What is a Screensaver?

R. Kayne

A screensaver is a moving, rotating or changing image that engages when a monitor is left idle for a set period of time. Screensavers were especially useful for Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) monitors that were in widespread use before Liquid Crystal Displays (LCDs) replaced them. CRT monitors were subject to “burn-in,” or the tendency for a static image to leave a permanent, ghostly replica of itself imprinted on the screen if the display remained unchanged for too long. Configuring a screensaver to initiate during idle periods helped to prevent burn-in.

CRT monitors had to have screensavers to prevent burn-in.
CRT monitors had to have screensavers to prevent burn-in.

Although LCD monitors are made with a different technology that is not susceptible to burn-in, they can be subject to what manufacturers like to call “image persistence.” The polarized crystals that filter color to create an image can retain memory if forced to display the same color over a retracted period of time. This usually doesn’t occur if the display is turned off for several hours a day, such as overnight.

Photos of sunset are popular screensavers.
Photos of sunset are popular screensavers.

While image persistence isn't the problem burn-in once was, screensavers have become popular in their own right and many people configure their desktops to switch to a screensaver after a period of time for the sheer pleasure of it. The amount of idle time is user-configurable, and any mouse or keyboard action will instantly turn the screensaver off and return the desktop to its previous state.

Operating systems come with a handful of default screensavers, many of which can be seen when walking through computers at the local retailer. Changing geometric patterns, underwater scenes with passing fish, and crisscrossing logos are a few of the most common screensavers. Third-party screensavers can be very beautiful, and many screensaver programs are available for free. You might opt for scenes from National Parks, breathtaking sunsets, famous locations, or a trip through the cosmos.

If you happen to be a TV buff, consider visiting the website of your preferred network to see if they offer a promotional screensaver for your favorite show. HBO and Showtime happily supply screensavers of their most popular programs, free for anyone to download.

A seasonal screensaver can also be a nice change of pace. Many websites offer a plethora of choices to add holiday cheer or ambiance to your computer display. Consider a fireplace with a brightly burning fire, Santa’s workshop, or a haunted house, if you’re in the mood.

You can also make your own screensaver with pictures or movies of friends, family and pets. Many software programs are available to help you create a custom screensaver and assign it to your desktop.

We've come a long way from the 1990s when whimsical images like “flying toasters” and the marching Energizer® bunny were all the rage, but whatever your preference, it’s a nice surprise to pass by the computer and notice a screensaver at work. Use any search engine to look for free screensavers and programs to create them.

Cathode ray tubes that project the same image for a long period of time can damage the screen.
Cathode ray tubes that project the same image for a long period of time can damage the screen.

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