What’s in a Name: Monitors – Part 1

Language is a funny thing. Sometimes there are subtleties that have consequences, yet get overlooked. The impact of language can be both subtle, and profound at the same time. As ever, context matters. As an example, I’d like to consider the idea of monitoring and monitors.

This is going to drift from the simple to the not-so-simple, exploring the term across contexts. I’ll start with what I find to be the most straightforward aspect. The visual.

Monitors on my desk

My desktop computer has a pair of 23” LCD monitors made by HP. They’re not fancy. They were a good deal and have lasted me a long while. There’d be no debate or misunderstanding in using the term “monitors” when referencing these displays. The use of term in this context is commonplace and easily understood.


Incidentally, my twin monitors are quite vintage. I’m seriously considering a new LG 43UD79-B as an upgrade to 4K.

A monitor in the family room

Our HDTV, a Vizio M50-D1, is not a TV at all. Technically, it’s a monitor, since it lacks any kind of tuner. Since we get our “television” via cable and streaming sources. Those are managed by a Tivo DVR, so a tuner is not required in the display itself, and would go largely unused.

Vizio M Series Front 600px

In fact, the only time I can recall using a tuner was in 2008, after Hurricane Ike. Back then we used a cheesy rabbit-ear antenna to get our local broadcast TV stations. In that situation, with so many poles and lines down, Comcast was out of service for many weeks. We watched content stored on our Tivo DVR, the occasional DVD and live television off-the-air.

Monitors in the video editing suite

In a past life I was a television editor. I spent a decade editing commercials, TV shows and corporate programs. The edit suite always had one reference quality monitor. It was the one display that I could trust to show me true, accurate colors.

Sony BVM X300 Reference monitor 600px

There were many other monitors for various video sources, but only one main monitor for making critical judgements about color or composition.

Through I did not work in any very high-end facilities, I know that a decent simple monitor cost $500 – $2000. In contrast, a reference grade monitor cost $10K – 30K, even back then. The 30″ SONY BVM X300 OLED, the 4K reference monitor pictured above, is a current product, and costs $31K.

Monitoring vs Simply Watching

In the examples considered thus far there’s an application context to be considered. We watch TV. That’s a casual thing. Whereas in the editing suite, or when working in Adobe tools on my desktop, I’m making more critical use of the display. It’s a more demanding circumstance. As such, it requires more from the tools. Quality matters.

To some, there may be little difference between a TV and a monitor. To others, they are worlds apart, but that’s only part of the story. Things get quite mirky when we turn our gaze from visuals to the audible, which is where I’ll go in part 2.