Does your organization use off-brand monitors? Perhaps they all have a nasty flicker at higher resolutions that makes it impossible for users to look at for any length of time. Maybe the image doesn’t quite fit on the screen, or the colors are way off. Whatever the problem, you can correct it without buying new hardware. A program called PowerStrip allows you to make custom video modifications that go beyond the type of adjustments they can make through the Windows utility. I’ll introduce you to PowerStrip and show how you can use it to customize your users’ screen resolutions.

PowerStrip in a nutshell
The PowerStrip utility allows you to gain control over the user’s video card. By making adjustments to the system’s video output, you can compensate for the monitor’s inadequacies. For example, suppose that you had a monitor that flickered when used at 1024 x 768 resolution. You might limit yourself by running at 800 x 600 resolution to avoid the flicker. The flicker occurs when the refresh rate is set too high for the monitor to handle. Since the video driver controls the refresh rate, you can use PowerStrip to lower the refresh rate to a level that your monitor can comfortably handle. Of course, this is just the beginning of PowerStrip’s capabilities.

Hardware and software requirements
PowerStrip runs on most version of Windows, including 95, 98, Me, NT, 2000, and XP. However, because PowerStrip interacts directly with the video card, generic video drivers can’t be used.

Although there are dozens of supported video cards, PowerStrip only works with AGP- and PCI-based video cards. I won’t list all the supported video cards; however, I can tell you that the more common video cards, such as the Radeon 8500, KYRO II, and the GeForce3, are all supported. ISA- and VLB-based video cards are not supported. Also, even if your card is supported, you must run the driver specifically intended for your card. Thus, the generic 640 x 480 by 16-color video driver sometimes used with Windows won’t work.

PowerStrip at startup
Once you download and decompress the PowerStrip program, the installation process is fairly standard. After the setup is finished and you log back in to Windows, you’ll see the PowerStrip tip of the day, along with a five-second countdown to the PowerStrip initialization.

When your computer boots up, it’s running the default video resolution until you login and the PowerStrip countdown ends, so the video output will appear incorrect until PowerStrip initializes. For example, the computer I run PowerStrip on is integrated into my home theatre and uses a 64-inch high definition television in place of a monitor. Because a high definition television has nowhere close to the resolution of a computer monitor, I had to use PowerStrip to create a custom resolution. However, until PowerStrip engages, my system runs the default Windows resolution, which forces the image to go beyond the boundaries of the screen.

In a Windows XP environment, if you boot the system with a low resolution, such as 640 x 480, and then use PowerStrip to switch to a custom resolution, Windows will give you messages stating that the video is running at a low resolution and should be adjusted to allow greater resolution and color depth. Windows is unaware that PowerStrip will correct these problems, so ignore these messages.

When PowerStrip installs, it adds an icon that looks like a monitor with a rainbow on the screen to the Windows shortcut bar. When you access the utility, you’ll see the PowerStrip menu appear.

Creating a custom resolution
Two primary software components, the video driver and the monitor driver, affect the quality, resolution, and color depth of the image on your screen. As I mentioned, PowerStrip doesn’t replace your video driver; it supplements it. So Windows still uses the original video driver. One of the ways that you can use PowerStrip to supplement the video driver is to create custom resolutions.

For resolution customization, the sky is the limit with PowerStrip. However, you can’t create a custom resolution that exceeds your hardware’s capability. For example, if you create a very high custom resolution (say 1600 x 1200), your video card must have enough memory to handle the new resolution. Likewise, your monitor must be capable of displaying the resolution. Most monitors can’t display anything above 1600 x 1200.

Also, not all custom resolutions will work. As I experimented with custom resolutions for my system, I discovered that some resolutions really stretched the screen image either horizontally or vertically. Some resolutions didn’t even fill up the entire screen, and some resolutions wouldn’t display at all. You’ll need to experiment with your system’s settings to see which ones will work.

Custom resolution configuration
To create a custom resolution, click on the PowerStrip icon and select Display Profiles | Configure from the PowerStrip menu. You’ll see the screen shown in Figure A. Notice that the dialog box contains a slide bar for changing resolutions.

Figure A
Once you begin using PowerStrip, always use the PowerStrip Display Profiles dialog box for changing resolutions. Don’t attempt to change the resolution through the Windows Display Properties sheet.

Use the Resolution slide bar to find your desired resolution. If you find your resolution, select it and click OK. Windows will attempt to use the selected resolution, but it will automatically revert back to the previous resolution after several seconds if you decide that you don’t want to use the new resolution or if the new resolution proves to be incompatible with your system. If you want to keep the new resolution, click OK.

If you can’t find your desired resolution, you can create a custom resolution. Click the Advanced Timing Options button, and PowerStrip will display the Advanced Timing Options dialog box shown in Figure B.

Figure B
You can use the Advanced Timing Options dialog box to adjust an image’s position on the screen or to make a cut off screen viewable.

Use this screen to adjust the image’s position on the screen. You can either manually enter values, or use the various arrow icons to expand or shrink the image and move it in different directions. If you have an image that exceeds the monitor’s viewing area, you could fix the problem by adjusting the image here.

Both the Horizontal Geometry and the Vertical Geometry sections contain values for the Front Porch and Back Porch. These values refer to the number of blank lines that should be inserted at the edges of the screen. By using blank lines to fill up the unviewable portions of the screen, you can push the image into the viewable area. Don’t worry too much about perfect positioning for now, because there’s a good chance you’ll need to readjust the screen position once the new resolution has been applied.

Next, click the Custom Resolutions button to open the screen shown in Figure C.

Figure C
The Custom Resolutions dialog box allows you to create brand-new screen resolutions.

If you look at the left half of the screen, you can see the predefined resolutions, which are built-in resolutions you can try. There are some pretty strange resolutions on the list, many of which are intended for high definition televisions or for wide-screen computer monitors. You can view user-defined resolutions by selecting the User Defined radio button at the bottom of the list.

If the resolution that you need isn’t on the list of predefined resolutions, you can create the resolution by entering the number of horizontal and vertical active pixels in the New Resolution section at the top of the column on the right. For example, in the figure, you’ll see I’m using a custom resolution of 920 x 500. You can set a number of other factors for the custom resolution as well, such as the refresh rate, front porch, sync width, back porch, and polarity. Remember that these additional settings are controlled separately for the horizontal and the vertical pixels and usually won’t be identical. My custom resolution uses a custom vertical refresh rate of 62, but the horizontal refresh rate is 34.

Once you’ve configured your custom resolution, click the Add New Resolution button. Your custom resolution will then be added to the list of user-defined resolutions. You can then either create another custom resolution or close the Custom Resolution dialog box.

When you close it, you’ll return to the Advanced Timing dialog box. There, click OK to return to the Display Profiles dialog box. Your custom resolution should be available on the Resolution slide bar. Select your custom resolution and click OK to switch to it. After the system switches resolutions, you’ll see a dialog box asking you if you want to keep the new resolution. If you decide not to keep the new resolution, the system will revert back to the old one. Likewise, if the new resolution is unviewable, the system will automatically revert back to the old resolution after a few seconds. If you do decide to keep the new resolution, you’ll probably need to return to the Advanced Timing dialog box to readjust the image’s position on the screen before clicking OK.

PowerStrip is an excellent tool for saving outdated monitors or optimizing the more current ones. Just because you own a low-quality monitor doesn’t mean you have to live with low-quality video. Use PowerStrip to correct common video problems by customizing video resolution. The current shareware version is 3.12, the registration fee is $29.95, and you can order it from the Web site.