Part I: Your Options
The options you have available to you vary depending on the type of monitor, and more importantly, the type of graphics adapter you have on your computer.
There are many different settings that your monitor can have. The two most important, and the two that anyone can change are the resolution (640x480, 800x600, etc.) and the colors (16 colors, 256 colors, 654,000 colors, etc.) Unless you're pretty good with computers, or are willing to risk a painful experience, I would NOT recommend you mess with the Refresh rates (Hertz settings)
As a general rule, all monitors should be set to 800x600 with 65,000 colors or higher.
A 14 or 15 inch monitor should never be set above 800x600. All resolutions above 1024x768 should probably be used only on a 19 inch or larger monitor. Typically, the only people who use resolutions this high are graphic designers, CADD engineers and designers, film editors, special effects editors and others who need the highest quality and the finest detail in their graphics display.
to check what resolution your monitor has in either Windows NT 4.0, Windows 95, or Windows 98, minimize all the programs you have running so you can see your computer's desktop and right click on any area of the desktop where there is no Icon. If you don't know what terms like "Desktop", "right click", "minimize", and "icon" mean, I will not go into explaining them because you shouldn't be attempting this anyway.
After you right click on the desktop, choose "properties". A new window will appear like the one pictured below. This window changes slightly from WinNT to Win95 or 98. It will also look different after some higher-end video cards are installed.
The one thing that should remain consistent is that every version of
this window should have a "settings" tab, as seen above. Click on the settings
tab to get a display very similar to the one above. There should be an
area on the upper half in the center that gives you a rough equivalent
of what your deskop looks like with the current settings. Below that will
be an area for the color palette, the Desktop area (resolution) the Refresh
rate, and the font size (The font size might be in another area window
with some video cards).
In the case of Windows NT, there will be a "test" button close to the bottom, with the exeption of a few video cards, you will not see this button in Windows 95 or 98.
Here's a brief explanation of each area:
We'll start with the color settings. Your display absolutely MUST be
set to a minimum of 256 colors to see photographs and any much of the internet
correctly. If your video card will not support AT LEAST 256 colors at 800x600,
then scrap it and buy a new one. You can buy a higher quality card than
that as low as 20 dollars. In the color settings, there are:
greyscale (sometimes, you won't see this too often anymore)
16 colors (again, this doesn't appear on modern cards, since it has no value)
256 colors (this is an absolute minimum for the lowest quality settings in modern computers)
65 thousand colors (more precisely 65,536. This is the minimum I would recommend you use.)
High color, which is 16 million colors (16,777,216 colors)
True color, which is 24 million colors
True color, a relatively new version of true color which offers 32 million colors.
In the area of resolution (Desktop area), the more typical options are
640x480 lowest quality, largest sized images. (This was once the standard, but hasn't been for around 5 years. Also called VGA, for Video Graphics Array)
800x600 This is the current standard that monitors are set to. Nearly all computers now come with the monitor set at this level. Therefore, all experienced web-site designers design their sites to match this level. (Also called SVGA, for Super VGA)
1024x768 This is the highest level that any monitor 17 inches or smaller should be set to (and 800x600 is better). (Also called EVGA for Enhanced VGA)
1280x1024 (This level is double the quality of a 640x480 display) (Also called XGA or XVGA for Extended VGA)
1600x1200 (This is the highest resolution I've ever seen as of February '99) (Also called SXVGA for Super Extended VGA)
Usually these days, due to the high number of VGA+ options, they are
all just referred to as VGA and the numbers are used instead for specifics.
Part II: How to Check and Change Your Settings
Extremely important! Read ALL of the information below BEFORE you make any changes to these settings. If you don't perform the test mentioned at the bottom of this page and the settings are wrong, it is EXTREMELY difficult to correct them!
Important note: The setting options given here are for use ONLY in Windows NT 4.0, since this is the standard on campus here at UCF. Under no circumstances should you attempt to make these kinds of changes in any other operating system (such as Windows 95 or 98) unless you have the proper documentation, and even then, do so only with the utmost caution.
Changes the settings in Windows NT is safe to do as long as you remember one thing: ALWAYS test your new settings before accepting them. If you can't read what's on the screen during the test, then don't accept the changes.
Checking to see what your settings are and changing them are done on the same screen in Windows NT. Getting there is easy, and if you know how to change your other desktop settings, such as window colors or screensavers, then you already know how to get there. With everything minimized, so there are no programs blocking the basic desktop of your computer, right click on any blank area of the desktop (in other words, right click where there are no icons).
From the drop-down list that comes up, choose "Properties", which should be the last choice at the bottom. A new window will open up called "display properties". This window can look different from time to time depending on your video card, but it will usually look like this:
Click on the tab called "settings" (the last tab to the right in the example above).
The window will change to the new tab, and it will look like this:
You can change any of the 4 options listed (Color Palette, Desktop Area, Font Size, and Refresh Frequency).
Color Palette determines the number of colors that your computer screen will display. If your computer can handle it, you should have your display set to "true color", "high color", or "millions of colors". Again, these options and their names will change depending on the video card (or graphics adapter) you have.
High color is a little over 16 million colors and true color comes in two flavors, the 24 million and 32 million color varieties.
At any rate, your monitor should never be set at less than 64 thousand colors unless your display adapter (graphics adapter, video card) is so old that it can't handle even that.
Desktop Area determines how much information will fit on your display. Some people keep their monitors set to 640x480 (640 pixels across by 480 pixels down) even when they more on to bigger and bigger monitors. I DO NOT recommend you do this unless you have SERIOUS eyesight problems. The 640x480 display setting was designed for 14 inch or smaller monitors. Most people have at least a 15 inch monitor these days and many have 17 inch or larger monitors. For all monitors 17 inches (15.8 viewable) or larger, I strongly recommend a display setting of 800x600. You should consider that setting even with a 15 inch monitor.
Virtually everything these days, and especially web applications, is optimized to run on an 800x600 display, so looking at these same items on a 640x480 display will almost certainly distort what you're supposed to see. This is what's happening when you go to a web site and some of the page goes off of the screen to the right where you can't see it. The reason is because you're using a 640x480 display, which went the way of the dinosaur with the explosion of the internet, nearly 5 years ago. Having a large monitor set to 640x480 can actually cause your eyes MORE stress rather than less, because the icons and images designed to be displayed at a certain size, are now much larger than they were ever intended to be, and therefore, somewhat blurry.
Font Size for those of you who do have eyesight problems, there may be a solution for you. You can change your display settings so that fonts on your computer appear to be larger than the normal settings.
Refresh Frequency Your refresh rate, expressed in Hertz (Hz) should be set as high as the display size you choose will take it. If you choose a refresh rate too high, you will notice that the display size is automatically changed to compensate. There is a very good reason to set the refresh rate high. When you perform the test (and you can do this to check the settings you currently have), you will be taken to a screen that looks something like this:
Two of the last three rectangular boxes on the test screen (the black and white ones) are designed to test horizontal and vertical lines. Sometimes if you look directly at these, but more likely when you look at them with your peripheral vision, they will flicker. This flickering is a strain on the eyes and needs to be minimized as much as possible. This flickering, although it is subconcious most of the time, causes headaches and increases stress. If you experiment with your computer's settings, you will see that with nearly all video cards, the higher you set the refresh rate, the less flicker you get. The best place to test this will always be the vertical and horizontal line tests on the screen above. Setting you refresh rate so that the flicker in these two fields is as low as possible will increase the amount of time you can look at your monitor, reduce headaches, and create less stress for your vision.
Below the four boxes we've just covered, there are three buttons. You don't need to worry about the right and left ones, but the middle button is extremely important. This is the "test" button. Don't EVER accept any changes you make without first testing them with the "test" button. When you click on the test button, you should see a screen like the one above with solid and gradient versions of red, green, blue, yellow, magenta, and cyan (the three basic colors of projected light and their complementary colors) as well as three black and white boxes. For an 800x600 display, you will also see a large "reverse L" shaped area of green, and for a 1024x768 display, an even larger area of solid red. There are also arrows all the way around to tell you where the end of your monitor's display is.
If you can't see this screen, or if it's distorted, DO NOT accept the changes. Just cancel and get out. If you see the screen, then you can accept the changes. Once you've accepted the changes, you will have to reboot your computer.