In 1990, like many other people who formerly used DOS, I began using
Windows 3.0. Not a good experience from a reliability perspective, but it
had one interesting program - Solitaire.
I played it for hours, but I noticed that if I
played for too long my eyeballs went hard. This was extremely strange, and
I wondered what was going on. I had some background in vision research,
and I recalled the effect of flickering lights on the brain. I wondered
whether Windows was doing something to the screen's refresh rate.
This turned out to be the problem. A
"VGA" screen in 1990 would have its image refreshed 70 times a
second (called "Hertz") if it was running under DOS, but only 60
Hertz if it was running under Windows 3.0.
This difference turned out to be crucial. After
some research I found that there were already recommendations (although
little known ones) from the World Health Organisation that a
bright-background display should refresh at 85 Hertz, if all users were to
I contacted Microsoft to ask them what they were
intending to do. At first I received a constructive response, but later,
after a change of local management, I was treated rather badly. Basically,
So I started a campaign in the media, and at
first that didn't go well. There were editorials in the computer press
saying "It's only David Brown's opinion that screens flicker. We
can't see it."
So I began demonstrating the problem at trade
shows. By 1992 I was demonstrating screens running Windows while
refreshing at 90 Hertz. Hundreds of people came up to me at the stand and
told me of the headaches they were getting after using Windows for hours,
headaches that they never had when using the old DOS versions of the same
I wrote "Goodbye to the VDU Headache" in 1992,
as a press kit for a monitor manufacturer's product release. This manufacturer had,
rather bravely, asked me to review its new "ergonomic" screen. I said
that I would do it, but I had to use the screen for two weeks, and they
would not know what I was going to say until they heard me say it to the
press. As it turned out, it was a good screen, and it gave me the platform
to meet the press in person and show them high refresh rates in action.
That one press conference turned the tide of opinion about refresh rates
I can't claim that it was my doing, but these
days, you can get a good refresh rate on virtually any screen.
"Goodbye to the VDU Headache" needs
updating for 2003, but it still has a lot of useful material.
the booklet - 92KB PDF file