Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 42 / NOVEMBER 1983 / PAGE 46

Choosing The Right TV

Michael A Covington

"What kind of TV should I get to use with my computer?" This is a frequently asked question nowadays, and a good answer can be hard to get. Low-priced microcomputers are designed with the idea that you'll use the TV that you already have, to keep costs down. But perhaps you don't want to interrupt the whole family's TV viewing every time you want to work on a program, or perhaps there was no TV set in your home before you got a computer. In these cases, you must shop for a TV – and some TV sets are much more suitable for computer use than others.

Size And Color

The first question to be settled is, what size? That depends on whether you want to look at the screen from across the room, with the computer on the coffee table in front of you, or whether you want to put the TV on your desk right behind the keyboard. The coffee-table arrangement is usual for joystick game playing, and the ideal TV size is the same as for watching TV programs at the same distance. But a TV set that is to go on your desk should probably be in the 10- to 12-inch range; a 19-inch will be far too big to read comfortably, and even a 5-inch will give a crisp, small, very readable display, with letters about the same size as those produced by a pica type-writer.

Color or black-and-white? That depends mainly on how much money you want to spend and whether you want a color picture. For computerizing your finances or learning BASIC, you probably don't need a color display; for playing Pac-Man, you probably do. Very small (under-10-inch) color TV sets often show a lack of fine detail because the color phosphor dots can't be made small enough in proportion to the size of the screen; no such problem occurs with black and white.

A computer that generates a color display can of course be used with a black-and-white TV; you get a black-and-white version of the display, with different colors rendered as different shades of gray. A few computers, such as the Timex/Sinclair 1000, do not generate color.

The main thing you want out of the TV set's performance is sharpness. In the dealer's showroom, watch TV programs and commercials that place lots of lettering on the screen. Manipulate the fine tuning until the lettering is as sharp as possible, then look at the final results. An overall smeared appearance is a bad sign; the better you can get the lettering to look, the better the TV set will perform with a computer.

Convenient Controls

You also need convenient access to certain controls – volume, brightness, contrast, and, for color sets, tint and color saturation. All of these controls need readjusting when you switch between computer usage and ordinary TV viewing; they should be conveniently accessible on the front panel, not hidden away in back.

Preferably, the TV set should also have some other controls for occasional touching up: width and horizontal linearity adjustments can keep you from losing part of the display at the edges, and focus and video peaking adjustments can give you a sharper picture. These latter adjustments need touching up only rarely, so it's fine if they're on the back panel or inside. Not all TV sets have them; check a circuit diagram to be certain.

If you come across a TV with direct video and sound inputs for a video player, so much the better. You can connect your computer to them – contact the manufacturer to find out how – and get a sharper picture because the signal does not have to go through a modulator or the TV set's tuner. In fact, if you aren't interested in watching TV programs, perhaps you should buy a monitor – a device like a TV set without a tuner or channel selector, only a direct video input.

If your computer uses sound, make sure that the monitor has sound capability. The ones intended for use with video recorders generally do, while monitors designed for use with computers often do not. Also, there are two types of color computer monitors. Get one with a composite video input, rather than RGB direct drive, unless you are sure that the latter is what your computer requires.