Monitor OSD Quick Guide: (Some of) the ins and outs

We take a look at what some of those confusing OSD options actually do.

Eric Franklin Former Editorial Director
Eric Franklin led the CNET Tech team as Editorial Director. A 20-plus-year industry veteran, Eric began his tech journey testing computers in the CNET Labs. When not at work he can usually be found at the gym, chauffeuring his kids around town, or absorbing every motivational book he can get his hands on.
Expertise Graphics and display technology. Credentials
  • Once wrote 50 articles in one month.
Eric Franklin
3 min read

Dell's OSDs are some of the most well-designed and intuitive out there. Eric Franklin/CNET

So, you've just unwrapped your shiny new computer monitor and you're most likely satisfied with what's sitting in front of you. Whether it be graphic design, playing a game, or just surfing the Web, it does what you need it to. But, can it do more?

You've browsed through the On Screen Display (OSD), noticed tons of confusing options, and don't quite know what they all do. This is where I come in. I'll detail some of the most important and least understood options of modern OSDs, and attempt to explain them to someone who's never gotten past the first menu before.

Your OSD controls the appearance and characteristics of your monitor. Depending mostly on the monitor's manufacturer, some OSDs include more useful functions than others. There are a few monitors, usually in the 30-inch range, that don't include an OSD at all, offering only a brightness control as the sole configuration option.

Brightness and Contrast
Most OSDs include controls for brightness and contrast, with some color options usually thrown into the mix. On LCD monitors, brightness usually controls the amount of light emitted by the backlight. Very rarely, however, brightness will control the black level (the darkness of black) of a monitor. Contrast simply controls the white level, or how bright the white is.

The default settings for these two controls are usually fine for general purpose tasks; however, increasing the brightness will result in higher power consumption and may result in faster eye fatigue.

For those of us who don't want to get into the nitty gritty of display calibration, most OSDs include presets. Presets are precalibrated settings tailored for specific tasks.

For example, the color saturation and brightness level in a Game preset would be tailored to what a typical gamer would want (according to the monitor vendor, that is). Game settings are typically over-saturated, the red usually turned up much higher than the blue or green.

Red, green, and blue
In addition to brightness and contrast, some OSDs allow you to control the red, green, and blue values individually. Say you're watching a movie and the Movie preset is just a little too red, to the point that faces look constantly flushed (unintentionally). Lowering the red setting could remedy this problem.

Color Temperature
You may have noticed a color setting with the choices "5400k," or "6500K," and so on. These numbers refer to color temperature and are indicative of how "hot" or "cold" the colors are, according to the Kelvin scale. The lower the temperature, the warmer the overall screen image looks.

Some monitors include the preset "sRGB" or Standard Red Green Blue setting. sRGB is a standard used to describe color numerically. It's really just another preset that sets the red, green, and blue according to the world standard for digital images, printing, and the Internet.

Dynamic Contrast
This feature automatically lowers the brightness whenever the display shows dark or near black on the screen. It's noticeable when the credits are rolling at the end of a movie. In other words, it's not a useful feature.

Sometimes referred to as "Refresh Rate" in the OSD, overdrive usually allows you to adjust the refresh rate of the monitor. By sending out bursts of voltage to the liquid crystals that increase the crystals' transition speeds, overdrive can effectively reduce the amount of noticeable ghosting effects. Unless you're actually experiencing a problem with ghosting, it's not necessary to turn on this feature.

Those are the options that seem to baffle most users. If there are any settings I didn't mention here that you'd like to hear more about, let me know in the comment section and I'll do a follow-up post soon. Take care of that new display.