If you thought chair companies were getting good at selling products off the back of their ergonomic suitability, monitor companies are the pass masters at turning a bit of plastic and glass into the latest must-have office equipment. There is some reason behind this, however - your monitor is probably the thing that will occupy a good 75 per cent of your entire office day, and so a bad one is going to be a real bane. Conversely, a good one can help not only your eyesight but your productivity, so there's a win-win for employers if they splash out for a decent bit of kit.
There are several factors to consider when looking for a monitor. At a bare minimum, a screen should be height adjustable, angle adjustable, and it should have on-screen controls for tweaking the brightness, contrast and colour temperature. These features will allow a user to tune the monitor to their particular working environment and thus are essential. A screen that is too bright may cause eye strain, whereas a screen that is too dark can enhance glare and reflections, and a screen with the contrast off will just be plain uncomfortable to use.
To make your life easier, Swedish trade group TCO has created a number of monitor standards that make purchasing compliant equipment significantly simpler. The TCO '03 standard means you'll get good picture quality and colour reproduction, as well as low electric and magnetic fields. Green buffs will also be pleased to know that monitors with this label consume extremely small amounts of energy in standby mode, and meet stringent requirements for disposal of hazardous substances from the manufacturing process.
The TCO '06 standard is specifically for 'media displays', meaning that monitors with this sticker are better for those working with both still and moving images. These displays have quick response times and better than usual black levels to make viewing rather easier.
It's often tempting to situate your display on top of a desktop case on your desk, but this will almost always result in the display being too high up for you to read comfortably. Users should be seated back 60-80cm from the display. We arrive at this number as the focus of your eyes - taking into account the resting point of accommodation and the resting point of vergence - averages out to around 70cm, which is therefore the optimal distance to avoid eyestrain. The screen should fall within an angle 30 degrees below the horizontal at that distance. However, if you're a hunt and peck typer - constantly looking at the keyboard for the keys you're after - you should lower the screen further, to avoid neck strain as you move between focusing on the keyboard and the screen.
For the avoidance of doubt, it's better to have a monitor too far away than it is closer and better to increase a font size or pixel pitch than to move closer to the screen. For users of larger monitors - those pimped out with 24in or more - the top of the monitor should not be higher than the user's eye level. As a quick test, feel up the back of your head - when looking at the screen, your neck and skull should follow the curve of your spine.