Hardware

Cadalyst Labs Review: King of the Hill

1 Sep, 2006 By: Ron LaFon

Big LCDs Climb Past CRTs


Large monitors and CAD just seem to go together, and choosing the right monitor for CAD work is key to ensuring continued comfort and productivity. Users will be staring at their screens for hours each day, and today's monitors will last for many years before they need to be replaced.

This time around, we wanted to review both CRT and LCD displays in one roundup. But given the popularity of LCD displays, it should come as no surprise that all five monitors Cadalyst received were based on LCD display technology. These displays have steadily improved in both features and quality. Whether an LCD display is appropriate for your work depends on several factors: the type of work, how demanding you are and the size of your budget.

Most monitor vendors these days offer multiple LCD models with various display sizes and features. Prices have dropped somewhat, but the current trend seems to be toward adding more features and capabilities, which keeps costs on the high side. The vendor-provided list prices for these five displays ranged from $829 to $1,399, although some sell for less on the vendors' Web sites. It makes sense to shop around before committing to a purchase.

 Additional Monitor Reviews
Additional Monitor Reviews

Response times for flat-panel displays have always been on the slow side, creating problems for video use and applications such as CAD or visualization, in which rotating a model for evaluation or presentation may result in a visual stutter rather than a smoothly executed display. Response times for the monitors in this roundup ranged from 6ms (gray-to-gray) to 20ms. A typical CRT monitor has a response time in the 1–3ms range. If your work requires wire-frame rotations or the animation of complex models, you would have seen a definite difference between the two technologies in the past, but not so much with newer LCD displays. Some flat-panel displays have response times of 5ms or less, but they tend to be smaller panels. The 6ms gray-to-gray response times of the Dell UltraSharp 2407WFP and the Hewlett-Packard LP2465 in this roundup are the fastest I've seen on large panels.

For this combination roundup, Cadalyst requested either flat-screen CRT or LCD displays that were 21" or larger with native screen resolutions of at least 1600x1200. Monitors had to have been released after July 2005 and not previously reviewed by Cadalyst. The vendors completed queries, and I used this information during the evaluation process and in the online feature table that accompanies this article (www.cadalyst.com/0906monitors/).

As noted, all the displays received were LCD flat-panel monitors, which ranged in size from 21.3" to 24" diagonally. Two of the displays feature wide-aspect-ratio panels, and the remaining three conform to the standard 4:3 aspect ratio.

Cadalyst labs report card
Cadalyst labs report card

Testing Procedure

All monitors were tested in 32-bit color at their native resolution and synchronization rates. I used DisplayMate Technology's DisplayMate software (www.displaymate.com) to test for brightness, contrast, focus, convergence, purity, geometric distortion and raster rotation. DisplayMate also incorporates a number of tests specific to LCD displays. During the testing process, I also evaluated the on-screen menu and the general functionality of the controls. I also noted the connectivity options and the stability of the mounting mechanism.

Displays were rated on several factors that were weighted according to importance: image quality (x6), pricing (x4), connectivity (x2), image controls (x2) and warranty (x1).

I tested all monitors using the digital connection on an NVIDIA FX 5500 graphics card, using a prerelease version of NVIDIA Forceware drivers v.91.31. Although these drivers had some problems to be resolved before release, they were stable and produced high-quality output for the benchmark tests.

The NVIDIA FX 5500 was installed in a speedy 64SLI workstation from @Xi Computer. The system was based on an AMD Athlon64 FX62 dual-core processor running at 2.8GHz—the first time Cadalyst had a system in-house that used this new chip (watch for an upcoming review). The system was configured with 2GB of RAM and came with Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 2 preinstalled.

Evaluating the Displays

Because of the consistently high quality of the displays in this roundup, evaluating their scores was difficult. A single deduction prevented a Highly Recommended rating. Slight flaws can be magnified in the final tally. Certain things tend to stand out during evaluation, such as fewer-than-average connectivity options or a warranty that goes beyond the norm. Price is certainly a determining factor in these evaluations—LCD prices in general are still higher than I think they should be. In fact, pricing and warranty coverage proved to have more of an impact on the overall ratings than display quality did.

Are CRT displays dead? I can't say they're healthy, but they still do some things better than LCD displays. Even this distinction is changing and evolving. The fact that Cadalyst received no CRT displays for this roundup indicates how thoroughly LCD displays have come to dominate the market, whether you consider that to be for the better or the worse. Certainly, CRT displays still have their proponents and uses, but their availability is dwindling quickly.

LCD monitors have much to offer: display quality is extremely high these days, and the ability to rotate a display from landscape to portrait (horizontal to vertical) modes can be very useful. Niceties such as USB hubs and built-in card readers are a bonus, as is the significant amount of desk space users can reclaim.

There's still room for improvements in response time and pricing, but LCD displays have come a long way in the past year. If you're not already using an LCD display, chances are that your next monitor will be one. Then you'll have to figure out what to do with all that extra space on your desk.

Dell

UltraSharp 2407WFP
800.999.3355
www.dell.com
Price: $879


The Dell 2407WFP is a wide-aspect-ratio (16:9), 24" flat-panel monitor that incorporates many extras, including PIP (picture-in-picture) and PBP (picture-by-picture). Its clean industrial design is attractive without detracting from its functionality. The monitor is finished in matte silver and black.



The 2407WFP's panel has an excellent anti-glare coating and support for viewing angles of B189° both horizontally and vertically. The stand provides excellent stability, even with the panel pivoted to portrait (vertical) mode. The stand also swivels and tilts for best positioning of the display. A button that locks the vertical height is a nice addition.

Native resolution of the Dell 2407WFP is 1920x1200 at 60Hz. Brightness ratio is 500cd/m2 , the contrast rating is 1000:1 and the dot pitch is 0.27mm. Card readers (SM/SD/MS/MPc and CF) are accessible on the left side of the panel when in landscape (horizontal) mode. You'll also find two downstream USB 2.0 connectors there. Response time is 6ms (gray-to-gray), excellent for a panel this large.

On the test bench, the 2407WFP showed excellent brightness, contrast, focus, convergence, geometric distortion and raster rotation. All colors were clean and pure, with no color predominating. I saw no evidence of flickering or ghosting, even on the more difficult display tests. Grays were very slightly warm, though this is more a characteristic of the panel design and base color temperature. I did see some extremely faint banding on continuous-tone black-to-white gradation ramps. The banding is barely discernible, and, unless you work with continuous grayscale tone ramps all day, it's not likely to be an issue.

Six clearly marked buttons reside on the bottom right of the bezel when in landscape (horizontal) mode. These buttons include a control input source, a PIP/PBP select, an on-screen menu/select, down, up and a power button with an accompanying LED indicator. The on-screen menu is outstanding, one of the best I've seen. It features a clean design that is easy to understand and use.

Dell's UltraSharp 2407WFP 24" monitor posted excellent marks for its display quality.
Dell's UltraSharp 2407WFP 24" monitor posted excellent marks for its display quality.

In addition to USB 2.0, the display includes DVI-D, S-video and composite component connectors.

The 2407WFP is covered by a three-year warranty that is upgradable to five years. List price for the 2407WFP is $879, though I've seen it offered for as low as $747 on the Dell Web site. At press time, the Web site price was $788.88. If this monitor is of interest, keep an eye on the listed price. Dell also typically discounts monitors that are purchased at the same time as a computer system. Its moderate cost earned the Dell 2407WFP an A grade in the pricing category. Multimedia capabilities can be added via an optional sound bar, but this feature was not included with the unit Cadalyst reviewed.

With its clean design, attractive price and excellent display characteristics, the Dell 2407WFP was one of two monitors in this roundup to earn Cadalyst Labs' Highly Recommended rating. Highly Recommended.

Eizo Nanao

FlexScan S2100
562.431.5011
www.eizo.com
Price: $1,199


For this roundup, EIZO sent Cadalyst a FlexScan S2100 21.3", 4:3 aspect-ratio display. Based on a TFT (thin-film transistor) color LCD panel with a native resolution of 1600x1200, the FlexScan S2100 features a 300cd/m2 brightness rating and 1000:1 contrast ratio. Viewing angles range through 178° horizontally and vertically, and the 2.5"-thick panel has a 0.27mm dot pitch. At resolutions lower than native resolution, images can be scaled to fill all or most of the screen—a capability aided by a five-stage smoothing function to refine the jagged or blurred text and graphics that often result from scaling.

Mid-tone response time is 8ms and 16ms for black-to-white. An ambient light sensor gives a bit darker image than I prefer, but it can be adjusted or turned off. The monitor features a horizontal sync range of 31–76kHz and a vertical sync range of 59–61Hz, nominally using 70W while in operation. The 10-bit gamma correction capability ensures smooth and accurate color tones by converting the 8-bit PC data to 10-bit, assigning ideal gamma values and then returning the data to 8-bit format for display.

The overall design of the EIZO S2100 is clean and functional. The stable base is adjustable through an 82mm height range. A 40° tilt and a 70° swivel make it easy to position the panel for different uses. The panel also pivots 90° for portrait-mode viewing. The EIZO S2100 is compatible with VESA mounting standards, so the monitor can be removed from the stand and mounted on a movable arm or wall bracket. The panel thickness is a trim 2.5", and the bezel is also relatively thin, so use for display walls is certainly an option. The S2100 weighs 21.4lb with the stand.

The EIZO FlexScan S2100 earns praise for excellent color reproduction and an outstanding warranty.
The EIZO FlexScan S2100 earns praise for excellent color reproduction and an outstanding warranty.

On the test bench, the EIZO FlexScan S2100 sailed through with excellent scores throughout. I noted no visible ghosting, banding or flickering. Colors were crisp, bright and clean, and grays were fairly neutral throughout the range. Particularly notable was the S2100's rendition of yellows and reds, which were especially clean and pure.

The on-screen menu is serviceable, but not the easiest to use. Monitor controls are accessed by black buttons that sit on a black bezel background, making them difficult to see and find. Function indicator symbols are inset on the buttons themselves. From the left are an ambient brightness sensor; buttons for input selection, mode, auto adjustment and enter (shows adjustment menu); and four control buttons: left, down, up and right. The power button incorporates an LED indicator (blue when operating, yellow in power saving mode and off).

Connectivity options for the EIZO FlexScan S2100 include both DVI-I digital and D-sub analog connections, as well as a USB 2.0 hub (one upstream, two downstream connections).

At $1,199, the EIZO FlexScan S2100 price falls in the midrange of monitors reviewed here. Warranty coverage is an excellent five years, which earned the FlexScan S2100 an A grade. An included CD-ROM provides display profiles, an electronic manual and Screen Manager Pro software for more monitor adjustment options.

The EIZO FlexScan S2100 has much to offer, including an outstanding warranty and excellent color reproduction. It's certainly worth consideration when you're shopping for monitors.

Hewlett-Packard

LP2465
800.752.0900
www.hp.com
Price: $829


Hewlett-Packard's LP2465 is specifically targeted toward CAD, DCC (digital content creation), DTP (desktop publishing) and other markets that require workstations. The LP2465 is a 24" wide-aspect-ratio (16:10) display with a native resolution of 1920x1200 at 60Hz. The design features very clean lines with carbonite and silver components. The base seems a bit stiff, but this pays off in excellent stability, even when the large panel is pivoted into portrait mode. The stand showed very little wiggle in any tested configuration. A quick-release lever simplifies removal of the panel for mounting it on an arm or the wall via a standard VESA mechanism.



Based on active-matrix TFT Technology, the LP2465 has a 0.27mm dot pitch. Its brightness rating is 500 nits, with a contrast rating of 1000:1. The LP2465 monitor uses 75W when operating and weighs 23.6lb with the stand. Horizontal frequency range is 30–94kHz, and vertical frequency range is 48–85Hz.

On the test bench, the HP LP2465 produced a pleasing image with no evidence of ghosting, flickering or banding. Both brightness and contrast were excellent, as were focus, convergence, geometric distortion and raster rotation. Color purity was generally excellent, although reds were slightly orange. Yellows, often a difficult color to reproduce well on LCD displays, were clean and clear. Grays were slightly warm overall, though very pleasing. Gradations appeared fairly smooth on a continuous gradation tone ramp from black to white.

Four control buttons are located at the bottom center of the bezel, with a separate power toggle button at the right. Button functions are menu, minus, plus and input selection. The on-screen menu design is clean, accessible and easy to use. Menu options include the expected, as well as functions such as individual color contrast, serial number, clock phase and factory reset.

The HP LP2465 checks in with the lowest list price—$829—in this review.
The HP LP2465 checks in with the lowest list price—$829—in this review.

The display provides two DVI-I (VGA analog and digital) inputs, as well as a USB 2.0 hub: two downstream connectors are located on the side of the panel with two additional downstream connectors and a single upstream connector on the back. Out of the box, the LP2465 is ready to use with almost any system—four sets of cables are included. These cables can be run through the rubberized cable channels incorporated into the base.

The HP LP2465 is nominally priced at $829, a good price for a high-quality flat-panel display of this size. This low price earned the LP2465 an A. Warranty coverage is a fairly standard three years for parts and labor but also includes on-site service coverage, a worthwhile addition, as well as 90 days of 24-hour toll-free technical support. A HP Silver Flat Panel Speaker Bar (sold separately) fits under the monitor to provide stereo speakers. An included CD-ROM contains drivers and monitor profiles, an electronic manual and Pivot Pro software for display management.

With its high-quality display, excellent design and reasonable price, the HP LP2465 monitor earns the Cadalyst Labs Highly Recommended rating, one of only two displays in this roundup to do so. Highly Recommended.

Iiyama North America

PLH2130-B1
800.394.4335
www.iiyamausa.com
Price: $1,399


The Iiyama PLH2130-B1 monitor is a 21.30 4:3 aspect-ratio LCD display from Iiyama's GraphicPro line of monitors. It uses digital TFT color LCD S-IPS display technology. Native resolution is 1600x1200 at 75Hz, with a 0.27mm dot pitch vertically and horizontally. Response time is a moderately slow 20ms (gray-to-gray), especially when compared with the 6–8ms (gray-to-gray) times achieved by other displays in this roundup.

The 3.1"-thick panel features a brightness rating of 280cd/m2 with a contrast rating ratio of 500:1. With the stand, the PLH2130-B1 weighs 23lb. Power consumption is 53W during normal use and 4W in power saver mode. The display supports horizontal sync ranges of 31–82kHz (digital) and 24–82kHz (analog), along with vertical sync ranges of 50–85Hz (digital) and 56–85Hz (analog).

The stand appears stable, with no significant wiggle. It supports a wide range of adjustments, including pivoting the panel to portrait mode. A standard 100mm x 100mm VESA mount allows the monitor to be mounted on an arm or wall.

On the test bench, the Iiyama PLH2130-B1 achieved excellent scores for brightness, contrast, focus, convergence, geometric distortion and raster rotation. Color was generally good. Yellows were slightly muddy, but not enough to warrant a deduction. Grays were slightly on the warm side. I saw no ghosting or flickering, even on difficult test components, but I did see very noticeable banding on continuous tone ramps that test gradations from black to white. This banding was significant enough to warrant a one-half-point deduction for display quality.

The Iiyama PLH2130-B1 includes software that allows users to make monitor adjustments directly from their workstations.
The Iiyama PLH2130-B1 includes software that allows users to make monitor adjustments directly from their workstations.

The on-screen menu is adequate but not great. Six thin black buttons are located on the lower front bezel, which is also black and so makes the buttons difficult to find. The text indicating each button's function is even harder to see, so it's best to use the included software for basic monitor adjustments, when possible. From the left, the buttons handle control source selection, menu, direct menu minus/contrast, direct menu plus/brightness and auto adjust.

The monitor incorporates dual DVI-I connectors and a VGA out (for video wall usage), as well as a USB 2.0 hub with one upstream and four downstream connections. S-video and composite connections are optional. The monitor design incorporates two flip-down speakers built into the case, an interesting approach to providing audio.

Iiyama provides two companion CD-ROMs. Among the contents is Display Tunes software to connect the monitor with your PC—this provides a way to easily adjust the display. You can also control individual panels when the PLH2130-B1 is used in a video wall arrangement.

List price for the Iiyama PLH2130-B1 is $1,399, making it the most expensive monitor in this roundup, some $200 more than any other display. This earned the PLH2130-B1 a B+ for price. Warranty coverage is a fairly standard 36 months on parts, labor and the backlight.

Overall, the Iiyama PLH2130-B1 is a high-quality display, but its high price and noticeable banding keep it from a top spot in this competitive group. The relatively slow 20ms response time also limits certain CAD and DCC functions.

NEC Display Solutions

MultiSync LCD2190Uxp
630.467.3000
www.necdisplay.com
Price: $1,199


For this roundup, NEC Display Solutions sent the MultiSync LCD2190UXp monitor, a 21.3" display based on active-matrix TFT technology. The LCD2190UXp is a member of NEC's MultiSync 90 Series of flat-panel displays that the company calls its most intelligent visual display solutions to date. Among its features are Ambix3 technology, which allows three computers to be connected to a single monitor; AmbiBright, which automatically adjusts the backlight to room brightness; and improved Tile Matrix & Tile Comp, which optimally display tiled images for video wall applications.

The 3.3"-thick panel features a native resolution of 1600x1200 at 60Hz and a 0.27mm dot pitch. Response time is 16ms, not the fastest in this roundup. Brightness rating is 300cd/m2 and a contrast ratio rating of 1000:1. The display weighs 23.6lb with its stand and 17.6lb without.

The mounting mechanism is stable throughout its adjustment range. In addition to pivoting to portrait mode, the stand also tilts, rises and swings. The monitor features an extrawide viewing angle—178° both horizontally and vertically.

The NEC MultiSync LCD2190UXp incorporates innovations such as support for three computer connections, automatic backlight adjustment to room brightness and button labels that can be reoriented when the display pivots.
The NEC MultiSync LCD2190UXp incorporates innovations such as support for three computer connections, automatic backlight adjustment to room brightness and button labels that can be reoriented when the display pivots.

On the test bench, the NEC MultiSync LCD2190UXp earned straight As across the board with excellent brightness, contrast, focus, convergence, geometric distortion and raster rotation. The color display was very attractive—yellows were slightly muddy, but the rendition of greens and reds was excellent. Grays were slightly warm, and continuous gradation tone ramps from black to white were fairly smooth. At no time did I see any flickering, ghosting or banding.

The on-screen menu is well designed and easy to navigate, offering access to an array of adjustments and settings. Control buttons are located along the bottom right and up the right side of the bezel (when in landscape mode). Press any button or control surface, and a label appears next to the button on the display itself. Changing the orientation of the display to vertical and choosing menu orientation from the on-screen menu reorients the labels for their new positions. This innovative and functional design element is particularly useful.

Control button functions, from the left in landscape (horizontal) mode, are power toggle with LED indicator, input selection, exit and left/right control bar. Another control bar goes up the right-hand side of the panel and is used for up/down when in landscape mode. It also has a menu button.

Among the connectivity options are D-sub, DVI-I, and DVI-D; USB functionality is not included, nor are speakers. Power consumption is estimated at 52W when the monitor is in operation, and less than 1W in power saver mode.

With a price of $1,199, the NEC MultiSync LCD2190UXp falls in the midrange of the monitors tested. Warranty coverage is a fairly standard 36 months for labor, parts and backlight.

The NEC MultiSync LCD2190UXp is a well-designed display with a number of innovative design features that make it a good choice for a broad range of professional uses—including CAD, engineering and DCC applications.

Ron LaFon, a contributing editor for Cadalyst, is a writer, editor and computer graphics and electronic publishing specialist from Atlanta, Georgia. He is a principal at 3Bear Productions in Atlanta.


About the Author: Ron LaFon


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