4k Monitors – Are they a Necessity for Truss/Panel Designers? (Part 2)

Last week we explained details and definitions of 4k monitors and introduced the idea for their use in component design. Before reading this week’s article, please click here to review Part 1 in this series so that you can follow along in this article coherently.


Fact or Fiction?

One might infer that more information is always better than less, and that therefore the highest resolution possible should be used at all times. This is true in the abstract, but 3 (three) practical considerations cause us to reconsider:

  1. First, the human eye is only capable of capturing a certain level of detail. You’ve become aware of your natural limitations at an eye checkup, right? You know the one where the optometrist challenged you to read successively smaller lines of type on a distant wall. At a certain point you gave up; your eyes simply couldn’t resolve the optical detail of the tiny letters, so far away.
  2. Second, you only have one pair of eyes. Their health should be the deciding factor in the choice. Until you know the status of their health from a professional, the monitor choice should NOT be made. If your eyesight fails, you will be looking for a new line of work.
  3. Third, cost should not be the deciding factor. Can you put a monetary value on your eyesight? The deciding factor should be based around what is best for your eyesight.

A word from your optometrist

The place for any designer to start is actually with their eyesight. What good is a fine-pitched monitor if you can’t make out the details?  You may not have considered it lately, but when were your eyes last checked?  The American Optometric Association recommends that adults between the age of 19-60 get an examination every two years, and annually past age 61.

Your eyes are constantly changing, and each eye changes independent of the other. Since one eye is normally stronger than the other, constant and heavy workloads in front of a computer will not stress them both equally unless you have a proper prescription.

Once you are satisfied that your prescription is correct, or that your eyesight is satisfactory, I would highly encourage you to invest in quality eyewear, and to keep your glasses scrupulously clean and free from scratches.  If you wear contact lenses like some do, read the manufacturer’s instructions on your contact lens fluid and follow them to the letter.  Remember #2 above!

Contrary to common practice, you do not “clean” your contacts by simply storing them in saline! It is amazing how complacent some people are in this area. Buy high-quality name brand cleansing fluid and scrub/de-protein your lenses daily for the recommended amount of time.  Rinse them very thoroughly.  If you suffer from slightly red eyes at the end of the day, it may be time to re-examine your contact lens hygiene. You will find that “new lens” clarity of vision lasts a lot longer with each pair.

Task Categories that Factor in the Final Decision

For truss and panel designers, we have (3) fairly discrete categories of tasks which are best looked at individually:

1. Plan reading

Back in the “day”, some of us had the dubious honor of working off ARCH “D” sized building plans. These were commonly printed on a substance called “paper”, and in special cases of quasi-religious significance, on a vaguely disturbing substance called “vellum” which may or may not have involved the harming animals in manufacture.

These paper plans were not only large, they were sharp and easy to read. These were plotted at 300 dots per inch resolution.  If “dots” sounds like “pixels” to you, it should.  The entire architectural drafting industry was based off this size, and all modern CAD standards such as text size and scale of leader arrows are based off 24 x 36” drawings.  So in the interest of understanding the scope of the issue, let’s look at the effective resolution of a 24×36” sheet of paper:

24” x 36” x 300 dpi = 77,760,000 pixels

Yes, you read that right. 77.8 million pixels!  Let that sink in for a second.  The next time your nephew goes on excitedly about his new gaming “high definition monitor” at 2.1 million pixels, patiently explain to him that those old blueprints in the rack, the one with the rubber band around them, has his monitor beat by a multiplying factor of thirty-seven.

Of course times have changed, nobody wants to roll out a large set of plans, or turn the pages (how annoying was that?), not to mention store them.  What we want, what we need, is a monitor up to the task of replacing these plans and doing the same job, preferably better, because, well, technology demands it, right?

If you took a sneak peek back at the first chart showing monitor resolutions, you may have been a little disheartened.  Because truthfully, nothing will ever compete with a good plotted set of plans for communicating written information.  They simply are the best.  But it should be clear that for plan reading purposes, a monitor should be the highest resolution you can possibly afford, and that your graphics card can handle without physically melting.

2. Layout

Whatever your choice of truss software, a truss or panel layout can become a very complex drawing, with lots of detail to keep an eye on (pardon the pun). As a proportion of a 24×36” set of plans, I estimate that a proper commercial-scale truss layout might incorporate perhaps half the detail of a dense, 1/8” = 1-0” architectural drawing.  After some experimentation, I believe that at double the resolution of HD, a solid QHD or WQXGA monitor at 2560 x 1440 or 2560 x 1600 resolution is probably your best bet for this task (see note about Mouse Velocity in Part 3).

3. Engineering

Under the current MiTek regime, the truss design software package is pretty well optimized for an HD resolution monitor.  There is a tiny fraction of information presented by the Engineering software, compared with the detail on an architectural plan.  Unless you change the display settings to display dimensions at insanely small size, there is probably no need for a resolution higher than HD.  If the option is available, I would highly recommend the slight upgrade to 1920 x 1200 which affords a little more vertical height but can be resolved by most commonly available (inexpensive) graphics cards.  In fact, you may find that your speed may actually be hindered by an unnecessarily high-resolution monitor in this application, for reasons which we will explore next time in Part 3.

When we publish Part 3 next week, we will give you things to consider from a totally different viewpoint.

Read Part 1 here.

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