Cadalyst Labs Review: Improve Your Image-LCDs are Looking Good31 Jan, 2006 By: Ron LaFon
Depending on what your job entails, it might just be time to invest in an LCD monitor. Cadalyst Labs looks at the latest models from Dell, Eizo Nanao, HP, Lenovo, Philips, Samsung and ViewSonic.
An amazing number of flat-panel displays are available these days, and the quality is more impressive than ever. Though prices have improved over the past year, such displays can still be expensive. The seven displays we tested for this article range from a low of $559.99 to a high of $1,199. Sizes run from 20.1" to 24". Four of the monitors offer a fairly traditional 4:3 aspect ratio, and three have the wide-screen 16:10 aspect ratio.
In general, the response time for flat-panel displays is on the slow side, which tends to make a difference when running or editing video or when using applications such as CAD or visualization software, where a model may be rotated for evaluation or presentation. In the latter example, this results in visual stutter or ghosting as the monitor tries to keep up with the speed of the object—not what you want when you expect a smoothly executed display. Response time in this particular roundup ranges from 8ms–16ms compared with 12ms–25ms in a comparable roundup just one year ago.
Faster LCD response times are on the near horizon, with several sub-5ms displays due to appear on the market shortly. Though this is not as fast as the 1ms–3ms response time of a typical CRT display, it's a great improvement and brings LCD display technology closer to being a one-size-fits-all technology. In the meantime, if your work requires wire-frame rotations or the animation of complex shaded models, you may well find that CRT displays are more suited to your needs, even though the available selection is growing smaller.
In general, the display quality for this group of LCD monitors was consistently high, with marked improvements seen in color purity, brightness and contrast. Though a couple of displays had reds that approached orange, none deviated significantly enough to warrant a demerit. LCD displays are becoming more stylish, as vendors strive to distinguish their product from those offered by other vendors. We're also beginning to see more innovation, such as the touch-button controls on the Eizo S2110W monitor. This innovation is all part of evolving technology and indicates growing maturity in the LCD flat-panel market. This is all good for the end user, who is beginning to have more real choices in high-quality displays.
We requested flat-panel displays with a minimum 20" viewable area and minimum resolution of 1280x1024 (24-bit color). We required RGB analog input—a 15-pin mini D-sub connector, with digital DVI-D input optional. Almost half of the displays had a wide-screen 16:10 aspect ratio.
How We Tested
We used the ever-dependable DisplayMate Technology's DisplayMate testing software (www.displaymate.com) to run through a wide range of video tests for brightness, contrast, focus, convergence, purity, geometric distortion and raster rotation. DisplayMate also incorporates tests specific to LCD displays. During the course of testing, we also evaluated the on-screen menu, the general functionality of the controls and the connectivity options.
When the tests were completed, the LCD displays were rated on several factors that were weighted according to importance: image quality (6X), price (4X), connectivity (2X), image controls (2X) and warranty (1X). An extra-credit category was available for any monitor that offered some feature of significant value or excellence, although none of the LCDs in this review earned that credit.
Cadalyst labs report card
All tests were driven by an NVIDIA FX 4000 graphics card using the NVIDIA 126.96.36.199 WHQL-certified drivers, the most current version available when we began our evaluation.
Evaluating the Displays
LCD monitors are typically designed with a rated resolution sweet spot for which the monitor is optimized. Though they are typically capable of other resolutions, the best results are at the rated resolution. At resolutions lower than the optimum, the image is scaled to fit the screen, and the result usually appears somewhat granular. This is somewhat expected, but the appearance just isn't up to what we want from a monitor that we use for extended periods of time. We looked at the LCD monitors in this roundup in several different modes, including the default/optimal resolution and color depth.
Certain things tend to stand out during evaluation—lack of more than the most basic connectivity options, for example, or a warranty that goes beyond the norm. The overall quality of the large LCD monitors we tested is very high, and slight flaws have a way of becoming magnified in the final tally—a quarter-point off in one area can be a determining factor, or it can be offset by another factor. In this review, evaluation was even more difficult because monitor quality has improved so significantly that we took no deductions for display quality.
Pricing is another area where an otherwise excellent monitor can get less than top ratings. If the price of a display is out of line with comparable displays in the roundup, there is a deduction that can again be amplified as a result of the weighted nature of the report card.
From the end-user perspective, the evaluation of a flat-panel monitor depends on its planned use. If you do a lot of photo editing or visualizations where correct color display is of high importance, you'll want to look at CRT monitors, not LCD displays. This is also the case if you regularly rotate complex models, as the slower response time of flat-panel displays can often cause visual stuttering or jerkiness when used for such purposes, though this is quickly improving. In short, it's not quite time to relegate CRT monitors to the technology attic, though they seem to be heading there.
As noted, the display quality of flat-panel monitors has improved greatly, as have response times—but there's still room for improvement. Although there were certainly some differences from monitor to monitor, display quality in general was consistent. If a display was particularly remarkable, it earned an A+ rating for display quality; all monitors in this review received at least an A. Other factors, such as warranty and price, tended to vary more than display quality this time around. Completing the report card and assigning grades was extremely difficult due to the high quality of all the flat-panel displays we received for review. I ultimately had to tabulate the scores for the individual displays, giving any that had a grade point average of 9.0 or higher an A or A+ Highly Recommended rating. Any that were even marginally below this average received an A-.
Without question, the flat-panel displays submitted for this roundup are the best we've ever seen. The improving quality, along with their compact size, makes the choice between CRT and LCD displays ever more difficult. If you're in the market for an LCD flat-panel display, your choices have expanded greatly, whatever your selection criteria may be. Our Flat-Panel LCD Monitors table lists details and lets you compare features of all seven monitors in our review. Click here: images.questex.com/Cadalyst/PrintEdition/2006/0206LCDtable.html
Cadalyst Labs Grade: A+
The Dell UltraSharp 2405FPW, with a 24" diagonal screen measurement, is the largest display of any in this roundup. With a 16:10 wide-screen aspect, the 2405FPW is impressive not only for its sheer size, but also for its high-quality display. The 2405FPW features a native resolution of 1920x1200 on a panel that's about three inches deep—with the included stand, the total depth of the display is 9".
The Dell 2405FPW provides lots of extras, including four USB downstream ports. Two are located on the back of the panel along with an upstream port, and two more are easily accessible in a panel built into the left side of the display, where you'll also find card reader slots that support CF 1&2/Microdrive, Smart Media and MS/MSPro/MS Pro duo. The monitor's CD includes drivers for the card readers, graphics card files and documentation in HTML format.
The monitor is stylish, and its supporting stand is very stable, especially important with a panel this large. Six buttons at the bottom right front of the bezel control input selection, picture-in-picture and picture-by-picture, menu selection, brightness and contrast/down and auto adjust/up. A slightly larger power button incorporates an LED indicator. The control buttons are easy to see, with their functions clearly indicated. A row of five indicator lights is found to the left of the control buttons. The lights designate VGA, DVI, S video, composite and component, so you can easily determine the type of video feed you're using—a very thoughtful addition. The on-screen menu is easy to use and navigate, but is not among the best menu designs we've seen, requiring more navigating to get to a given entry than is the case with some other displays.
Priced at $1,199, the Dell UltraSharp 2405FPW ties for the most expensive display in this roundup. Considering its size and quality, this price is a good deal. Response time is 12ms, not bad for most LCD displays, but particularly good for a panel of this size. The active-matrix TFT display has a rated dot pitch of 0.27mm, a brightness rating of 500 cd/m2 and a contrast range of 1000:1.
Dell s UltraSharp 2405FPW 24" LCD offers an impressively large image at an excellent price.
From the moment it powered up, the 2405FPW presented a noticeably bright and crisp display, and on the test bench it performed very well. Both brightness and contrast were exceptionally good, as were focus, convergence, geometric distortion and raster rotation. Grays tended to be slightly on the warm side, but not enough to be problematical. Color purity was outstanding, which, when combined with the similarly outstanding brightness and contrast, made for a strikingly good display.
With its sensible design, careful attention to detail and impressive on-screen image that covers a lot of visual real estate, the Dell UltraSharp 2405FPW is an excellent display that manages to pull it all together for a price tag that, though not inexpensive, is justified based on our evaluation. This monitor should be very easy to live with in day-to-day use. The UltraSharp 2405FPW received several A+ ratings in our report card, including pricing—a bargain for an LCD display this large.
Eizo Nanao Display Technologies
Cadalyst Labs Grade: A–
The Eizo FlexScan S2110W 21.1" monitor stands out in many ways. It incorporates innovative design components such as a very stable mounting mechanism and use of touch-button display adjustments. Based on a wide-screen 16:10 S-PVA panel, the S2110W offers a native resolution of 1680x1050, with a rated dot pitch of 0.27mm.
The FlexScan S2110W 21.1" LCD from Eizo Nanao offers some design innovations and an exceptional five-year warranty.
The brightness of the S2110W display is rated at 450 cd/m2 , and the contrast range is 1000:1, making for a display that is noticeably bright and crisp. Even 6.8-point type was easy to read on the screen.
The S2110W features an arched arm mechanism for sliding position adjustments. This unusual mechanism ensures exceptionally stable mounting, and movement adjustments are easy to make. The monitor is limited to landscape-only orientation.
The Eizo S2110W has a black housing, including the bezel and the stand. The display controls are another area of innovative design. Traditional push-button controls are replaced by a band of touch panels at the bottom center of the front bezel. This is a feature that you'll likely either love or hate. Though they take some getting used to, they offer the ability to make a number of adjustments. The monitor offers eight touch-sensitive areas: input signal, auto-adjustment, enter, left, right, up, down and power (with an LED indicator). Between the black monitor housing and the dark raised letters indicating the function of each touch area, I found it difficult to determine what a specific touch area was supposed to do. This in some ways mitigates the innovation of the touch panels and makes adjustments unnecessarily difficult. The on-screen menu is adequate and offers many options.
The FlexScan S2110W's response time is 8ms, a very good speed for a panel of this size. A brightness stabilization function ensures stable brightness, necessary for the proper display of color with this EIZO patented technology. The monitor detects and automatically compensates for brightness changes caused by surrounding temperatures and the passage of time. The monitor comes with ScreenManager Pro software, which allows per-application monitor adjustments to be stored and automatically recalled. It also offers mouse and/or keyboard control of the display settings.
Both the brightness and contrast on the FlexScan S2110W are excellent, as are focus, convergence, geometric distortion and raster rotation. Color purity is generally quite good, with neutral grays. Reds were slightly orange, but not enough to warrant a demerit.
The Eizo FlexScan S2110W costs $1,199, tying with another monitor as the most expensive in this roundup. This price is a bit on the high side, despite the innovative design elements and high quality of the display. The price is somewhat mitigated by the exceptional five-year warranty—the longest coverage in this roundup.
Cadalyst Labs Grade: A
The HP LP2065 is scheduled to debut in early 2006, but we were able to get our hands on a prerelease, pre-announcement monitor for evaluation here. The LP2065 is a 20.1" flat-panel display based on an active-matrix TFT 4:3 aspect ratio panel. Extra-thin bezels on all sides allow several LP2065 to be tiled for large wall displays.
The LP2065 is a very stylish unit, with clean lines and an unusual levered locking mechanism for holding the panel on the included stand. The mounting mechanism proved to be very stable throughout the monitor's range of movements, which include swivel, tilt, rise and pivot to vertical. The panel is 3.42" deep and features a USB 2.x hub, along with two DVI-I connectors (dual VGA analog and dual digital input are possible). The USB connectors include one upstream and four downstream ports, plus a USB 2.x cable.
The LP2065 provides an excellent 8ms response time, with a 0.255mm dot pitch. Brightness is rated at up to 250 nits, with the contrast ratio of 800:1. Native resolution is 1600x1200. Pricing for the LP2065 is a moderate $649; USB-powered speakers for the display are an optional extra.
The on-screen menu is attractive and easy to use—one of the best we've seen. Monitor controls consist of a power indicator light and LED indicator at the bottom right of the bezel and four control buttons at the bottom center: menu, minus, plus and input source sector. Combined with the excellent menu, these clearly visible buttons make navigating the monitor controls a breeze.
A prerelease version of HP s LP2065 20.1 inch flat-panel display features one of the best on-screen menus we ve seen.
On the test bench, we found brightness, contrast, focus, convergence, geometric distortion and raster rotation to be very good. Though the brightness and contrast ratings are not as high as those of some other flat-panel displays in this roundup, the screen image was attractive and crisp. Grays on the LP2065 are slightly on the warm side, typical of recent HP flat-panel displays we've seen, but result in an attractive display for grayscale images. Reds were slightly on the orange side, but not enough to warrant a deduction. We also saw some slight but noticeable banding gradations, but these were not likely to be noticeable during normal use of the display.
Display controls settings accessible via the on-screen menu include a range of extras: serial number display, full-screen resolutions, clock, clock phase, video picture-in-picture (size and position), input selection (including a separate direct access key for dedicated swap between inputs 1 and 2) and factory reset.
The HP LP2065 comes with a three-year limited warranty on parts, including the backlight and on-site labor or 48-hour direct unit replacement.
Cadalyst Labs Grade: A
For those not yet familiar with the name, Lenovo is a company formed through the acquisition of the IBM Personal Computing Division by the China-based Lenovo Group. If the ThinkVision L201p monitor design looks familiar, that's the connection.
The ThinkVision L201p is a 20.1" display based on TFT technology. The 4:3 aspect ratio panel features a default display resolution of 1600x1200. Scaling allows full-screen viewing of resolutions less than 1600x1200. The brightness rating of the L201p is 300 nits, with the contrast range rated at 700:1. Dot pitch is 0.25mm, and response time is a middle-of-the-road 16ms.
The L201p replaces the ThinkVision L200p monitor. Its three-year warranty covers parts, labor and the backlight. Service upgrade options are available, including up to four years of on-site exchange.
Because of its design, the Lenovo ThinkVision L201p appears physically smaller than a monitor of its size would warrant. The design is sleek as well as compact. It incorporates an unusual but extremely stable base design. The display rotates, rises, tilts and swings, and is stable throughout its range of operation.
The on-screen menu is clean and easy to use—an attractive if fairly standard implementation. Monitor controls consist of five wave-like control buttons located at the bottom right of the front case bezel: source, auto adjust, brightness, contrast and power with an accompanying indicator LED. No speakers or USB facilities are incorporated into the design, although attachable speakers are available as an option for $29.95. The Lenovo ThinkVision L201p costs $799, placing it in the upper midrange of LCD display pricing.
The ThinkVision L201p from Lenovo offers a sleek design and an excellent display.
The Lenovo ThinkVision L201p presents a very clean on-screen image, with no trace of flicker, even on very fine patterns and closely spaced parallel lines. Text is easy to read, even at 6.8-point sizes. Grays are fairly neutral, and gradations are smooth, with only a minimal amount of banding—certainly not enough to warrant any deduction.
Brightness and contrast are both very good, as are focus, convergence, geometric distortion and raster rotation. The L201p's color purity is outstanding, with clean colors that are well balanced, without one color predominating over any other. Yellows, which many LCD flat-panel monitors seem to have problems displaying correctly, are clean and vibrant here, with no trace of spurious color tints.
In terms of connectivity, the L201p is a hybrid monitor that offers both an analog and a digital (DVI-D) connector on the back. These can be connected concurrently to different display cards or systems. Mounting features include wall or desktop mounting using the radial arm or third-party accessories that meet the VESA FPMPM standard.
The ThinkVision L201p is a new display from Lenovo. With its clean design, good engineering and excellent color display, it should prove popular.
Philips Consumer Electronics
Cadalyst Labs Grade: A
It's been some time since a Philips monitor passed through Cadalyst Labs, so it was good to have a look at the company's 200W6, a 20.1" wide-screen 16:10 aspect ratio flat-panel monitor with a native resolution of 1680x1050.
The Philips 200W6 panel, based on IPS technology, has a brightness rating of 300 cd/m2 and a contrast range of 600:1. Response time is a middle-of-the-road 16ms. Although the brightness and contrast range are exceeded by the ratings of other monitors in this review, the 200W6's image features excellent brightness and contrast—seemingly much higher than its specifications indicate.
The 200W6 has clean lines and a secure and stable mounting mechanism. Because the monitor doesn't pivot to vertical, the stand can be anchored in ways not possible with a panel that rotates, adding to its stability. The stand offers minimal height adjustments, though it tilts through a range of –5° to +25° and swings through ±125°.
The on-screen menu is quite good, with controls accessed via six buttons on a narrow but easily visible strip below the display area of the monitor and above the built-in stereo speakers. These six buttons control auto adjust, volume control buttons, up/down menu adjustment and the menu system. A USB 2.x pass-through port is located on the left side of the panel.
Philips 200W6 flat-panel monitor, the least expensive monitor in this review, offers very good performance.
On the test bench, the Philips 200W6 performed quite well. In addition to the excellent brightness and contrast previously noted, focus, convergence, geometric distortion and raster rotation were all excellent as well. In terms of color purity, the Philips 200W6 displayed reds that were very slightly on the orange side, but certainly not enough to warrant a deduction. Yellow—a color that often proves difficult to display cleanly on many LCD flat-panel monitors—was clean and bright. We did see some slight banding in gray gradations, but again, not enough for a deduction. The display of grays is clean and neutral. Taken all together, the Philips 200W6 produces a display that is quite attractive and should be easy to live with. Small text, even down to 6.8-point size, was crisp and easy to read.
The monitor includes Philips SmartManage, an asset management technology to help IT administrators track and control all Philips monitors from a single point on the network. Administrators can track hours of use, adjust monitors, reset them to defaults and even power them down.
The pricing for the Philips 200W6 is $559.99, making it the least expensive monitor in this roundup. Low price definitely does not mean low quality. The 200W6 offers a very good display on a stable base. Warranty coverage is a fairly standard three years for parts, labor and the backlight.
Cadalyst Labs Grade: A–
The Samsung SyncMaster 214T is an attractively designed 21.3" flat-panel display with a native resolution of 1600x1200 and a 4:3 aspect ratio. The clean styling of the SyncMaster 214T is apparent immediately. The 2.75" panel has a very thin bezel, available in black and silver versions. As proof that all the attention did not go toward the stylish appearance of the 214T, the mounting showed very little wiggle, even in its most extreme position. The SyncMaster 214T offers a full range of adjustments, including tilt, swing, rotation and pivot to vertical.
The Samsung SyncMaster 214T proved to be a good display, although some tests show slight flicker when displaying fine patterns and closely spaced lines.
The brightness rating for the SyncMaster 214T is 300 cd/m2 and contrast range is 900:1. Response time 8ms. The monitor does not offer USB options, a bit surprising for a monitor that carries a slightly higher than midrange price tag of $859.
Based on PVA technology, the SyncMaster 214T has a screen that is noticeably dark. Though the on-screen menu is adequate and functional, it could be better in terms of both design and ease of use.
Seven buttons reside on the bottom right corner of the slim bezel. They control the menu, custom/down, brightness/up, source, auto and power. An LED indictor is built into the power button. The controls are well positioned and responsive. Both picture-in-picture and picture-by-picture are supported.
The Samsung SyncMaster 214T displays excellent brightness, contrast, focus, raster rotation and geometric distortion characteristics. The color purity test component revealed yellows that are slightly muddy and reds that are slightly orange—neither significant enough to result in a deduction during the course of evaluation. Grays were slightly warm, but not unattractive.
More significant, and of more concern to me, was the appearance of display flicker in some modes of the DisplayMate benchmarks, particularly those that featured very fine patterns and/or closely spaced parallel lines. Though this flicker was not apparent in normal-use evaluations, it was apparent in some display tests. I did not deduct for the flicker because it occurs only in a narrow range of benchmark tests and is not evident in general use. My eyes are particularly sensitive to display flicker, and I felt it was significant enough to note here.
Samsung backs all of its monitors with a three-year parts and labor warranty that includes the backlight as well as 24-hour, 365-day toll-free technical support.
Samsung also offers a 24" flat-panel display, the SyncMaster 244T, for those who need the additional visual real estate afforded by a larger and more expensive display.
Cadalyst Labs Grade: A–
ViewSonic offers a fairly broad range of flat-panel displays, including the VP2030b that we received for this roundup. The ViewSonic VP2030b is a 20.1" 4:3 aspect ratio monitor with a native resolution of 1600x1200 and a fairly speedy response time of 8ms gray-to-gray. The VP2030b is based on a TFT active-matrix panel with a 0.255mm dot pitch. The vendor-provided brightness rating is 300 cd/m2 , and the contrast rating is 1000:1 (typical).
Aside from some slight flickering, the VP2030b LCD from ViewSonic is a very good monitor.
The ViewSonic VP2030b is mounted on a moderately stable stand, though some wiggle was evident when the stand was extended to its full height and the panel was in vertical mode. The amount of wiggle was not extreme, but was noticeable when the stand was extended.
The on-screen menu offers a clean, easily understandable structure and is easy to use and to navigate. The various monitor controls are accessed by five difficult-to-see black control buttons at the bottom center of the front bezel. The buttons control menu, contrast/brightness/down, contrast/brightness/up, input selector and power with a LED indicator.
Both brightness and contrast were very good, which was immediately obvious on powering up the display. The ratings I assigned for both of these characteristics are excellent. Also excellent were focus, convergence, geometric distortion and raster rotation. To make it a full sweep, the VP2030b has color purity that I can only call outstanding. Displayed grays are neutral, with very little banding visible on grayscale gradation tests that range from pure white to solid black. With excellent brightness and contrast, the clean color purity of the ViewSonic VP2030b display make for a visually handsome presentation.
All is not perfection, alas. On some parts of the DisplayMate test that use very fine patterns and closely spaced parallel lines, I saw some slight flicker. The flicker was not obvious during what I would consider normal use of the display. The flicker did not result in a deduction, but it did drop the rating to A, rather than the A+ the monitor would have otherwise received. All monitors were tested in the same position in the same environment, driven by the same display card and system-level graphics driver.
The ViewSonic VP2030b ships with two CDs that include LCD control software with Perfect Portrait and the ViewSonic Wizard software, as well as a user guide and installation software for the monitor drivers and configuration files.
The VP2030b is priced at a midrange $679. It carries a three-year limited warranty on parts, labor and the backlight.
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.