Use an HDTV as my computer monitor?

A couple of months ago, I had a crazy idea, which I thought might just work: get a 1080p HDTV, a really nice one, and use it as my computer monitor. The advantage: cheaper and bigger than 30″ LCD monitors. I also found a model that I thought couldn’t be beat — one that displayed 10-bit color. If you’re unfamiliar with monitor color depth, you might want to have a look at the following:

Basically, you should have a monitor capable of displaying 8-bit color or better. Why? Because DSLRs capture 12-bit, 14-bit and 16-bit color, and you’re going to miss out on a lot if you can’t see all those colors when you’re editing the photos.

Laptops display only 6-bit color and use dithering to make up for the difference between 6-bit and 8-bit. Normal displays, including Apple Cinema Displays, have 8-bit color. The more expensive computer displays out there have 10-bit, 12-bit and even 14-bit color. LaCie and Eizo seem to be the only companies that build these sorts of high-end monitors.

The prices start around $1,000 for a 21″ or 24″ monitor at 10-bit color, and go up from there, to $2,000 or even $3,000. So you can imagine my delight at finding an HDTV at 40″ that could display 10-bit color and cost only $1,300. Granted, the resolution was only 1920×1080, and at that size, a computer monitor would have been at 2560×1920 or more, but you can’t have everything, right?

The particular HDTV I found is made by Sony and is from their Bravia series. It’s no longer being made — Sony keeps changing models every couple of months. Apparently HDTVs evolve so fast these days there’s a need to do that. I’d give you the model number, but it doesn’t matter any more. The specs were great though:

  • Full 1080p
  • 24p True Cinema
  • 10-bit color processing and 10-bit color display
  • Full digital video processor
  • Advanced contrast enhancer
  • An assortment of ports (HDMI, PC, S-Video, component and composite)

That’s how it looked on my desk. Did it do everything promised in the specs? Yes. Was the quality of the display as I expected? Yes. Editing photos on it was a stunning experience. I was able to see colors like I couldn’t see them before. Believe me, you don’t know what you’re missing until you see your DLSR photos on a high quality display.

So why am I speaking in the past tense about it?! For a single reason: it was much too bright for my eyes. Therein lies the main difference between TVs and monitors. TVs are built to be much brighter, since they’re meant to be viewed from a distance. Monitors are built with a much subtler level of brightness and contrast, since they’re meant to be viewed up close. This didn’t become apparent to me until I had the TV on my desk, about 2 feet from my eyes. I didn’t have a problem with the size of the screen (although it was bigger than expected), but the brightness killed me. Within a half hour, my eyes started to burn and I got a headache. I tried to tune down the brightness and contrast, but I couldn’t get it where it needed to be; I don’t think the TV could go down that low.

After much arguing with myself, and trying all sorts of things, including stepping back from it as much as possible, I had to come to grips with the fact that it wasn’t the fit I needed. Stepping back to an appropriate distance would have defeated the purpose of using it as a monitor, because at that point, it would have become a TV displaying my laptop’s DVI feed. Although it had the display quality I needed — and not a single bad pixel, it was a perfect display — I couldn’t use it.

If you’re in the market for an HDTV, definitely check out the Sonia Bravia line. They’ve got stunning color. They’re amazing TVs. Just don’t try to use them as computer monitors. It won’t work. To their credit, they’re not intended to be monitors. They’re TVs — really good TVs.


23 thoughts on “Use an HDTV as my computer monitor?

  1. I bought a 32″ BRAVIA as you did and it looks fine at 2 ft away. Not too bright at all.

    What did I do:
    Brightness/Contrast: 50
    Picture: MAX
    Backlight: 1 (1 notch up from MIN)

    I know this is old, but this should help someone.

    Been using this thing for weeks, loving it. No headaches, awesome colors.

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    1. One more thing, I forgot to mention: I turned Ambient Sensor off or else it acted all whacky… it likes to crank up the backlight/brightness to the max (it looked that way) randomly.

      And model number: KDL-32EX400 (USA model).

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  2. I used a Vizio 32″ TV as a monitor. It had lousy resolution of 1366 x768 but wow was it clear, and everything was easy to read.

    It has been given a different duty now in the 2nd bedroom but I plan to get an even bigger one, perhaps a 42″ or 47″ full HD 1920 x 1080 and use it as a monitor. Once you have used a big screen you can’t go back to tinyvision on a 19″ screen.

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  3. Thanks for this article, I was thinking of doing the same thing. I had a laptop that completely died on me so I’m going for a desktop [and it doesn’t come with a monitor]. After further research, I found ehow.com to have some more info [of course, yours is more in-depth].

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  4. I’ve been doing some research of end users about seting a HDTV as computer monitor. I was about to buy a sony or panasonic 30″. But this brightness levels are a real concern! Don’t want to burn my eyes. I do web design and some photo work.
    Also looked this samsung and JCV and LG shining black finish cover monitors, And I really hate this. Not a bright image but a black flashing plastic cover. A design trend against concentration.
    I’ll be trying some tvs before .
    I’m using a 12″ powerbook g4.

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    1. Adam, that monitor/HDTV looks pretty good. It’s the first model I’ve seen that’s made to be both a computer display and an HDTV from the start. I’d love to try it out and see how it works for me.

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      1. Hey Guys. I have the 26″ Samsung Monitor with TV tuner it is a fantastic Monitor best I have ever had and I’m picky about screens. Very Picky! cant even work on 16:9 the fact that this is 16:10 and doubles as a great TV in my small NYC apartment I couldn’t be happier. My new laptop on the other hand Sony VPCF111FX has a very weak screen, I love the i7 processor and everything about the laptop except for this darn screen the colors are flat and I cant get the brightness up to where it really needs to be. whites are not white and blacks are not black its horrid. And I can’t even return it. Maybe I will cut my losses and sell it while is still a brand new model. haha. buyer be ware 😉

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  5. Wear sunglasses! 😀 j/k, I like that you tried this… I’ve wondered how well it would work. I suppose if you’re not using it for long stretches of time, it may be fine, but if it is used for work primarily where you’re looking at it for 8hrs+ at a time, that would be down-right insane! Better luck next time…

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  6. Tom, there was a specific control for the backlight on the TV, but no matter how much I tried turning it down, it was still too bright to view it at the normal viewing distance for a monitor. I’d have needed to step back about 5-6 feet from it, and that was too far for me.

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  7. No, didn’t try that. It really boils down to the brightness levels. A TV is meant to be watched from a greater distance than a monitor, thus its brightness is inherently brighter. I doubt a Spyder calibration kit, or some other calibration kit, would have made a difference. I’m not even sure they make them to calibrate TVs. But hey, I could be wrong. If you want to give it a try, do so and let me know how it turns out.

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  8. Did you try using a Spyder to calibrate it through your TV?
    Asking as I was thinking about doing the same for photo editing.

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  9. Using a TV versus a monitor with the same viewing position isn’t ideal mainly for the points you’ve mentioned, BUT… if your viewing distance is the same as if you were watching tv then it wouldn’t be as glaring. Having just set up a Mac Mini for some limited computer use on my HDTV I still have limited tolerance for true computer work on my TV. I’ll be sticking with specialized monitors for my photo work for the foreseeable future. As for your experiment… at least you tried!

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  10. Nice try with the hdtv display. Unfortunately, if manufacturers talk about 10, 12 or 14 bit, this means most of the times, that somewhere in the processing chain, 10, 12 or 14 bits are being used but you are never sure if the complete chain uses these high number of bits, so be careful out there !!! As far as the brightness is concerned, indeed… much much brighter. Big question here is, if colors are still correct when you reduce the brightness/contrast. Let’s not forget about the color temperature and dynamic video post-processing. Television makers want to sell tv’s and don’t hesitate to ‘rape’ the signal to show a better looking picture.

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