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If you’ve got a monitor that’s more than a few months old, you may have noticed that it’s not quite as bright as it was when you pulled it, brand-spankin’ new, out of the box. Unfortunately, few display manufacturers disclose the fact that this phenomenon—monitors fading over time—is inevitable. The backlights used in LCDs gradually dim, and the substrate used on CRT displays slowly degrades. There’s nothing you, I, or today’s technology can do—you can’t stop the laws of nature. On older monitors, the effect is quite obvious, but it’s even noticeable on displays that are only a few months old if you compare them with brand new models.

In the past, users were forced to live with this kind of display darkening, but no longer thanks to Ambrosia Software’s release of one of the coolest utilities I’ve seen in a long time, Screen Cleaner Pro 1.0 (

). And best of all, it’s free.

Screen Cleaner Pro works by altering the gamma of your monitor to compensate for for the aging process. When you launch it, Screen Cleaner Pro first analyzes your display’s native gamma curve. This process can take up to 10 minutes—or more, depending on the age of your monitor—but you can use your computer normally during the process. (You may see some subtle flickers on the screen as Screen Cleaner Pro tests your display; this is normal.) When it’s finished, Screen Cleaner Pro implements a new display calibration—involving both brightness and color adjustments—that counteracts the effects of monitor muddiness. I used Screen Cleaner Pro on a number of monitors, from a 6-year-old 15” Apple Studio Display to a 5-month-old Dell LCD, and the improvements were significant. (Obviously more so on the oldest model, but even the newer displays looked better.)

Screen Cleaner Pro’s functionality alone is enough to make it a must-have utility, but it’s also—believe it or not— entertaining . Ambrosia could have made the process of implementing the new display calibration boring; for example, the screen could have simply changed in a flash as the new calibration was applied. But those familiar with the company know that Ambrosia never settles for such a simple approach when they can instead do something more dramatic. So they’ve chosen to instead use a cute onscreen cloth to “wipe away” the results of months or years of monitor aging. The effect is both enjoyable and informative—as you see the improved calibration revealed, swipe by swipe, you realize how badly your monitor had faded. On the other hand, this neat effect is also responsible for my only real criticism: There’s no way to skip the “cloth cleaning,” which can be a bit distracting if you’re trying to get some work done.

Considering that I’ve now got several monitors that look as good as new, Screen Cleaner Pro would be a good value at $25 (or more). But for free, it’s one of the best values I’ve seen in a long time.


[Note: This review was originally published on April 1, 2005. As in, the first day of April. As in, a day with particular meaning. If you're not catching my drift yet, I recommend doing a Google search for April 1.]

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