Buyer Beware: Computer Specs are Bull (What You Should Know About Display Specs)

Last Updated Dec 14, 2010 12:19 PM EST

No matter how you read the calendar -- it's holiday time, and you need to buy a present for Uncle Fred, or we're approaching the end of FY H1 at work, and you need to buy equipment before the budget gets recalibrated -- you might be looking to buy some computer gear and office equipment. Your job is harder than it should be, since all the specs are lying to you.

It's little wonder why vendors lie. According to a study in the Journal of Consumer Research, consumers tend to buy the product with better specs -- or worse, simply the most specs -- even when they have an opportunity to directly compare competing gadgets and the specs in question are meaningless. In the studies, consumers were asked to choose between two variations of digital cameras, cell phones, and other common products. Every time, the participants chose the option with the most specifications.

So I hear what you're asking -- give me some real-world examples of this chicanery. Sure thing. Consider the venerable computer monitor. Here are some things to look out for:

  • Color gamut is a term that describes the range of colors a given display can produce. Display manufacturers like to advertise products with a wider-than-average gamut, such as displays with a gamut that exceeds 100%. Unfortunately, all that tends to do is super-saturate the images it displays; it doesn't make the color "better."
  • Contrast ratio is the ratio of the brightest and darkest images a screen can produce. In our reality, the best contrast ratio that's achievable in an LCD display is about 2000:1. But manufacturers cheat by measuring the ratio against pixels that are literally turned off, generating impossibly high ratios that measure into the millions. They're meaningless and don't have any bearing on what a real picture will look like. [via Gizmodo]