Thin Is In (Cadalyst Labs Review)31 Mar, 2008 By: Ron LaFon
They're thinner, sleeker, and more responsive than ever. A look at the newest large LCD monitors.
A large monitor is a natural choice for CAD and graphics work — its larger resolution boasts higher pixel counts so that it's easier for users to see what they're doing. It's also easier to work on models without having to constantly zoom, pan, and reposition. This roundup review looks at new displays from Lenovo, NEC Display Technologies, and ViewSonic.
For this year's large LCD monitor roundup, Cadalyst sent invitations to vendors requesting the latest flat-panel LCD monitors with a minimum 20" diagonal viewable screen area with at least 1,280 x 1,024 resolution. Only three vendors sent displays. This response almost certainly reflects vendors' announcement schedules rather than a decrease in the number of available new large monitors. Indeed, just as this article was being published, Cadalyst received announcements for a variety of new displays, including a 30" display from NEC. Suffice it to say, a wide range of flat-panel displays are available today, evenly split between the more conventional 4:3 aspect ratio and the wider 16:10 aspect ratio. Monitors in this particular roundup review ranged in price from $449 to $1,199.99.
In the past, flat-panel displays for CAD and digital-content creation (DCC) suffered from relatively slow response times that manifested themselves as visual stutter or ghosting as the monitor struggled to keep up with the speed of an intricate object being displayed on the screen. The good news is that response times of the monitors included in this roundup are significantly faster, lessening (if not eliminating) previous display problems. Typical response times for the older CRT displays were in the range of 1–3 ms. The LCD panels in this roundup ranged from 2 ms to 8 ms gray-to-gray, which is a great improvement that obviously still leaves room for growth.
Large LCD Monitors Report Card
Many users still find CRT displays better suited to their needs, both in response time and color fidelity. But the availability of CRT displays is steadily growing slimmer. On the other hand, LCD monitor vendors are beginning to show more innovation as they strive to distinguish their products from those of others. A number of niceties are showing up in today's LCD displays, and the ability to display content-protected high-definition (HD) media (along with the associated cable) is beginning to be incorporated into the products.
In this current roundup, ViewSonic offers the first monitor I've seen with a dynamic contrast rating of 3000:1. Features such as these, in combination with faster response times, are making their way into more moderately priced displays — a definite advantage for end users who are looking for large, high-quality displays at good prices.
For this roundup review, I used the new DisplayMate Multimedia Edition on USB display testing, adjustment, and calibration utility (see the "A Rule of Thumb to Test Monitors" sidebar, p. 20) 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, such as the displays covered in this article. During the course of testing, I also evaluated the on-screen menu (OSM), the general functionality of the available controls, and the connectivity options. I examined a suite of digital photographs on each display, and although these latter results cannot be quantified easily, this evaluation proved very useful — particularly because many design professionals find themselves working with either photographs or visualizations in their daily work.
After testing, the LCD displays were rated based on several factors, each of which was weighted according to its importance: image quality (6x), price (4x), connectivity (2x), image controls (2x), and warranty (1x).
For this roundup, all tests were driven by an NVIDIA Quadro FX 1700 graphics card with 512 MB of onboard GDDR3 memory. All tests were completed with NVIDIA drivers v.22.214.171.12452 (7/20/2007). The test system was a new HP xw4600 workstation that Cadalyst Labs already had in house.
Evaluating the Products
Each LCD monitor model is designed with a rated resolution sweet spot for which the display is optimized. Although other resolutions typically can be used (most often by scaling the original image), the best results are achieved at the rated, or native, resolution. Using a lower resolution tends to result in a display that is somewhat granular in appearance. I looked at each of the LCD monitors in this roundup in several different modes, including the default, or optimal, resolution and color depth. For more information about the features of the products in this review, see www.cadalyst.com/0408LCDtable.
As with Cadalyst's 2007 monitor roundup, display quality was consistently very high, which made my evaluation even more difficult. Certain things stood out — having fewer than the usual connectivity options, for example, or a warranty that went well beyond the norm. With this high level of overall quality, slight flaws have a way of getting magnified in the final tally. A one-quarter-point deduction in one area, for example, might be a determining factor — or it might get balanced by another factor that might be less apparent at the time of testing.
Pricing can also be a determining factor that results in an otherwise excellent monitor getting less-than-top-notch ratings. If I feel that the pricing for a particular monitor is out of line with other comparable displays, I make a deduction that, like the previous example, could be amplified due to the weighted nature of the categories evalu- ated in the report card. Due to the inherently higher cost of larger LCD displays, pricing considerations are given, but even then pricing can be difficult to evaluate.
In general, the display quality varied little from display to display, with the overall level being very high. If I felt that a display was particularly remarkable, then I awarded it an A+ grade for display quality. Otherwise, at least an A grade was awarded. Factors such as warranty and pricing tended to vary more than display quality. Based on the weighted grading system, any display with a grade point average of 9.0 or higher was given a Highly Recommended rating.
Flat-panel LCDs get better every year, with faster response times and increasing contrast and brightness ranges. If you're in the market for an LCD display, you have a lot of high-quality options, whatever your evaluation criteria might be. In the near future, I expect to see more displays with a greater color gamut and even better image fidelity, but the displays covered in this roundup are more than satisfying.
The Lenovo ThinkVision L220x is a 22" 16:10 wide-aspect-ratio display that uses an active matrix, thin-film transistor (TFT) display that incorporates vertical-alignment (VA) panel technology. The L220x has a native resolution of 1,920 x 1,200 (WUXGA) and a dot pitch of 0.247 mm. Lenovo notes that it was the first to market a 22" wide-panel LCD display with this resolution. The panel is relatively thin at 1.75" and features both horizontal and vertical vendor-rated viewing angles of 178°. Response time is a relatively speedy 6 ms.
Lenovo's affordable ThinkVision L220x display provides excellent contrast and good brightness, focus, convergence, geometric distortion, and raster rotation.
The ThinkVision L220x has a brightness rating of 325 cd/m2 and a contrast rating of 1,200:1. The display has a horizontal sync range of 30–94 kHz with a vertical sync range of 50–75 Hz, and it uses 90 W of energy when in operation. The physical size of the L220x is 14.9" high at the minimum lift (19.2" at the maximum lift) x 20.1" wide x 10.8" deep, and it weighs 16.9 lbs. The mounting proved to be stable at all the tested extensions and allowed the panel to pivot between portrait (vertical) and landscape (horizontal) mode. The stand detaches to allow the panel to be mounted on a standard VESA wall mount.
Connectivity options include both analog and digital interfaces, with 15-pin D-sub and DVI-D connectors. A USB 2.0x hub is incorporated into the Lenovo ThinkVision L220x and is located on the back of the panel with the cable connections. It has one downstream and two upstream connectors. Speakers aren't integrated into the panel, but a soundbar is available as an option.
The monitor has a standard range of image controls with accesses via five wave-shaped buttons at the bottom right of the front bezel. The buttons stand out and are relatively easy to see, although the function indicators printed on the bezel are difficult to read. The simple OSM is adequate, but the monitor is best controlled by the included Soft OSM software that lets users adjust monitor settings with the mouse cursor. With the controls being somewhat difficult to identify, it's all too easy to inadvertently power down the monitor.
I ran the Lenovo ThinkVision L220x through its paces using DisplayMate Multimedia Edition on USB to test a wide range of display characteristics. The brightness, focus, convergence, geometric distortion, and raster rotation tests all resulted in A scores, with the contrast component receiving an excellent A+. I gave color purity an A, although the yellows were slightly dull and the greens overly saturated. The grays were very neutral, and the grayscale ramps were clean and relatively stepless. No flicker or ghosting was evident at any point during testing, and 6.8 point (9 pixel) text was just readable on double-spread, side-by-side pages. The displayed image is pleasing and should be easy to live with over time.
The ThinkVision L220x monitor is priced at $499, a very good price for a display of this size and quality, earning it an A+ in the pricing evaluation. The warranty is a fairly standard three years for labor, parts, and the display backlight. For additional information about this and other Lenovo displays, visit the company's Web site at www.lenovo.com. Highly Recommended.
NEC Display Solutions
NEC Display Solutions has been producing displays — including the MultiSync LCD 2690WUXi model it sent for review — for a very long time. The MultiSync LCD2690WUXi is a 25.5" 16:10 wide-aspect-ratio display that has a native resolution of 1,920 x 1,200 at 60 Hz and a dot pitch of 0.287 mm. Its response time is 16 ms or 8 ms gray-to-gray. This newly introduced display qualifies as a Windows Vista Premium monitor, and it's positioned in NEC's high-end professional line.
NEC's MultiSync LCD2690WUXi features X-Light Pro, which uses the display's internal luminance and color sensor to achieve a consistent light-output level.
The LCD2690WUXi is compatible with both of NEC's display-calibration software packages — SpectraView II and GammaComp MD — which are sold separately. Special features of this display include HDCP (high-bandwidth digital content protection) and X-Light Pro, which uses the display's internal luminance and color sensor to achieve a consistent light-output level for the useful lifetime of the display. The LCD2690WUXi has a 92% gamut versus NTSC, with 93.4% coverage of the Adobe color triangle and 87.8% coverage of the NTSC color triangle.
The MultiSync LCD2690WUXi has a vendor-rated brightness of 400 cd/m2 and a contrast rating of 800:1. The display has a horizontal sync range of 31.5–93.8 kHz for analog and 119.2 kHz for digital with a vertical sync range of 50–85 Hz. It uses 111 W in operation. The LCD2690WUXi has a Vacation power switch on the back that completely powers down the display and disables the front power toggle switch. The panel itself is 4" deep, and the overall measurements for the LCD2690WUXi monitor are 23.2" x 17.5–23.4" x 12" with the stand and 23.2" x 15.1" x 4.1" without it. The unit weighs 28.9 lbs with the stand and 21.4 lbs by itself. The stand pivots smoothly between portrait (vertical) and landscape (horizontal) modes and supports the panel without wiggle at all extensions — no small feat for a panel this large. Both 100 mm x 100 mm and 200 mm x 100 mm wall-mount options are supported.
Both digital and analog interfaces are supported on the NEC MultiSync LCD2690WUXi, with VGA, DVI-D, DVI-I, VGA 15-pin D-Sub, and HDCP via DVI-D input supported. The monitor does not incorporate a USB hub of any sort, nor does it integrate speakers, although a soundbar is available as an optional accessory.
The LCD2690WUXi offers the normal range of image controls found on most LCD monitors with the addition of 93.4% RGB color adjustments and the NEC no-touch auto-adjust feature. Controls are accessed by an array of buttons and bars along the bottom right of the bezel that extend up the right side of the display. These buttons consist of a power toggle with blue LED, input, menu, left/right bar, up/down bar, and reset button. The control buttons are black on black but still easy to locate even if the functions aren't readily apparent. Touch any button, however, and all the button functions appear on the screen next to each button, which is an excel- lent way to handle this ability. The OSM is excellent, well designed, and easily navigated with an extensive array of available functions.
On the test bench, the LCD2690WUXi performed admirably, receiving an A+ for color purity and A scores for all other display characteristics. This display is a little expensive, even for a panel of this size, which resulted in it receiving an A– for pricing. The outstanding four-year warranty for parts, labor, and the display backlight earned the NEC display another A+. Grays were neutral to slightly warm with clean grayscale ramps, and it showed no sign of any flicker or ghosting. Colors were vivid, saturated, and spot on.
For additional information about the NEC MultiSync LCD2690WUXi, visit the company's Web site at www.necdisplay.com. Highly Recommended.
ViewSonic's three-bird logo has adorned a wide range of quality displays, including the 16:10 wide-aspect-ratio professional-grade LCD VP2250wb monitor that the company submitted for this year's Cadalyst roundup. Based on a 22" (21.6" viewable area), 2.6"-deep color active matrix panel that features 106% NTSC color capability, the VP2250wb has a native resolution of 1,680 x 1,050 with a dot pitch of 0.276 mm. The response time is a very speedy 2 ms, well within the 1–3 ms response range typical of faster CRT displays.
ViewSonic's VP2250wb display has a full complement of controls and comes with PerfectSuite Plus professional-grade LCD control software for color calibration, asset management, theft deterrence, and auto screen rotation.
The vendor-rated brightness of the ViewSonic VP2250wb was 300 cd/m2 . The display featured a remarkable 3000:1 dynamic contrast range, which provides darker black levels and overall display crispness. The viewing angles, both horizontal and vertical, are rated at 170°, which can result in a little visual darkening at the edge of the screen for off-axis viewing. But this is not a problem if the user is centered in front of the display. The stand offers extensive adjustments, including height, tilt, 120° swivel, and pivot. The stand quickly detaches for the VESA wall-mount option. The stand was stable throughout its range, with no wiggle even at the most extended settings.
Using an energy-thrifty 50 W in operation, the ViewSonic VP2250wb has a vendor-rated horizontal sync range of 24–92 kHz and a vertical sync range of 50–85 Hz. The physical size of the VP2250wb is 20.1" x 15.3" x 12.2", including the stand, and the entire mechanism weighs 16.1 lbs.
The ViewSonic VP2250wb supports both analog and digital connections, with 15-pin mini D-Sub and DVI-I connectors. The inputs are HDCP compatible, and the display is certified for Windows Vista. The display includes a USB 2.x hub with four connections on the back of the panel near the cable connections. The VP2250wb does not have integrated speakers.
The VP2250wb has a full complement of display controls, and the display comes with PerfectSuite Plus professional-grade LCD control software that features color calibration, asset management, theft deterrence, and auto screen rotation. Display controls are accessed by five black buttons located at the bottom center of the front bezel and include a multicolor LED power indicator to indicate the current state of the display. The OSM is easy to use and navigate.
On the test bench, the ViewSonic did well, earning As for brightness, contrast, focus, convergence, geometric distortion, and raster rotation. The display also earned an A for color purity — the reds were a bit on the orange side, and the yellows were a bit dull, but other colors were excellent and the color balance was not sufficient to warrant a deduction of any kind. Overall, the displayed image was pleasing with excellent contrast. Grays were clean and neutral, with clean and step-free grayscale ramps, and there was no evidence of any flicker or ghosting during any of the extensive display tests that we ran.
At $449, the ViewSonic VP2250wb is the least expensive display in this roundup. That distinction earned it an A+ for pricing. The display is covered by a fairly standard three-year warranty on parts, labor, and the display backlight. For more information about the VP2250wb and other ViewSonic displays, visit the company's Web site at www.viewsonic.com. Highly Recommended.
A Rule of Thumb to Test Monitors
DisplayMate testing, adjustment, and calibration utility evaluates display quality.
DisplayMate Multimedia Edition on USB Drive
I would be at a loss without the excellent display testing, adjustment, and calibration utility called DisplayMate, which I used to test all the monitors that come through Cadalyst Labs for this roundup. Just before I began testing displays for this article, I received a note from DisplayMate President Ray Soneira telling me about the company's latest innovation — DisplayMate on USB drives. Of course, I wanted to have a look.
DisplayMate is now available in three different editions on a USB thumb drive, each of which runs without copying or writing any files to the host PC.
There are three DisplayMate editions available on USB drives: the basic DisplayMate for Windows, the more advanced DisplayMate for Windows Video Edition, and the comprehensive DisplayMate Multimedia Edition. All three versions support automatic launch under Windows XP and Vista and require only a click to launch under Windows ME and Windows 2000. There is no installation procedure, and nothing is copied or written to any drive on the host PC. I looked at the Multimedia Edition, which I used to evaluate the monitors.
DisplayMate Multimedia Edition offers a number of new features as well as numerous innovative suites of proprietary DisplayMate test patterns. You can calibrate, evaluate, and test CRT, analog and digital LCD, plasma, Digital Light Processing (DLP), and liquid crystal on silicon (LCoS) monitors and projectors, as well as microdisplays, video boards, color printers, TVs and HDTVs, and NTSC/PAL television encoders and decoders (in short, just about anything with a display screen). In addition to its clean Windows user interface, DisplayMate Multimedia Edition also has a Command Script processor that lets users run and produce fully automated demos and custom test suites.
A premier test suite for both home and professional use, DisplayMate has always been a superb and effective tool. The new DisplayMate USB version is even easier to use and is particularly useful for technicians evaluating a customer's PC or for IT departments that need to support a large number of PCs.
DisplayMate Multimedia Edition on USB drive is available for $495, and the USB drive versions of DisplayMate for Windows and DisplayMate for Windows Video Edition are available for $79 and $99, respectively. For more information about the DisplayMate family of products, visit www.displaymate.com, where you'll also find a wealth of information pertaining to testing and evaluating displays. Highly Recommended.
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