen -- I've read a few reports indicating that can help, and
anecdotally I think it does. I should probably keep better statistics on
temperature, background color and time to find out what's really
affecting this. Maybe I could use it as a homework project in the new
Linuxchix R/Stats course!
Update: Two days after I wrote this article, the patterns were
unusually bad starting first thing in the morning, and
stayed bad all day ... then at about 7 in the evening, as I
typed away not doing anything special, over a period of about
15 minutes they disappeared almost entirely. Quite mysterious!
[ 12:47 Sep 23, 2009
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Sat, 28 Mar 2009
Mostly, I love my
2005FPW S_IPS monitor
. Nice colors, sharp image, incredibly w
ide viewing angles. But one thing made me uneasy:
while working on a smooth gradient in GIMP, I noticed some
funky pixels in the bottom right of the screen, where I could see
horizontal bars where the image clearly didn't have them. And if I
moved the image, the bars stayed put. Oh no! My lovely monitor
maybe wasn't so lovely!
Since then I've been pretending not to notice (I bought the monitor
used, so warranty return isn't an option). But yesterday, I maximized
Firefox on a page with a medium cyan background -- and that barred
area was a lot worse.
In fact, it was so much worse that I could see detail in it: it was
my xchat window. I could even read some of the menubar items.
It's an LCD! They don't get burn-in ... do they?
Well, yes, it turns out, they do. Only it's not called "burn-in",
it's called "image persistence". And for some people,
it happens very quickly, while other people never see it.
Anecdotally S-IPS monitors seem to show image persistence
a lot more easily than TN monitors, but nobody seems to know why.
The good news is that it's temporary -- it's not permanent burn-in
like old CRTs sometimes showed.
The solutions most people suggest:
- turn off the monitor for a time comparable to the time the image
has been burning in
- display a constantly changing screensaver for a long time (hours
- display all white for a long time
On my monitor, about an hour and a half of all-white made it better,
and after turning it off overnight, the next morning I could no longer
see any trace of the persistent image.
Update two days later: Strangely enough, although the pattern
seemed completely gone the next morning, that evening it returned,
even though I hadn't had any window at all in that space all day.
I gave it another hour or two of all-white over that area, then its
usual evening of rest, and the next day it was gone again and stayed
gone this time. At least, it's evening now and it hasn't returned yet.
So I guess I need to change my habits.
I already use power saving mode so the screen sleeps when I'm not
there (no screensaver);
but on the other hand I'm at the machine day and night, and I like
to keep windows in the same place.
- No more windows visible on all desktops
- Try to put windows in different places on each virtual desktop,
and move them around some
- Periodically invert the screen colors
How do you invert the screen? You'd think there would be a gazillion
programs to do that on X, but there aren't. You can compile a C program
sgamma -b -1 to invert, and
sgamma -b 1
to restore. It restores to full brightness, though, so if you've
changed your brightness using a program like
you'll have to adjust it again afterward. Alternately,
Guillermo showed me a nice little C program called
invgamma, by Ben Winslow, that just inverts whatever gamma curve
you already have (run it again to undo the effects). Ben doesn't seem
to have a page for it and it doesn't have any license info in it so I
can't put it on my site either, but if you google for it you'll
probably find a copy.
I'm a trifle bummed that the whizzy S-IPS monitor turned out to be so
delicate. But I suppose it's good to change habits now and then
anyway and not get too stuck on particular window positions.
Maybe it'll help keep my brain from burn-in too.
[ 12:21 Mar 28, 2009
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Wed, 26 Nov 2008
I love my new monitor. The colors are great, it's sharp, the angles
are good. Only one problem: it's really really bright.
It has the usual baffling "push buttons at random trying to figure out
how to navigate the menu system" brightness control -- which dims
the monitor's perceived brightness by about .003% if I take it all
the way to the bottom of the scale. (This is apparently a bug that
some of these Dells have and others don't.)
It has contrast, too -- but
the monitor won't change contrast when running through the DVI cable
(this is even documented in the monitor's manual).
I have no idea why. It makes me wonder whether there's normally a way
of changing brightness over a DVI cable; but lots of googling hasn't
brought enlightenment on that score.
I tried the VGA cable. The display was very noticeably less sharp,
though pressing the monitor's "auto adjust" improved it a lot.
Contrast adjustment did work (and helped) using the VGA cable,
but it also turned everything green. I was able to improve the
color cast a bit with
xgamma -ggamma .75 -bgamma .9
but this was all looking like quite a hassle. I wanted an easier way
to change brightness. xgamma wasn't it: it works well for fine-tuning
but its brightness curve is way off if you try to depart by much from
Enter xbrightness and
xbrightness-gui (Mikael Magnusson to the rescue again! He
knew about these excellent programs, and perhaps equally important,
he had a copy of xbrightness-gui, which seems to have vanished from
xbrightness is an excellent little command-line program that sets the
X gamma curve to appropriate values. Just run xbrightness BRIGHTNESS
passing it a value between 0 and 65535. xbrightness-gui is an
interactive program that lets you drag curves around for each of
the three color curves, or the combined image, with a user interface
very similar to GIMP's Curves tool. You can even save and load curves.
xbrightness-gui's coolness notwithstanding, the simple xbrightness was
really all I needed. It does a fine job of adjusting the monitor
brightness while keeping colors neutral. The version I was using
was Mikael's version, to which he'd added the ability to adjust colors
too (much like xgamma does, but using more useful curves). It turns
out I don't need the color correction, but it's nice to know it's there.
But what I did need was a way to query the current brightness, and,
more important, a way to bump the brightness a little bit up and down.
So I added those features. Getting the current brightness isn't
actually something you can do, since the whole gamma curve for the
three channels is what you perceive as brightness. I didn't try to
estimate perceived brightness based on the whole curve; I just took
the value of the highest value for each color, and their average or
Then I tied my new increment/decrement into key bindings in Openbox.
I bound W-F5 (the Windows key plus F5) to xbrightness -2560, and
W-F6 to xbrightness +2560, so I can go up or down in brightness by
pressing keys without having to type any five-digit numbers.
I've made available the old xbrightness-gui, since it's no longer
available anywhere else; a patch that integrates my changes and Mika's
into xbrightness-0.3; and the patched xbrightness tarball.
They're all at http://shallowsky.com/software/xbrightness/.
One other fun thing about using X gamma settings to adjust
brightness. The first night I used it, I noticed at some point that my
cursor looked very different -- it had become blindingly white.
It turns out that the cursor is implemented at a lower level and
doesn't go through the X gamma system. So turning the brightness
down via gamma curves doesn't affect the cursor, which remains always
at full brightness. It's quite a nice side effect -- the cursor is
much more visible than it normally is.
[ 12:37 Nov 26, 2008
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Sat, 15 Nov 2008
Dave and I recently acquired a lovely trinket from a Mac-using friend:
an old 20-inch Apple Cinema Display.
I know what you're thinking (if you're not a Mac user): surely
Akkana's not lustful of Apple's vastly overpriced monitors when
brand-new monitors that size are selling for under $200!
Indeed, I thought that until fairly recently. But there actually
is a reason the Apple Cinema displays cost so much more than seemingly
equivalent monitors -- and it's not the color and shape of the bezel.
The difference is that Apple cinema displays are a technology called
S-IPS, while normal consumer LCD monitors -- those ones you
see at Fry's going for around $200 for a 22-inch 1680x1050 -- are
a technology called TN. (There's a third technology in between the
two called S-PVA, but it's rare.)
The main differences are color range and viewing angle.
The TN monitors can't display full color: they're only
6 bits per channel. They simulate colors outside that range
by cycling very rapidly between two similar colors
(this is called "dithering" but it's not the usual use of the term).
Modern TN monitors are
astoundingly fast, so they can do this dithering faster than
the eye can follow, but many people say they can still see the
color difference. S-IPS monitors show a true 8 bits per color channel.
The viewing angle difference is much easier to see. The published
numbers are similar, something like 160 degrees for TN monitors versus
180 degrees for S-IPS, but that doesn't begin to tell the story.
Align yourself in front of a TN monitor, so the colors look right.
Now stand up, if you're sitting down, or squat down if you're
standing. See how the image suddenly goes all inverse-video,
like a photographic negative only worse? Try that with an S-IPS monitor,
and no matter where you stand, all that happens is that the image
gets a little less bright.
(For those wanting more background, read
TN Film, MVA,
PVA and IPS – Which one's for you?, the articles on
and the wikipedia
article on LCD technology.)
Now, the comparison isn't entirely one-sided. TN monitors have their
advantages too. They're outrageously inexpensive. They're blindingly
fast -- gamers like them because they don't leave "ghosts" behind
fast-moving images. And they're very power efficient (S-IPS monitors,
are only a little better than a CRT). But clearly, if you spend a lot
of time editing photos and an S-IPS monitor falls into your
possession, it's worth at least trying out.
But how? The old Apple Cinema display has a nonstandard connector,
called ADC, which provides video, power and USB1 all at once.
It turns out the only adaptor from a PC video card with DVI output
(forget about using an older card that supports only VGA) to an ADC
monitor is the $99 adaptor from the Apple store. It comes with a power
brick and USB plug.
Okay, that's a lot for an adaptor, but it's the only game in town,
so off I went to the Apple store, and a very short time later I had
the monitor plugged in to my machine and showing an image. (On Ubuntu
Hardy, simply removing xorg.conf was all I needed, and X automatically
detected the correct resolution. But eventually I put back one section
from my old xorg.conf, the keyboard section that specifies
"XkbOptions" to be "ctrl:nocaps".)
And oh, the image was beautiful. So sharp, clear, bright and colorful.
And I got it working so easily!
Of course, things weren't as good as they seemed (they never are, with
computers, are they?) Over the next few days I collected a list of
things that weren't working quite right:
- The Apple display had no brightness/contrast controls; I got
a pretty bad headache the first day sitting in front of that
- Suspend didn't work. And here when I'd made so much progress
getting suspend to work on my desktop machine!
- While X worked great, the text console didn't.
The brightness problem was the easiest. A little web searching led me
to acdcontrol, a
commandline program to control brightness on Apple monitors.
It turns out that it works via the USB plug of the ADC connector,
which I initially hadn't connected (having not much use for another
USB 1.1 hub). Naturally, Ubuntu's udev/hal setup created the device
in a nonstandard place and with permissions that only worked for root,
so I had to figure out that I needed to edit
/etc/udev/rules.d/20-names.rules and change the hiddev line to read:
KERNEL=="hiddev[0-9]*", NAME="usb/%k", GROUP="video", MODE="0660"
That did the trick, and after that acdcontrol worked beautifully.
On the second problem, I never did figure out why suspending with
the Apple monitor always locked up the machine, either during suspend
or resume. I guess I could live without suspend on a desktop, though I
sure like having it.
The third problem was the killer. Big deal, who needs text consoles,
right? Well, I use them for debugging, but what was more important,
also broken were the grub screen (I could no longer choose
kernels or boot options) and the BIOS screen (not something
I need very often, but when you need it you really need it).
In fact, the text console itself wasn't a problem. It turns out the
problem is that the Apple display won't take a 640x480 signal.
I tried building a kernel with framebuffer enabled, and indeed,
that gave me back my boot messages and text consoles (at 1280x1024),
but still no grub or BIOS screens. It might be possible to hack a grub
that could display at 1280x1024. But never being able to change BIOS
parameters would be a drag.
The problems were mounting up. Some had solutions; some required
further hacking; some didn't have solutions at all. Was this monitor
worth the hassle? But the display was so beautiful ...
That was when Dave discovered TFT
Central's search page -- and we learned that the Dell 2005FPW
uses the exact same Philips tube as the
Apple, and there are lots of them for sale used,.
That sealed it -- Dave took the Apple monitor (he has a Mac, though
he'll need a solution for his Linux box too) and I bought a Dell.
Its image is just as beautiful as the Apple (and the bezel is nicer)
and it works with DVI or VGA, works at resolutions down to 640x480
and even has a powered speaker bar attached.
Maybe it's possible to make an old Apple Cinema display work on a Mac.
But it's way too much work. On a PC, the Dell is a much better bet.
[ 21:57 Nov 15, 2008
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