There are many "glamorous" specifications that are normally considered when choosing a monitor. Specs like viewable image size (VIS), maximum resolution, refresh rates and dot pitch come to mind first. However, they deal with what you can see - it's what you can't see that may be of bigger concern. There are other items like radiation emissions that should be considered as well.
The issue of "potential" health hazards from electromagnetic radiation emissions is a controversial one. The scientific and medical communities are divided on the issue. The studies so far have been inconclusive. However, just because they haven't established a direct health relationship does not mean that a risk does not exist. Since the learned types cannot say for certain that these radiation emissions don't cause problems, many feel it is better to err on the safe side.
Back in 1990, the Swedish Board for Technical Accreditation (SWEDAC) developed the MPRII standard which limited the maximum amount of ELF and VLF electromagnetic radiation a computer monitor could emit. Measured 50cm from the screen, it was the first real attempt to protect the viewer from electric fields generated by the monitor...but that wasn't good enough.
In 1992, the Swedish Union of Professionals pushed for a stricter standard, which eventually appeared when Sweden implemented TCO'92 (which actually debuted in 1993). Not only were the allowable emissions stricter, but they decreased the measuring distance to 30cm. However, even that was not good enough for the standards group. Through a partnership of TCO, Naturskyddsföreningen, NUTEK and SEMKO AB, TCO'95 was created.
Where TCO'92 covered only the displays and their characteristics regarding electrical and magnetic fields, energy efficiency and electrical and fire safety, TCO'95 now included the whole personal computer; the display, system unit and keyboard. Not only did it address emissions (electrical and magnetic fields), it also began to touch on ergonomic qualities, noise and heat issues, energy efficiency and ecology. There were also concerns about how computers were manufactured (production processes) and what materials were used in the manufacturing. While the individual emission limits did not increase from TCO'92 to TCO'95, the total limit was now affected by all the components.
In 1999, electronics manufacturers were faced with the strictest standard to date, TCO'99. The requirements of TCO'99 are far reaching: environment, ergonomics, usability, emission of electrical and magnetic fields, energy consumption and electrical and fire safety. For the environment, restrictions were placed on the presence and use of heavy metals (mercury, cadmium), brominated and chlorinated flame retardants, CFCs (freons) and chlorinated solvents. The product also must be prepared for recycling and the manufacturer is obligated to have an environmental plan in place which must be adhered to in each country where the company implements its policy.
As for the energy requirements, they include a demand that the computer and/or display, after a certain period of inactivity, shall automatically reduce its power consumption to a lower level in one or more stages. You can find the whole TCO'99 Standard here.
Now that the standards have been explained a bit, you have a decision to make. Is the safety of your next monitor a concern to you? If you answered yes, which standard is right for you? The order from least to most restrictive is MPRII, TCO'92, TCO'95 and TCO'99. If you like to error on the safe side, then TCO'92 should be a minimum. If you are concerned about the environment, then TCO'95 should be a minimum. However, if you are concerned about both and want the latest, tightest standards, then you should choose TCO'99. [Editor's Note: LCD/TFT monitors produce near zero emissions and therefore are also a good choice] But if you think the whole thing is overblown, then something that meets MPRII would be sufficient. I wouldn't purchase a monitor if didn't at least meet MPRII.
IBM's Radiation Safety
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