LCDs--Are They Ready to Replace CRTs?31 Jan, 2005 By: Ron LaFon
Cadalyst Labs reviews LCD flat-panel monitors from seven manufacturers.
These days an overwheming number of flat-panel LCD monitors are available, with each vendor offering multiple models. Though costs have dropped somewhat, they are not yet so low that these sophisticated displays are flying off vendors' shelves.
Response time for flat-panel displays has long been on the slow side, making them less than ideal for video use or for applications such as 3D CAD and visualization, where rotating a model or showing a walkthrough may result in a visual stutter rather than a smoothly executed display. Response times for displays reviewed here range from 12ms through 25ms. A typical CRT monitor has a response time in the 1-3ms range. If users require wire frame rotations or the animation of complex shaded models, they'll definitely see the difference between the two technologies.
Reviewers Report Card
For this roundup, Cadalyst Labs requested flat-panel displays with a minimum 20" viewable area and a minimum resolution of 1280X1024 (24-bit color). Displays had to have an RGB analog input and a 15-pin mini D-sub connector with optional digital DVI-D input. We received monitors that ranged in size from 20.1" through 24" measured diagonally, some with the more standard 4:3 aspect ratio, and some with a wide-screen 16:10 aspect ratio.
Testing ProcedureI used DisplayMate Technology's DisplayMate software (www.displaymate.com) to run through a range of video tests for brightness, contrast, focus, convergence, purity, geometric distortion and raster rotation. DisplayMate also incorporates tests specific to LCD displays. During testing, we also evaluated the on-screen menu and the general functionality of the available controls. Connectivity options were also noted.
When tests were completed, I rated the LCD displays on several factors weighted according to importance: image quality (6X), price (4X), connectivity (2X), image controls (2X) and warranty (1X). Extra credit was awarded to any monitor that had some feature of significant value or excellence beyond what was covered in the normal evaluation process.
All tests were driven by an NVIDIA FX 4000 graphics card using the NVIDIA 126.96.36.199 drivers.
Evaluating the DisplaysEvaluating test scores is, at times, difficult. I never know the final grades until I test all the monitors and compare the results. Because certain weight factors are given to certain characteristics (such as a weight of 6X for display quality), it's difficult to track how a specific monitor performs until I tabulate its scores at the end of the test procedures. LCD monitors are designed with a rated resolution sweet spot for which the monitor is optimized. Though they are typically capable of other resolutions, usually by scaling the original image, best results occur at the rated resolution. At resolutions lower than the optimum, an image that is scaled to fit the screen usually manifests a somewhat granular appearance. While this is to be expected, the appearance just isn't up to what we want from a monitor that we'll sit in front of and use for extended periods of time.
Certain things tend to stand out during evaluation, such as the lack of more than the most basic connectivity options or a warranty that goes far beyond the norm. The overall quality of the large LCD monitors tested here is very high, but slight flaws have a way of being magnified in the final tally. A quarter-point off in one area can be a determining factor, or it can be balanced by another factor that might be less apparent at the time of testing.
Pricing is another area in which an otherwise excellent monitor can get less than top ratings. If the price of a particular display is out of line with comparable displays included in the roundup, that deduction can again be amplified by the weighted nature of the report card.
In evaluating the monitors and working on the accompanying report card, I made some decisions related to just how to evaluate the prices of the various flat-panel monitors submitted for this roundup. I think they are all too expensive in general, but this is more a manufacturing-related problem than a marketing problem. For grading in this area, I opted for a general comparison among the monitors included here, rather than basing the evaluation on my belief that their prices are all too high. Certainly, prices are not as high as they once were, but there's still a great deal of room for improvement.
The evaluation of quality is an area in which the intended use determines whether a flat-panel monitor is the best choice. If your users do a lot of photo editing or visualizations where having the correct color is of high importance, they'll likely be happier with CRT monitors instead of LCD displays. This is also true if they regularly rotate complex models, because the much slower response time of flat-panel displays can often cause visual stuttering or jerkiness when used for such purposes. In short, it's not yet time to relegate CRT monitors to the proverbial technology attic.
The display quality of flat-panel monitors has improved greatly, as have the response times, but—as with the pricing—there's still much room for improvement. Despite some differences from monitor to monitor, display quality in general varied little, so all displays in this review ended up with an A in that category. Other factors, such as warranty, varied far more than display quality.
It's wonderful to have large displays that don't completely take over the desktop, and such features as the ability to rotate a display from landscape to portrait (horizontal to vertical) modes are useful in certain situations. Still, these niceties come at a cost, both in a real and a figur-ative sense.
Cadalyst Labs Grade: A
At $749, the 20.1" Dell UltraSharp 2005FPW is not only the least expensive monitor in this roundup, it also has the fastest response time—12ms. The display is based on an active-matrix TFT (thin-film transistor) LCD with a 0.258mm dot pitch. Its native resolution is 1680X1050 pixels, proportional to a 16:10 aspect ratio.
The Dell UltraSharp 2005FPW has both the fastest response rate and lowest price in this roundup.
The Dell UltraSharp 2005FPW has a brightness of 300 cd/m2 and a 600:1 contrast rating. The viewing angle is ±88° horizontally and vertically. Sync rates are 30–81kHz (automatic) horizontally and 56–75Hz vertically—except for the 1680X1050 resolution, which is available at 60Hz only.
Weighing in at 17.64lb, the UltraSharp 2005FPW measures a relatively compact 18.6" wide by 15.3" high when compressed (22.4" when fully extended). It's 9" deep, including the stand. The display panel is 2.87" thick. The display typically consumes 55 watts up to a maximum of 75 watts. The Dell UltraSharp 2005FPW seems relatively stable, even when pivoted to portrait mode. A VESA wall mounting option is available.
Connectivity options include 15-pin D-sub, DVI-D, S-video, composite connector and a USB 2.x hub. Speakers are not incorporated into the display, but an AS500 speaker option is available for $44.10.
Five clearly visible control buttons and an on/off power toggle are located on the lower-right corner of the monitor's thin bezel. One of the buttons is an input source selector—the number of the selected input is displayed next to the button.
On the test bench, the Dell UltraSharp 2005FPW showed slightly warm grays with good brightness and contrast. Colors were vibrant, though greens were a bit overly bright. The on-screen menu was easy to use and understand. All told, the displayed image was very attractive and should be easy to live with.
Although the Dell UltraSharp 2005FPW carries an excellent price and offers a faster response time than the other LCD monitors reviewed here, warranty coverage is a meager one year, much less than the three-year coverage provided by most CRT and LCD display vendors. This limited coverage resulted in a C grade for warranty on our display report card, but it didn't affect the overall A grade the monitor earned. Highly Recommended.
L885-BKEizo Nanao Technologies
Cadalyst Labs Grade: B+
The Eizo Nanao L885-BK is a 20.1" color TFT display with 4:3 aspect ratio. Based on a Sharp ASV panel, the display provides maximum resolution of 1600X1200@60Hz and a dot pitch of 0.255mmX0.255mm. Brightness is 250cd/m2 and contrast range is 500:1. The sync range for analog input is 24–94kHz horizontal and 49–86Hz vertical. For digital input, the horizontal sync range is 31–76kHz and vertical range is 59–61Hz (VGA Text: 69–71Hz). The rated dot clock is 202.5MHz for analog input and 162MHz for digital input. Response time is a typical 20ms, so users are likely to see some lag if their work involves fast rotation of complex models. The screen is considered viewable over a 176° angle both horizontally and vertically. The displayed image is bright and attractive.
The FlexScan L885 from Eizo offers the best warranty we've seen on a monitor in quite some time: 5 years.
At the bottom center of the L885's bezel are eight flush–mounted control buttons. On the black monitor we evaluated, the functions of these control buttons are not easy to discern. The on-screen menu is compact, logical and easy to use.
The L885-BK comes with a USB 1.1x connector and a USB cable. Input connectors include both mini D-sub and switchable DVI-I 29-pin sockets. The input connectors, USB and power cord connectors are all vertically mounted on the rear of the panel, and a cable-managing clip is incorporated into the stand.
The stand for the L885 is very stable. It wiggled slightly when the display was rotated to portrait (vertical) mode. Height is adjustable within an 82mm range. The stand pivots 90°, tilts upwards 40° and swivels 35° right or left. The monitor weight with stand is 20.3lb; without the stand, 13.7lb.
On the test bench, the Eizo showed excellent color and had very neutral grays, with good brightness and excellent contrast.
Eizo offers a five-year limited warranty on the FlexScan L885, though we note that use time is limited to 30,000 hours and the warranty period for the LCD panel and backlight is limited to three years from the date of purchase. Price for the L885-BK is $1,499. Several accessories are available, including a VESA wall-mount arm and a stand that supports two displays.
Cadalyst Labs Grade: A
For this roundup, we looked at two displays from HP. One was the L2035, a 20.1" display based on an active-matrix TFT LCD screen. Priced at $899, the L2035 has a 4:3 aspect ratio and a native resolution of 1600X1200@60Hz with 0.255mm pixel pitch. Both 1280X1024 and 1024X768 resolutions are available without distortion at 60, 75 and 85Hz.
For $899, HP's L2035 offers an average response time, an excellent control menu and very good color ranges.
The HP L2035 is vendor-rated at up to 250 cd/m2 for brightness and up to 500:1 for contrast. Screen viewing angles are 170° horizontally and vertically. The L2035's horizontal sync range is 30–94kHz (VGA input) and 20–92kHz (DVI input). Vertical sync range is 48–85Hz (VGA input) and 20–92Hz (DVI input). Power consumption is rated at 75 watts.
At 12.25lb, the HP L2035 is the lightest display of all those in this review, and this light weight contributes to the stability of the display. It showed only a slight wiggle when rotated into vertical (portrait) mode. The display takes up a small amount of desktop space: 17.8" X 14.29" X 3.19" (wXhXd).
Connectivity options abound. The L2035 incorporates four connectors: one 15-pin mini D-sub VGA connector, one DVI-I (VGA analog and digital input), one composite video connector and a single S-video connector. An optional USB 2.x hub is available at extra cost. The L2035 comes with a standard four-hole pattern, 100mm VESA wall mount option. Response time is a relatively average 16ms.
The HP L2035 monitor is an attractively designed display with simple lines and seven obvious buttons at the center bottom of its front silver bezel. These buttons include input source selection, Auto and a power on/off toggle with an illuminated LED. The remaining buttons are used to navigate and control the menu. Speaking of the on-screen menu, the HP L2035 has an outstanding one—among the best I've ever seen. It's bright and very easy to comprehend and navigate. All control menus should be so good.
Grays were slightly on the warm side, though within the normal range. Color was very good, as were both brightness and contrast characteristics. There's much to like about the L2035's display.
The L2035 is covered by a three-year parts, labor and on-site service warranty that also includes 24/7/365 telephone technical support. Highly Recommended.
Cadalyst Labs Grade: B+
The L2335 is the other HP LCD monitor included in this roundup. It differs from the L2035 in that it's a 23" widescreen LCD display with a 16:10 aspect ratio. With an estimated street price of $1,599, the L2335 is the second largest and the second most expensive monitor included here.
Its larger size, excellent connectivity options, and easy-to-use control menu make the HP L2335 a good choice for those who need extra screen space.
The HP L2335 is an active-matrix TFT display based on Super IPS technology. Native resolution is 1920X1200@60Hz, and pixel pitch is 0.258mm. HP rates the brightness of the L2335 at 250 cd/m2 and the contrast ratio to 500:1. Both horizontal and vertical viewing angles are 170°.
Connectivity options are excellent. The HP L2335 incorporates five connectors: one 15-pin mini D-sub VGA connector, one DVI-I (VGA analog and digital input), one composite video, one S-video and a component video connector. In addition, a USB 2.0x hub can be added as a separate option for $44.99.
The HP L2335 has a horizontal sync range of 30–94kHz (VGA input) or 30–92kHz (DVI input) and a vertical sync range of 48–85Hz (both VGA and DVI input).
The HP L2335 weighs in at 22.27lb, and typical power consumption is 66 watts. The display features a 90° pivot for horizontal (landscape) or vertical (portrait). It comes with a VESA wall mount option.
Like the HP L2035 reviewed earlier in this roundup, the L2335 incorporates HP's superb on-screen menu. This is a bright, easy-to-use menu system that is among the best I've seen.
The L2335's seven monitor control buttons (which include input source, picture-in-picture, and a power on/off toggle with LED indicator) are located at the bottom center of the front silver bezel.
The HP L2335 generally produces very good color. Oranges and reds are slightly muddy, but yellows are clean and clear. Grays are slightly warm but fairly neutral, and both brightness and contrast are good. The stand for the display is very stable, even in portrait mode. That's surprising for a display panel as large as this one. Response time is a fairly normal 16ms.
The HP L2335 is covered by a three-year parts, labor and on-site service warranty that also includes 24/7/365 telephone technical support.
Cadalyst Labs Grade: A
The ThinkVision L200p is a 20.1" IPS LCD display with a 4:3 aspect ratio. It's part of the Performance line of flat-panel LCDs in IBM's ThinkVision family of monitors. The model that we tested featured a black housing with five control buttons located on the lower front bezel. Though dark buttons on a dark housing are often difficult to see, IBM solved this by placing symbols on the housing and making the buttons raised, angular and high gloss. The ThinkVision L200p is a very attractive monitor, both in design and in the image it produces.
An excellent display, IBM's ThinkVision L200p falls in the middle of this roundup's range of prices.
In terms of our benchmark tests, the ThinkVision L200p is a high-quality display. This particular monitor displayed yellow and oranges that were slightly dull (the previous L200p we evaluated [February 2004] had slightly dull greens), but grays were fairly neutral.
The display is viewed easily from a wide angle—176° vertically and horizontally. The display has an 80mm height adjustment as well as tilt and swivel capabilities. Because it offers no pivot, it's limited to horizontal (landscape) mode, which actually provides more stability. In fact, the ThinkVision L200p is an especially solid display, supported by a substantial base that remained stable throughout its adjustment range. The ThinkVision L200p has an internal power supply, thus eliminating the bulky power adapter often seen in LCD monitors.
The L200p display offers a horizontal sync range of 31–92kHz and a vertical sync range of 56–85Hz. Its physical size is 18.4" X 18.5" X 9.9" (wXhXd), with the panel 3.4" deep. Total weight is 20.9lb, and power consumption is 65 watts. The L200p features a pixel pitch of 0.25mm and a slow response time of 25ms.
Two connectors—a standard analog D-sub and a digital DVI-I—are located at the back of the L200p. An intelligently designed on-screen menu system makes it easy to adjust the display.
At $949, the IBM ThinkVision L200p falls in the middle of the price range for this roundup. It's covered by a three-year warranty that includes IBM's Rapid Replacement Service, which gets a monitor back to you within two business days. The L200p's contrast rating is a comfortable 400:1, and optimal display resolution is 1600X1200@60Hz. It supports display resolutions of 1280X1024 and 1024X768 by scaling the image. Highly Recommended.
Cadalyst Labs Grade: A
The AccuSync LCD200VX-BK, NEC-Mitsubishi's entry in this flat-panel monitor roundup, is a 20" TFT display with a 4:3 aspect ratio. The display features a native resolution of 1600X1200@60Hz and a pixel pitch of 0.256mm. It supports resolutions of 1280X1024 and 1024X768 by scaling the image. Monitor response time is 16ms, middle-of-the-road for LCD displays.
At a reasonable $949, the NEC-Mitsubishi's AccuSync LCD200VX-BK is a good monitor with solid performance and warranty.
Estimated street price for the AccuSync LCD200VX-BK display is $949. Brightness rating is 250 cd/m2 and contrast rating is 400:1. The viewing angle, for both horizontal and vertical, is 160°. Horizontal sync range is 31.5–91.1KHz and vertical sync rate is 56–85Hz.
Additional display features include XtraView wide-angle viewing, No Touch Auto Adjust, third-party touchscreen and protective glass integration, digital smoothing, and NaViSet software for adjusting monitor display settings using either a mouse or the keyboard.
Measuring 17.5" X 15.4-18.2" X 8.4" (wXhXd), the AccuSync LCD200VX-BK has a 3" deep panel. The total weight, including the stand, is 20.7lb. Power consumption is 52 watts. The power supply for the LCD200VX-BK is located internally.
Connectors include one D-sub and one DVI-D connection. No USB hub is available, nor are speakers incorporated into the display. A standard VESA wall mount option is provided.
As might be expected from a display that doesn't pivot to vertical (portrait) mode, the AccuSync LCD200VX-BK is very stable. Its base is relatively small, but more than adequate.
Eight very thin black buttons reside at the bottom of the black front bezel, with symbols above that indicate what they do. It would be nice if these buttons were more prominent. They're very difficult to see against the dark monitor housing. One button toggles power on and off, another resets the display, and one exits the on-screen menu. The remaining buttons are for navigating and making selections on the serviceable on-screen menu. This monitor is also available in a white housing.
On the test bench, we found brightness and contrast to be moderately good. Color representation was also good, and grays were fairly neutral. Gradients showed very little banding, and no ghosting or other digital artifacts were visible.
NEC-Mitsubishi covers the AccuSync LCD200VX-BK with a standard three-year warranty for labor, parts and backlight. Highly Recommended.
SyncMaster 243TSamsung USA
Cadalyst Labs Grade: B
With a 24" diagonal measurement, the Samsung SyncMaster 243T offers the largest screen size of any monitor in this roundup. At an estimated street price of $1,799, the SyncMaster 243T is also the most expensive monitor here—not too surprising when one considers that the cost of manufacturing flat-panel screens tends to jump fairly dramatically with each inch added to the display size.
The Samsung SyncMaster 243T is the largest LCD in this roundup, measuring 24" diagonally—excellent for working with large drawings.
The SyncMaster 243T is a wide-aspect-ratio monitor (16:10) with a scanning frequency range of 30–81kHz horizontally (digital and analog) and 56–75Hz vertically. Monitor response time is a slow 25ms, so if users do lots of wire frame model rotations, be prepared for display lag. Note that the wide aspect ratio may create some distortion with certain CAD/CAM applications unless the resolution and aspect ratio are adjusted. The LCD type is TFT/PVA, and the pixel pitch is 0.27mm. Native resolution for this display is 1920X1200@60Hz, brightness is 270 cd/m2 and contrast is rated at 500:1.
The Samsung SyncMaster 243T features six buttons at the bottom of the front bezel, accompanied by a small LED power indicator. These buttons include Auto (for automatic sizing), Exit/Source, +/- (for controlling the menu system), menu and a power toggle. The on-screen menu system is straightforward and fairly easy to use.
Grays are fairly neutral on the SyncMaster 243T, and color is good. Magenta is a bit overly bright, but this is not significant enough to warrant a deduction. Brightness, contrast and geometry are all excellent, and there was no indication of ghosting.
As I previously noted in a First Look on this monitor (October 2004), the panel suffered from a moderate amount of wiggle, particularly in portrait mode, although it was apparent in landscape mode as well. The LCD panel is large, so a pivot mount will almost certainly result in some instability. I'd recommend positioning the 243T where vibrations from the environment are largely dampened. My office has a hardwood floor, and vibrations from someone walking, for example, were easily transmitted to the LCD panel. The SyncMaster 243T includes Pivot Pro rotation software and a driver CD, as well as digital and analog cables. No USB connectors are built into the SyncMaster 243T, nor are there integrated speakers.
Cadalyst Labs Grade: A
The ViewSonic VP201b is a 20.1" active-matrix TFT (IPS) display with a 4:3 aspect ratio. Carrying an estimated street price of $849, the VP201b offers a native resolution of 1600X1200@75Hz and can also accommodate resolutions of 1280X1024 and 1024X768. Response time for the VP201b is an average 16ms—falling in the middle of this particular roundup.
With the ViewSonic VP201b, you can work by day and watch high-definition TV by night.
Display particulars for the ViewSonic VP201b include a vendor-rated brightness of 250 cd/m2 and a contrast rating of 400:1. The VP201b has a 0.25mm pixel pitch and horizontal and vertical viewing angles of some 176°. Horizontal sync range is 30–95kHz and vertical sync range is 50–85Hz. Power consumption typically runs 70 watts.
Connections on the ViewSonic VP201b include standard D-sub and DVI-I as well as an integrated USB 2.x hub. Overall dimensions are 17.6" X 18.9" X 10.5" (hXwXd), with a 2.8"-thick display panel. Total weight, with the stand, is only 18.7lb.
Monitor controls consist of five small buttons on the bottom center of the front bezel. I found the black buttons on the black monitor housing particularly difficult to both locate and decipher. The on-screen menu is good.
On the test bench, the ViewSonic VP201b showed generally clear colors, with a red that appeared slightly orange, although not so much so that it resulted in a deduction. Grays were warm, but not unduly so. Some slight banding was visible on continuous gradients, but this was not extreme. All in all, this is a very attractive monitor with an appealing display.
The monitor pivots from landscape (horizontal) to portrait (vertical). The pivot mechanism, in conjunction with a very stable Y-shaped base, provides stability without wiggling even when rotated. Standard VESA wall-mount capabilities are provided. With its ultra-slim 0.71" bezel and relatively thin panel, the ViewSonic VP201b monitor is ideal for multiple-panel configurations and displays. The VP201b is HDTV-720p ready.
Accessories include a Video Processor (TV Tuner Module) that turns the VP201b display into a high-resolution TV and can be used to hook up extras such as a DVD, gaming console and digital camera. Warranty coverage is three years for parts, labor and backlight. Highly Recommended.
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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.