GCN LAB REVIEW

LCD monitors continue to break new ground

Computers aren’t much good to humans if they don’t have some type of display. Unless a box is going to be a simple number-crunching machine, a cog in a cobbled supercomputer or a backroom file server, you’ll need a monitor. That’s why the GCN Lab rounds up the top displays on the market at least once every year, comparing them head to head so you can get the best one for your agency or personal desktop.

Having conducted these reviews for more than a decade, it becomes easy to spot trends. The most obvious one came as CRTs shifted to LCDs, a sometimes rocky road. Then LCDs started to grow from tiny 14-inch models until 19-inch and 21-inch panels became the standard. Another leap happened when companies tried to push even bigger. Relieved of the bulky weight of a CRT, most vendors found they could go into the 24-inch and larger range and still be lighter than an old CRT half that size. And the default configuration changed as well, from 4-by-3 ratio full screens to 16-by-9 ratio widescreens.

What we call the quality revolution followed, although it happened more slowly than the rate at which panels grew in size. It took a while for a 24-inch LCD to have the same image quality as a 19-inch. That trend started three years ago and fully arrived last year. Image quality is no longer a reason not to buy a larger monitor, especially now with prices dropping.

With LCDs achieving this level of quality, we worried that this year’s roundup would be too similar to last year’s. But new trends have again surfaced. In addition to most monitors adding sound-carrying HDMI ports to the standard DVI offering — a few have dropped analog all together — some companies have started to specialize LCDs for specific uses. This year, we have LCDs that are designed to be environmentally friendly, others that can perform double duty as HDTVs, and one that was made in collaboration with Dreamworks Studios to mimic all the good properties of a CRT in terms of perfect color matching for graphic designers.

Also, a few monitors have added something totally new to the mix, LEDs. In those monitors, the more traditional compact fluorescent tubes sitting behind LCD monitors have been replaced with tiny LED lights. They give much more precise control over light levels because if you want to replicate black on a screen, you can dim or even shut off the LEDs in that area, something you can’t do with long tubes of fluorescent light. One monitor even went a step further and used colored LEDs for even greater image quality control.

There is an LCD for everyone. It’s just a matter of needs versus price.

This year, we received monitors from Acer, AOC, Dell, Eizo Nanao, Hewlett-Packard, Samsung and ViewSonic. We tested them for image quality and color accuracy by using a variety of internal GCN Lab visual benchmarks in addition to the DisplayMate Professional video testing suite from DisplayMate Technologies. Those results were the biggest part of an LCD’s grade and went into the Image Quality score. Color accuracy also was important, because your reds need to look red. Extra features, which really blossomed this year with innovative system menu settings, HDMI inputs and specialized application uses went into the Features grade. Finally, we calculated Value based on how well the monitor performed in all other areas relative to not only its price but also the price of the other LCDs in the review.

Sony was invited to participate in the review but declined. NEC is between models and could not be in this year’s roundup. And Mitsubishi has gotten out of the desktop LCD market altogether in favor of large — greater than 42 inch — panels.

Acer H235H: Ready for double duty as an HDTV or video display

The claim to fame for almost all Acer monitors is their Value score. You get a lot of monitor for not a lot of cash. And on that point, the H235H could be the flagship. Although it doesn’t perform as well in terms of image quality as most of the others in this review, it also isn’t horrible in any one area. And given that you can buy ten H235Hs for the cost of one of some of the others featured here, it might make a great entry-level LCD for agencies that still haven’t kicked their CRTs to the curb or whose users don’t require extremely precise color matching and image display.

The H235H is a 23-inch widescreen display with a .256-mm pixel pitch. In fact, it really shined in our single-pixel display test, with a perfect score.

When you look at how the H235H scored on tests overall, its pretty obvious that the monitor is primed to perform double duty as an HDTV or video display. It did well showing light images on a dark background, which is important for movie watching. And although its colors weren’t always perfectly accurate, it tended to err on the side of being a little too blue and red, which again, are most important for video display.

It was one of the only monitors to achieve a perfect score in the color registration testing, which is used to show how well a monitor can show fine, moving details of a video. The 2-ms response time — the time it takes a monitor to respond to signal changes — doesn’t hurt it in this area either.

In terms of inputs, the most telling is the HDMI port, which could be used to carry video into the monitor and sound to the 1.5-watt internal speakers through a single cable. There also is a DVI port — used for testing — and an analog input in case the H235H is upgrading a lower-end system.

The display was able to show 215 lumens in the middle of a white image and 203 lumens in the corners of the screen. Given that it takes 100 lumens for the naked eye to notice any difference, you can expect solid, homogeneous images from the H235H. The one problem is that there is noticeable light bleeding in from the top and bottom of the screen, which will spoil especially dark images that bump up against those areas.

The biggest flaw with the H235H was its below-average text display. Although adequate, it was by far the worst in the review. Text looks fine at 9-point size, but flaws become evident at any smaller size. That probably won’t matter to most people typing word-processing documents because 12-point is the default most people work with, but it might come into play if you do a lot of work with fine print.

For $240, the H235H is a great monitor. It has no crippling flaws and is good or at least adequate in every area. There are much better quality displays in this review, but you are going to pay a lot more for them when, for most users, the H235H would be a real joy to have on their desktop.

Pros: Perfect color registration for video, good blues, very inexpensive.

Cons: Below average text display quality, some light bleeding at top and bottom of display.

Image Quality: B+
Color Accuracy: B+
Text Display: C
Features: A-
Value: A+
Price: $240

Acer, www.acer.com/us

AOC 2436Vw: Inexpensive monitor covers the bases

The AOC 2436Vw is an inexpensive 23-inch LCD that, although not great in any single area, is probably good enough for most office workers who would be happy to have an LCD on their desktop.

The 2436Vw has very accurate colors. Red in particular is spot on. The only color that is a little off is white, which comes out grayish on the screen.

This LCD also is extremely good when displaying very dark images over black backgrounds. It was among the best in the review at this task. Couple that with some high scores for color registration, and you have a great monitor for watching videos. When we find a monitor that seems tuned for video, the blues often are highlighted over all others, and accuracy suffers. But that isn’t the case with the 2436Vw. It has all the qualities that would make it a good monitor for video but none of the flaws.

It was able to produce 220 lumens in the middle of a white image. The drop-off to the corners was 34 lumens, well under where the naked eye can notice any difference. There was some light bleeding that would affect dark images. The upper left part of the panel and the lower right were where the light bled through most.

Text display was average to good, with 9-point text showing perfectly. At smaller sizes, small flaws began to appear.

The 2436Vw is below average in displaying very light images, tending to wash them out a bit. That didn’t affect its low color saturation display too much, though, and the LCD could display an image that was only 4 percent different than a white background.

For inputs, there of course is an RGB analog port and a DVI. That’s about it for extra bells and whistles, though either should get the job done. We used the DVI port for our testing.

The 2436Vw is the most economical monitor in the review. It’s not a cutting-edge LCD, but it is totally functional. And at a price of about $215 online, there is no excuse for anyone in government to still have an eye-straining, energy-wasting, massive heat-producing CRT in the office.

Pros: Excellent price, good reds, good color registration.

Cons: Light bleed in upper left and lower right of screen, some light colors washed out.

Image Quality: B

Color Accuracy: A
Text Display: B
Features: B
Value: A+
Price: $215

AOC, www.aoc.com

Reviewers Choice

Dell UltraSharp U2711: Workhorse, 27-inch LCD delivers great details

The Dell UltraSharp U2711 is a huge 27-inch display that is extremely accurate in every area despite its large size. Large LCDs normally have some image problems, but the UltraSharp U2711 aced everything we threw at it.

The hardest thing for most LCDs to replicate is a solid gray field. Usually there is at least some distortion or lines that form in the image. The UltraSharp was the only monitor in the review that had no problems at all. Sitting in our test bed, the perfection of the U2711’s gray was in marked contrast to every other LCD. Even the most detailed images shouldn’t be a problem for this monitor.

It also blew away every other monitor in text display. The text display test is like a limbo contest. We display a paragraph of text in various fonts on various background colors and keep decreasing the size until the LCD starts to show some mistakes. One mistake and it is out. But the U2711 went all the way to the bottom, which is 6.8-point size text. Every tiny word on the huge screen was formed perfectly with no blending or line distortion. The U2711 would be a pleasure to work with if you stare at mostly text for hours on end.

Another strength of the U2711 was our color stepping test. For this, a 256-step grid is displayed with very subtle differences going from light to dark. Other than three steps at the end of the light side of the grid, each variation was well defined.

The only area in terms of color accuracy that was a little off was red display, which was a touch to the blue spectrum, making the image slightly purplish. When a monitor’s colors are off, we try to make adjustments to help bring it into alignment, but every other color, including blues, yellows and greens were fine. So we left it alone. Mixed in with other colors in images, you won’t notice it, but given that the U2711 had no other color flaw, we thought we would mention it.

Lumens were nearly equal throughout the display with 156 in the middle and 145 recorded on the edges. The top right corner was weaker than the others, with a 130 lumen rating. We suspect the backlight does not hit that one corner as much, or there might be some nonlight producing equipment there. But again, the difference is only 26 lumens from that corner to the center. With 100 lumens needed for the human eye to notice, it’s not a problem.

The U2711 was only average for color registration, so it’s not purposefully built to display video, though it would do an OK job with it.

The U2711 is a perfect workhorse that is exceedingly accurate in most areas and amazing with text display. We can’t see anyone not enjoying having this huge 27-inch monster on their desktop. And for just $1,049, that’s a lot of pixels for your buck. It earns our Reviewer’s Choice designation.

Pros: Perfect text display, only LCD in review with perfect gray display, good color accuracy.

Cons: Average color registration for video, red is skewed slightly purple.

Image Quality: A
Color Accuracy: A-
Text Display: A+
Features: A
Value: A
Price: $1,049

Reviewer’s Choice

Dell, www.dell.com

Eizo Nanao FlexScan S2433W: Great color for specialized apps

Eizo has always produced high-quality monitors that are a little more expensive than others, and the S2433W follows this pattern. Almost everything about this 24-inch widescreen LCD is impressive.

All colors displayed by the S2433W are accurate. In this area, it was almost as good as the Hewlett-Packard LCD, which was specifically made for that purpose. Reds are true. Blues are perfect. And greens, which often look a bit yellow on some displays, are beautifully rendered here.

The S2433W has a 1920 x 1200 native resolution, though images at other resolutions also looked good on the 1,000:1 contrast-ratio screen. It was perfect with low-saturation colors and did not wash out a pink image that was just 2 percent different from pure white when sitting against a white background. With most LCDs, the color difference has to reach about 6 percent before an image can be rendered successfully. That performance makes the S2433W perfect for medical applications, where a tiny difference in color quality can mean the difference between healthy and diseased tissue. And the fact that there is absolutely no light bleeding from any of the sides means it doesn’t matter where the image sits on the screen. The physical panel of the S2433W is extremely well made.

The S2433W was good with text display, too, with all letters accurate down to 7.5 points, close to the end of the scale in terms of text testing.

Images also are homogeneous throughout the entire screen in terms of light levels. The center of the S2433W we tested produced 226 lumens with a white background. The corners were at 199 lumens. The naked eye can't detect the amazingly small 27 lumen difference.

There is a little leaf that shows up on the screen when you change your settings that tells you how environmentally friendly the LCD is in terms of power consumption and heat generation. That is a nice touch, though its pretty much common sense that if you increase the brightness level you are going to suck in more power. There are also a digital and analog input, though I cringe to think of someone buying this high-quality display and then pairing it with an analog signal. That’s like driving a Ferrari in rush-hour traffic.

The one area where the S2433W didn’t shine was in color registration tests, which show suitability for video. It was mostly average here, so it would be adequate but not astounding when displaying a movie.

The S2433W is a very high-quality panel, but the price is also high. At $1,399, it’s a little too expensive for a 24-inch display.

Pros: Very accurate colors, no light bleeding anywhere on the panel, perfect with low-saturation color display.

Cons: Expensive, average color registration for video.

Image Quality: A
Color Accuracy: A
Text Display: A-
Features: B+
Value: B
Price: $1,399

Eizo Nanao Technologies, www.eizo.com

Reviewers Choice

HP Dreamcolor LP2480zx: Hollywood inspires most accurate LCD we’ve ever seen

In previous years, HP delivered solid, working-class LCDs to our yearly roundup. So this year, when it sent in the superstar Dreamcolor LP2480zx, we were blown away.

The story behind the 24-inch LP2480zx starts with DreamWorks SKG Studios. The studio was doing all its animation and film editing on CRTs, which, once warmed up, were extremely accurate in terms of color display. With the world moving to LCDs, that accuracy would be lost. DreamWorks compensated by buying thousands of CRTs, but even that stock began to run out in 2008. So the studio approached HP and asked them to create an LCD that had the color accuracy the motion picture studio required, and the LP2480zx was born. And darned if the company hasn’t created the most accurate LCD we’ve ever seen.

One of the secrets to the LP2480zx is that instead of using standard florescent tubes to provide backlight, they use LEDs, which can dim a picture in precise areas to create richer, deeper blacks.

But it goes beyond that. Instead of the standard white LEDs, the LP2480zx has red, blue and green ones. Those can combine to form extremely accurate backlit colors to complement what is being rendered on the screen. When you look at the color gamut that is possible with a CRT, the LP2480zx is actually richer, with 1 billion possible colors.

Making use of this, the LP2480zx comes with different color profiles, such as Adobe RGB for print publications, thereby giving users a true WYSIWYG layout tool. And you can tweak the color profiles to individual needs. User profiles are stored in flash memory that saves even if the monitor is unplugged. Plus, the persistent memory can be upgraded in case a patch is needed down the line to interface with a new graphics card.

The LP2480zx didn’t break a sweat with any test in either the GCN Lab’s internal or the DisplayMate Multimedia benchmarks. The LCD produced perfect colors that weren’t even a hair off their real-world counterparts. It also was perfect for low-saturation colors displayed on a white grid and deep, dark colors displayed over black.

We even ran some extra tests just to try to trip up the LP2480zx. In one, a 128-step color scale is displayed in a tunnel, with the darkest image sitting in the middle. This special four-fold color stepping tunnel is extremely difficult to render properly. Colors typically blend somewhere on the scale or get melted around one of the many corners. But not here. The LP2480zx displayed it perfectly.

And it also had perfect color registration, so it’s great for watching video, not a huge surprise in a monitor made originally for DreamWorks.

There were only two minor dings we could find with the LP2480zx. The first were some noticeable flaws when displaying a solid gray field. It was second best at this task, behind the other Reviewer’s Choice pick, the Dell UltraSharp U2711. And there was a stuck pixel in the matrix that stayed green. We mention that because it’s been years since we’ve seen a stuck pixel, though it could be attributed to our LP2480zx getting rough treatment inside the review pool.

Given that this is the most accurate LCD we’ve ever tested, we expected to see one of the highest prices, too. Although that was true, the $2,059 sticker price is more than worth it if you need what has to be one of the most accurate LCDs on the planet. It easily earns our Reviewer’s Choice designation.

Pros: Most accurate colors ever in Lab tests for LCDs, no light bleeding, perfect with dark and light images.

Cons: Expensive, recorded one stuck pixel on screen.

Image Quality: A+
Color Accuracy: A+
Text Display: A-
Features: A
Value: A-
Price: $2,059

Reviewer’s Choice

Hewlett-Packard, www.hp.com

SyncMaster XL2370: Lightweight panel puts the future of backlighting on display

The SyncMaster XL2370 is a fine example of what future LCDs will probably be. It uses LEDs instead of florescent tubes for backlighting. As such, the 23-inch monitor is ridiculously light at just 7.9 pounds. And it’s thin, too — less than an inch at the panel. You can literally lift it with two fingers.

There are a lot of inputs, so you can use this go-anywhere LCD almost any possible way. It has DVI, RGB and HDMI ports.

It sits on a little see-through stand that looks futuristic, though it only tilts, so you can’t adjust the height. The XL2370 might sit a little low on some desktops.

In our image tests, it was one of the only LCDs to have a nearly perfect black. That was not surprising, given that it could lower the brightness level of the LEDs to help complement dark image rendering. With good darks, the XL2370 would make a fine display for videos. Hooking this one up to a Blu-ray player, especially through an HDMI cable, would look amazing. It got a nearly perfect score on the color registration test, so even quick-moving images would be rendered well. Also, there is no light bleed anywhere on the panel.

It had a couple of problems with color accuracy. Although images looked good when dark, very light images tended to wash out. For example, when looking at a 256-step color grid, the dark end was perfect, but the last few bars at the light end blended into a single color. Looking at solid colors and matching them to their real-world counterparts, we found that reds and blues were just about perfect, but greens and yellows were off slightly. It also had a lot of trouble displaying a purely gray field; it was among the worst in that test.

But the images were almost completely equal in terms of light levels. In the middle of the screen, we recorded 285 lumens against a white background. In the corners, we registered 272. With less than a 20-lumen difference, every image will be balanced.

With a $349 price tag, this one would be hard to pass up for any application other than ones in which very subtle color accuracy matters. But as a wafer-thin desktop display or kick-butt video monitor, the XL2370 is a winner and a fine example of the next generation of LCD technology. Its cheap price tag is a bit of a miracle in itself.

Pros: Thin and light, perfect black, near-perfect color registration for video.

Cons: Slight washout of lighter colors, gray is a little bit off.

Image Quality: A-
Color Accuracy: B+
Text Display: A
Features: A+
Value: A+
Price: $349

Samsung, www.samsung.com/business

SyncMaster P2770HD: Large LCD can handle office tasks

The SyncMaster P2770HD is a 27-inch LCD that performs well in most areas related to business and government tasks. And its price tag is $449, which is good, considering its size.

Colors were mostly accurate, with only slight shifts here and there, but nothing that really stood out. Most colors displayed on screen were within 5 percent of their real-world counterparts.

Although this is a traditional LCD, not one using LED backlighting like the SyncMaster XL2370, it was able to produce good dark colors and a fine black. It was less accurate with low-saturation colors but still very good with images that were only 4 percent different from pure while being displayed well over a white background without washing out.

It was nice to find a large LCD with a lot of inputs — because the larger the screen, the more possible uses it has. The P2770HD has analog RGB, DVI, HDMI, component and digital TV ports. It also has a DTV Tuner, an optical out port and a headphone jack. We couldn’t think of an application that wouldn’t connect into this jack-of-all-trades large screen.

For some reason, the P2770HD had more trouble with text display than other 27-inch panels in this review. It was able to properly show text down to 9-point size, which is pretty good but not as good as some others reviewed here.

The P2770HD we tested also had light-bleeding problems at the top and bottom of the monitor’s fame. Those issues were slight but noticeable when looking at dark screens.

The center of the screen produced an image with 244 lumens in the middle, which was very bright for this review, and only dropped off to 216 lumens in the corner, not even close to where the naked eye could tell the difference.

The P2770HD is a good LCD at a nice price. If you need to run your monitor with multiple sources or need one that can connect to almost anything, it makes it even more attractive. Paying $449 for this 27-inch LCD is a good deal.

Pros: Good black, accurate colors, large 27-inch display.

Cons: Slightly below average text display, light bleeding problems at the top and bottom.

Image Quality: A-
Color Accuracy: A-
Text Display: B-
Features: A
Value: A-
Price: $449

Samsung, www.samsung.com/business

Reviewers Choice

ViewSonic VP2365wb: In-plane Switching gets the most out of images

When we unpacked the VP2365wb, we didn’t think it was anything special. It was only 23-inches and didn’t seem to have the bells and whistles of other monitors in this review. However, when we started testing for color accuracy and image quality, something funny happened. The VP2365wb started doing almost as well as the expensive LCDs.

The key to the VP2365wb’s performance is that it’s an In-plane Switching (IPS) display. Although not the quantum leap that LED backlighting brings to monitors, IPS technology can eek out some amazing images compared to standard TFT panels. In a nutshell, an IPS display lines up liquid crystals in a horizontal direction by applying an electrical field to both ends. That makes for much more vivid and — in the case of the VP2365wb — more accurate image display. The downside is that this requires two transistors for each pixel instead of one, so the monitor consumes more energy. Also, IPS requires a much stronger backlight, which the VP2365wb thankfully has.

The VP2365wb really shined in our image tests. It could easily replicate a series of single-pixel dots and was likewise extremely accurate with very fine details in images.

Despite the powerful backlight, the IPS technology is able to block most of it when needed. The VP2365wb produces very good dark colors and also can display extremely light images over bright backgrounds. The VP2365wb didn’t have to give up either end of the spectrum to display both well. For low-saturation colors, even a 2 percent difference between a color and a white background was easily noticeable.

Text looked good and was readable down to 7.5 points.

The opposite of text display in most cases — video display — was likewise good on the VP2365wb. It was nearly perfect in red/green color registration tests and only slightly worse with blue/red. Videos would look great shown on the screen.

The VP2365wb meets the challenge of needing extra backlight. It produced a 256-lumen image in the middle of its screen, which was very bright. And it only dropped to 222 in the corners, well under the range where the human eye can tell any difference.

The only negative we found wasn’t with the display at all. There is a retina-burning power indicator on the front of the screen. The bright blue LED is far too bright for its own good and draws your eye in a bad way in a dark or dimmed setting. Thankfully, a small piece of black tape can fix that problem.

The VP2365wb earns our final Reviewer’s Choice designation for this review. It’s an inexpensive monitor that shows how a standard backlit display can perform miracles using IPS technology. If you don’t need a huge mega-monitor, the 23-inch VP2365wb will fit into any office setting and would be good even for detailed work, such as graphic design. For that, it’s more than worth the $379 price.

Pros: IPS display squeezes more detail out of existing backlight technology, accurate colors, good text display, great price.

Cons: Annoyingly powerful power LED shines in front panel.

Image Quality: A
Color Accuracy: A
Text Display: A-v Features: A
Value: A
Price: $379

Reviewer’s Choice

ViewSonic, www.viewsonic.com

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

Reader Comments

Sun, Jul 4, 2010

Nice screen I got it for EUR 139 at mediamarkt.
One problem: switching between sources does not work well when 2 sources give signal....
Missing feature: usb hub function

Mon, Mar 1, 2010

"Although not the quantum leap that LED backlighting brings to monitors" That is a misinterpretation. With exactly same specs, I'd take LED monitor over non-LED monitor, but unfortunately LED is not a quantum leap. It doesn't improve the drawbacks of LCD technology. But it's easy to market as being something revolutionary. Not to be confused with future technology OLED.

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above