Not unlike falling prices and bigger sizes for flat-panel LCD televisions, there’s never been a better time to upgrade your business PC’s LCD monitor to one of those thin, wide, and larger models.

Oh sure, a big-screen monitor is ideal for your entertainment needs -- movies, PC games, and camcorder footage. But can you also justify the upgrade to the widescreen for the office for you or your employees?  Experts say that there is a potential productivity bonus to using either a larger and wider monitor -- or a dual-screen monitor -- because you can see more information on the screen while working.

A widescreen monitor has an aspect ratio -- the size of the horizontal dimension of the screen relative to the vertical -- of about 16:9 or 16:10 compared with a traditional-sized monitor, which averages dimensions that are more like 4:3. A dual-screen monitor is usually made up of two traditional-sized screens positioned side-by-side. Both options provide users with either a wider view of one screen, or views of two different documents, files, or applications at the same time.

More information at once

“A widescreen monitor setup is going to afford a small business owner several advantages,” says Justin Jaffe, senior research analyst for small and mid-size businesses at IDC, a Framingham, Mass.-based technology research firm. “For one, you can see more information at once, lessening the need to scroll through lengthy documents, spreadsheets and webpages.” Jaffe adds, “A widescreen is also going to allow you to more easily compare documents side by side.”

In fact, a recent study commissioned by IDC found that 64 percent of workers surveyed upgraded to a larger monitor for increased productivity. The dramatic increase in viewing area allows users to navigate between multiple windows and applications in less time and with greater ease.

Not surprisingly, visual display company ViewSonic agrees with Jaffe. “Having enough workspace is important, yet often hard to come by -- fortunately, today’s widescreen LCDs allow anyone to increase valuable physical and virtual workspace with ease and at affordable costs,” says Erik Willey, director of product marketing for desktop displays at ViewSonic Corp.

Willey says over the next year the market will continue to see major improvements in LCD displays, including higher resolution, better color performance, wider viewing angles, and faster response times. “Most businesses will quickly transition as they realize that the number of available options in 4:3 LCD monitor selection are shrinking,” predicts Willey.

Applications for the widescreen

Software manufacturers are starting to take notice of the preference for larger screens. “Widows Vista is the first operating system to be optimized for widescreens, and will be another factor to help drive adoption by corporate users,” Willey says. Microsoft Vista offers a few widescreen/dual screen optimized features that weren't in Windows XP. The Windows Sidebar on the main desktop is a vertical collection of customizable “Gadgets” (similar to Mac Widgets) that sits on the left-hand side of the screen, perfect for 16:9 presentations. Windows Media Center is also optimized for widescreen and HD, with new layouts of photos, music, and videos, the company says that users "can see up to three times more content on a widescreen display compared to previous versions."

Cost is important for budget conscious small-to-midsized businesses, but with the price of LCD monitors continuing to drop, widescreens are more affordable than ever. “In some cases, you can actually get a larger widescreen with added value and quality for the cost of a smaller standard screen,” says Jaffe. “Typical pricing ranges from as low as $199 for a good 19-inch widescreen, to under $350 for 22-inch wide.” 

There are other productivity boosters built into today’s computer monitors. For example, the ViewSonic VX2255wmb ($299.99) is a beautiful 22-inch display that offers a built-in 1.3 megapixel webcam and microphone that allows users to easily conduct voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) or video conferences.  Also, for the long hours spent in front of the screen, many monitors have a variety of ergonomic features, including height adjustment and 360-degree swivel, and a bright screen to help reduce eyestrain.

Dual monitors

If you have the room on your desk for them, falling LCD monitor prices have also spurred an increase in dual monitors. Graphic designers, video editors, and animators have long used two monitors -- one for their “palette” and the other for their “canvas.” However, other types of businesses are starting to adopt the dual-monitor for a productivity increase. For example, some like this setup for added convenience, such as having e-mail open on one screen while working on a document on the other.

In case you’ve never sat in front of two monitors, when you swipe your mouse across one screen and towards the second, the mouse cursor continues onto the second monitor after it reaches the edge of the first.

“Using two monitors delivers many of the same benefits as a widescreen monitor, but also has some drawbacks,” cautions Jaffe. “In addition to needing a graphics card that's capable of supporting two displays, you'll have to ignore that bezel interrupting the middle of your viewing area.”