Magnify Your Computer Screen and Lean Back!

So you have the big monitor, the fancy chair with all the precision controls. You sit down to do some serious computing. But something's wrong.

The screen is a little hard to see. So you lean forward. Or to one side. So much for being comfortable while you type.

There are steps you can take to improve the view. You can adjust the type size of your software. You can buy a bigger monitor. Or, starting this week, you can try a new solution.

It's called the PC Magni-Viewer. Made by Bausch & Lomb, the contact lens and eye-care company, the Magni-Viewer is a 6-by-8-inch acrylic lens suspended in front of your screen. The lens is connected to a long adjustable arm that rides on top of your monitor and a special base your monitor sits on.

Think of it as an oversize magnifying glass. The production prototype I tested was a little rough to assemble and adjust. But the company assures me the final version will be more refined.

The first thing one notices about the Magni-Viewer is how it forces you to sit back in your chair. That's a big posture improvement for leaners like me. This is the first time since buying my new office chair a few months ago that I'm actually sitting in it correctly.

The lens magnifies the computer screen 175 percent, so it's easier to read it. The screen also tilts in various ways so each user feels comfortable.

"The hardest part of [selling] this product is getting people to sit in front of it," says Jim Goff, vice president of vision accessories for Bausch & Lomb. "They look at it and say: 'Oh no, I'm not blind.' "

"People think it's for the visually impaired. It's not. It's a mainstream product for computer users," he adds.

With it, spreadsheet users can reduce the size of type on their computer and actually view more rows and columns. Instead of a normal screen with, say, 35 rows, users have been able to squeeze up to 58 rows and still see comfortably, Mr. Goff says.

Of course, there are cheaper alternatives to the $250 Magni-Viewer. Some screen magnifiers attach right in front of the monitor, although they distort the image a bit more and don't force you to sit up straight.

If all you want is bigger type, you can change the size of the on-screen type, either for a particular program or for the entire computer. (Check the font settings to do the former. For the latter, Windows 95 users should choose "Settings," then "Control Panel," "Display," and a new "Settings" box. There, a "Custom" box allows you to increase the size of the type as much as 200 percent. Macintosh OS 8 users can do the same thing. Click "Edit," then "Preferences" and choose the size type they want.)

Of course, the bigger you make the type, the less information you'll be able to squeeze on the screen. So you can buy a bigger monitor. Today's standard 17-inch models sell for more than $500. A 19- or 21-inch screen is roughly double the cost.

Viewing a computer is such an individual matter that one solution won't fit everybody's needs. I used the Magni-Viewer for long stretches then pushed it aside. Sometimes I liked what I saw; sometimes I was annoyed by the scratches on the lens (admittedly, a prototype that had heavy use).

Fortunately, the item is sold directly by Bausch & Lomb (800-771-1168 or www.bauschvision.com), so it always comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee.

* Send comments to lbelsie@ix.netcom.com or visit my "In Cyberspace" forum at www.csmonitor.com

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