Key Takeaways:

  • PMW can cause eye strain and fatigue and in severe cases age-related macular degeneration or even vision loss.
  • Flicker-free monitors rely on a steady stream of light to adjust brightness
  • Not all monitors marketed as “flicker-free” are truly flicker-free and may exhibit flickering at lower brightness settings.

In our connected world, more of us are spending time in front of screens than ever before. While most people know that spending hours in front of a monitor can impact their eyes and lead to developing headaches, not everyone is familiar with flicker-free monitor technology. Understanding just how monitors can contribute to eye strain and other health concerns will help you make a more informed decision the next time you shop for a great monitor.

Screen Flickering and Your Health

Officially known as pulse-width modulation (PMW), screen flickering occurs when a monitor rapidly turns the backlight on and off. Although flickering isn’t detectable to the human eye, it can lead to eye strain and cause headaches in some people.

Tip: screen flickering occurs when a monitor rapidly turns the backlight on and off

How Does Screen Flickering Impact Your Eyes

Even though you’re not actively aware of the flickering, that doesn’t mean that your body isn’t responding to it. Specifically, your pupils are tracking the flickering. As a result, they contract and dilate to adjust to the change in brightness.

Warning: your pupils are tracking the flickering

As a result, over time you’ll experience eye strain or even eye fatigue and is sometimes commonly known as computer vision syndrome. In some cases, this discomfort can occur in just three to four hours of using a monitor that lacks flicker-free technology. In severe cases, excessive exposure to flickering screens can encourage age-related macular degeneration or even vision loss.

Tip: over time you’ll experience eye strain or even eye fatigue and is sometimes commonly known as computer vision syndrome

Warning: this discomfort can occur in just three to four hours of using a monitor that lacks flicker-free technology. In severe cases, excessive exposure to flickering screens can encourage age-related macular degeneration or even vision loss

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Common Symptoms of Computer Vision Syndrome

If you suspect that your computer monitor might be harming your eyes, here are some common symptoms associated with computer vision syndrome.

  • Double vision
  • Red or dry eyes
  • Blurred vision
  • Irritated eyes
  • Headaches
  • Neck and back pain

Flicker-free Monitors Improve Eye Health

Most modern monitors on the market today are designed to be flicker-free. This means that these monitors rely on direct current (DC) modulation to manage screen brightness. As compared to older monitors, these models don’t turn the backlight on and off rapidly. Instead, they use a contrast light stream regardless of the brightness level.

Tip: Most modern monitors on the market today are designed to be flicker-free

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But Buyer Beware

While flicker-free monitors are the norm rather than a luxury upgrade these days, some manufacturers still rely on PMW yet market their monitors as flicker-free. While this typically won’t bother individuals who prefer a brighter screen, the issue comes into place for people who prefer to work with a lower brightness setting. Often, PWM is triggered when the brightness setting is below 50% with the most common trigger range being between 20 to 30%.

Warning: some manufacturers still rely on PMW yet market their monitors as flicker-free

Warning: Often, PWM is triggered when the brightness setting is below 50% with the most common trigger range being between 20 to 30%

How to Confirm a Monitor is Flicker-free

Thankfully, you don’t need expensive equipment to determine if your computer monitor is truly flicker-free. All you need is a smartphone with a working camera. To perform the test, set the computer brightness display to the peak setting. Next, turn on your smartphone’s camera and aim it at the computer screen.

Tip: you don’t need expensive equipment to determine if your computer monitor is truly flicker-free

While still viewing your computer screen through the camera, begin to adjust the brightness to 50% and slowly down to zero. If PWM is present, it will become more obvious as the brightness is lowered.

Warning: If PWM is present, it will become more obvious as the brightness is lowered

STAT:

Displays that use PWM introduce flicker only at lower brightness settings (lower than 20%-30%, sometimes below ~50%). (displayninja.com)

Studies reveal that after only 3 to 4 hours of use of a traditional computer monitor one that’s not engineered with flicker-free technology – 90% of computer users may experience eye fatigue. (viewsonic.com)

Sources:

https://www.viewsonic.com/library/tech/how-flicker-free-monitors-contribute-to-eye-health/#What_Is_On-Screen_Flicker_and_How_Does_it_Harm_Your_Eyes

https://www.asus.com/microsite/display/eye_care_technology/

https://www.displayninja.com/what-is-flicker-free-technology/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pulse-width_modulation

https://www.oled-info.com/pulse-width-modulation-pwm-oled-displays

What is Flicker-free Monitor Technology FAQ

What is a flicker-free monitor?

A flicker-free monitor is one that’s designed to use a continuous light source rather than rapidly turning the backlight on and off to adjust brightness.

How do I know if my monitor is flickering for free?

Use your smartphone’s camera to view your computer monitor and set the brightness to 100%. Shift the brightness to 50% and then slowly shift to zero — any flickering will become obvious through the camera screen.

Is PMW dangerous?

PMW can be bad for your eye health. Common issues include eye strain and fatigue but in severe cases can lead to age-related macular degeneration and even vision loss.

Dorian Smith-Garcia

Dorian Smith-Garcia is a bridal and beauty expert/influencer and the creative director behind The Anti Bridezilla. She is a diverse writer across beauty, fashion, travel, consumer goods, and tech. She also writes for Inverse, Glowsly, and The Drive along with a variety of other publications. When Dorian's not writing she's collecting stamps in her passport, learning new languages, or spending time with her husband and daughter.

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