A 2017 study titled Screen Time found that Australians on average spend more time in front of screens than any other single daily activity – including sleeping. The impact of constant exposure to monitors, tablets and smart phones is only now being understood, with a recent study suggesting the adverse health effects are more alarming than first anticipated. With this understanding, Martin Moelle – the managing director of BenQ in Australia and New Zealand – suggests the following useful reasons why eye health concerns should influence your monitor selection.
Exposure to screens is unavoidable, as we use connected devices to conduct an increasing number of leisure and life activities each day. We work, study, watch movies and TV shows, play games, seek information, shop, bank and even interact with friends and loved ones – all while facing a screen.
While tablet and smart phone usage accounts for some screen hours per day, computer monitors still make up a larger proportion of overall usage time. Ninety-one percent of households use desktop and laptop devices to access the internet according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. A 2017 study found that desktops alone account for 60% of internet use, as monitors are increasingly utilised in the home for connection to gaming consoles and for streaming content.
The damage done
The Screen Time analysed the effects of digital screen usage on the attitudes and behaviours of Australians. The study found that:
- Three in five respondents (58%) have concerns about their health and well-being resulting from screen use.
- Over one third (37%) claim to feel eye fatigue, almost one in three (29%) regularly experience tired eyes and one in five (21%) suffer from sore eyes – all directly attributed to screen usage.
- Thirty four percent of respondents also believe that ‘this is just the way it is these days’ – an attitude that suggests while exposure is accepted as a root cause of eye health problems, it is also recognised as an inevitable part of life.
It is widely acknowledged that monitors contribute to a range of eye problems and members of the study were particularly troubled about the effects of blue light. Sixty eight percent claimed to have some concerns and 74% expressed a desire to somehow limit their exposure. Importantly, 75% said they would prefer to eliminate the effects of blue light, rather than reduce their screen hours.
Though blue light is visible, it has a short wavelength which puts it close to the length of UV radiation. While Australians clearly understand the risks associated with UV rays and rarely venture outdoors without sunscreen and sunglasses, blue light emission has not yet garnered the same level of concern – an attitude that may soon change. Blue light is known to contribute to sleep disruption, but a new study from the University of Toledo published in Scientific Reports has also found it may even accelerate blindness, as exposure contributes to the deterioration of light-sensitive cells in the retina.
Blue light emission is not the only culprit when it comes to eye health impairment from monitor use – flickering, contrast, brightness, and colour are all factors that can contribute to discomfort.
Limiting exposure is not the answer
Early concerns about screen use and eye health usually resulted in a recommendation to limit exposure times – particularly in the case of children – but the impracticality of this advice in our increasingly online world demands an alternate approach.
As more becomes known about the impact of screens on visual health, technology advances that lessen detrimental effects have emerged. The result is the availability of products designed specifically with eye health and a rich user experience in mind.
Banish blue light
Low blue light monitor technology allows the user to control emissions, while still preserving image quality and sharpness – a key consideration for content-rich experiences like movie watching and gaming. A true low blue light solution doesn’t just remove the blue, which can result in a yellow-toned screen, e.g. a mobile phone switched to a ‘night’ setting.
Monitors with low blue light technology come complete with pre-set modes that match lighting levels to common user behaviours, such as reading, web surfing, or multimedia access.
Forget about flicker
Flicker is caused by the technology used to control backlight dimming of LCD monitors. Most monitors offer user control of the backlight intensity through brightness control capability, allowing the user to set a preferred luminance. A common dimming technique used to achieve this is rapid on/off control of the backlight to simulate a lower perceived luminance – a process known as Pulse Width Modulation (PWM). Lowering the brightness setting when PWM is used extends the ’off’ period, resulting in a more pronounced flicker. Even when not easily perceived (when brightness is at 100%), flicker has been linked to eye fatigue, eye strain, headaches and nausea.
More advanced monitors utilise an alternate backlighting system that delivers constant illumination at any brightness level, eliminating flicker and associated health risks.
Shadows and reflections produced by ambient light cause the eye to work harder to avoid glare, as does any noticeable difference between ambient light and the monitor display. Intelligence is increasingly being built into monitors, enabling automatic detection and adjustment of brightness based on ambient light levels and colour temperature – how ‘warm’ or ‘cool’ available light appears.
HDR (high dynamic range) monitors are delivering improvements in monitor brightness, contrast and colour range, ensuring fine visual details are not lost. Superior HDR monitor options offer multiple modes, allowing users to select optimum display levels based on varying viewing conditions.
The new wave of 4K technology has dramatically improved resolution and is delivering ultra-high-definition (UHD) content with a sharper picture, greater colour depth and fine detail, vastly enriching the gaming and streaming experience. 4K-ready monitors are built to deliver the crystal-clear and vibrant images demanded by an increasing amount of content.
Reduce reading risks
If monitors are used extensively for reading, there are accessories available to improve the experience. Clip-on e-reading lamps can provide the perfect light levels thanks to auto dimming functionality and zero reflective glare, providing an easy-on-the-eye solution.
With home monitors poised to deliver a cinema-worthy viewing and gaming experience, it’s important to understand the potential impact on eye health that increased viewing time may have. Monitor selection should be based on more than resolution and frame rates, as today’s technology delivers solutions designed specifically with optimum eye care in mind.
Martin Moelle is the managing director of BenQ in Australia and New Zealand.