When is BIG too BIG?

How GCN Lab tested LCD monitors

What makes a good LCD monitor? Often it's in the eye of the beholder, but a little objectivity can help separate the good from the great.

For this review, the GCN Lab used an image-benchmarking suite from DisplayMate Technologies Corp. of Amherst, N.H. The suite generates specific, highly detailed images that pinpoint flaws in screen uniformity, white saturation, pixel consistency and white-point color temperature.

It takes nearly 20 individual steps to benchmark a monitor with DisplayMate. The lab simultaneously connected up to eight monitors at a time to a PC, using a video splitter and video card from Matrox Electronic Systems Ltd. of Dorval, Quebec. Some of the flaws we observed included unusual color tinting, image ghosting, image leaking, interlacing synchronization errors and moir' distortion'wavy, swirling lines that occur when displaying hard-to-render images.

The comprehensive DisplayMate benchmark suite, which can be used to test LCD or DLP projectors, plasma and CRT monitors, or even color printers, costs between $69 and $795, depending on your specific needs.
Visit www.displaymate.com for more information.

SyncMaster 213T

With LCD prices dropping and quality improving, the CRT may soon be like the record player: a groovy reminder of the past but far outpaced by modern technology.
Just about every company that sells PCs offers either a free LCD with desktop purchase or a sweet deal on an upgrade. But these are normally the 15-inch or 17-inch variety. Both sizes are nice for an LCD, but with modern software giving users the option to configure their desktops in efficient panel views, more inches means more productivity. And in terms of cubicle real estate, you can fit a 20-inch or larger LCD into a relatively small space thanks to compact footprints, whereas a similarly sized CRT would require the bulk of your desk to hold the display.


What we found

The GCN Lab looked at nine large LCD monitors measuring 20 inches or more. We tested each monitor using the comprehensive DisplayMate benchmark tests (see sidebar) and evaluated their value.

Interestingly, there remains something of a gulf between 'small-big' LCDs (20 or 21 inches) and 'big-big' LCDs (23 inches). Perhaps the most obvious difference is price. You could drop $500 or $600 more on the larger monitors. But we also found that display quality is noticeably better in the 20- and 21-inch models. Our two fa- vorite monitors'the LG Electronics Flatron L2013P and Samsung SyncMaster 213T'measured 20.1 inches and 21 inches, respectively, but offered the best image quality of the bunch.

We don't expect things to stay this way. As vendors get better at building larger models, quality on the ultra-high-end will improve. For now, though, consider the cost and how you'll use an LCD monitor before choosing among these big displays.


Hewlett-Packard L2335

Pros: Accurate color, large format monitor

Cons: Some light pollution near screen edge























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Overall Grade: B
Performance B
Features: B
Value: B


The $1,399 Hewlett-Packard L2335 is one of the new generation of wide-angle displays. When the monitor is sitting horizontally, the screen has an aspect ratio of 16 by 9, which is good for movies. But the 23-inch screen can also be used to position panels of information with room to spare. You can have your word processor on one side of the LCD and your source material, such as online research, on the other side. Even then you could have room for an instant messaging or videoconferencing window.

In our display tests, the HP L2335 performed average. It was able to produce a nearly perfect gray screen, which is difficult for any LCD to pull off. And it successfully rendered light colors against a black background. This detailed rendering helped make on-screen text easily readable, especially against a dark background.

The biggest problem with the HP L2335 was light pollution around the edges of the screen. The accurate color rendering tends to get a bit washed out at the corners and down the side, which is still fairly common among extra-large LCD monitors.

Among 23-inch-plus LCD monitors we've tested, the HP L2335 is the best deal. You get a lot for your money. But you might want to wait a bit before jumping to this size panel.
Hewlett-Packard Co., Palo Alto, Calif., 650-770-1501, www.hp.com


Lenovo ThinkVision L200p

Pros: All-around good benchmark performance

Cons: Orangey reds, squat nonadjustable stand























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Overall Grade: A-
Performance A-
Features: B
Value: A


The Lenovo, formerly IBM, ThinkVision L200p was the smallest monitor in the review with a traditional 4-by-3 aspect ratio and a 20-inch screen. Though the monitor will tilt forward and backward, you can't change the height, which could prove to be a disappointment in some work areas.

Performance-wise, the ThinkVision did quite well. It was one of only two monitors that could perfectly render gray. Text on the monitor was also very readable.

In fact, the ThinkVision is designed for use with text and enterprise applications. As such, it did not do as well when trying to render graphics and its reds were a bit orange. Still, it was in the top third overall in terms of benchmark performance, making it worth consideration.
As the least expensive monitor in the review at just $787 for government buyers, the ThinkVision would be perfect for switching over an office from CRTs to LCDs. You get good performance with few frills'a solid bang for your buck.

Lenovo Corp. Purchase, New York, 866-458-4465, www.lenovo.com.


LG Electronics Flatron L2013P

Pros: Excellent benchmark performance

Cons: Slight loss of color accuracy with light shades


























Reviewer's

Choice


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Overall Grade: A
Performance A
Features: A
Value: A


The Flatron L2013P is a 4-by-3 ratio, 20.1-inch display capable of astounding performance. It had no interlacing flicker, even when we tried to induce it. The monitor rendered images correctly and maintained them without any moir' distortion or swirling colors, even when rendering difficult images, such as multiple gray blocks.

Both the blues and reds seemed to pop off the screen. Even highly complex and difficult images, like a 64-step color tunnel, were no problem. The only minor issue we encountered with the Flatron was that light colors were slightly washed out.

The stand is well-made, capable of tilting and pivoting. Plus it can be adjusted for height. The power button lights up, so you know which button to press if your office is dark.
At $849, the Flatron is an affordable, high-quality LCD monitor. Based on our tests, its display quality is just a hair behind the top-rated Samsung SyncMaster 213T. As such, we highly recommend it.

LG Electronics, Englewood, Calif., 800-243-0000, www.lgusa.com


NEC MultiSync LCD 2070NX

Pros: Best controls in the review

Cons: Orangey reds, trouble rendering gray























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Overall Grade: B-
Performance C
Features: A-
Value: B+


The NEC MultiSync 2070NX is a large 20-inch display in a small package. The footprint of the monitor seems too small for the frame but is actually very sturdy. The stand also tilts forward and backward, though it won't pivot.

The monitor controls were the easiest to use. A tiny joystick sits on the front of the monitor between the other buttons. When you bring up a menu, you only have to tap the joystick up or down to make your selections.

The 2070NX did not perform well in display benchmarking, however. It rendered accurate blues and greens, but had a lot of moir' swirling when trying to render gray. Also the corners of lightly rendered images were consistently washed out. Finally, al- though some of the cooler colors, such as blue, looked great, it came at the expense of some of the warmer tones, such as red, which ended up looking too orange.

The 2070NX is the least expensive LCD we tested, at just $720 for government buyers. But in this company, unless you're a sucker for outstanding monitor controls, it's a case of getting what you pay for.

NEC Display Solutions Inc., Itasca, Ill., 866-632-6673, www.necdisplay.com


NEC MultiSync LCD 2180UX

Pros: Good greens, high resolution

Cons: Problems with sync lines, touch of red in white displays























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Overall Grade: C
Performance C-
Features: B
Value: C


The LCD 2180UX is the second entry from NEC and, with a 21-inch display, the larger of the two models. Its display quality was inferior to the smaller MultiSync LCD 2070NX. What's more, the innovative controls found on the smaller NEC are not part of the larger model.

To say the 2180UX excelled at producing greens is to try and find the silver lining It simply could not render accurate grays. Our test screens were light along the edges and dark in the middle, and were further marred by swirling distortion patterns. The 2180UX also didn't render light colors well, washing out entire blocks in our test pattern. And an obvious amount of red was mixed in when it was trying to display plain white. This helped it to create light pink colors ' when asked to ' but it hurt it elsewhere.

If all you're doing is working with text, the graphics flaws of the 2180UX might not bother you. But $1,351 off a GSA schedule is a lot to pay for a text display.

NEC Display Solutions Inc., Itasca, Ill., 866-632-6673, www.necdisplay.com


Samsung SyncMaster 213T

Pros: Best display performance in review, affordable

Cons: None significant


























Reviewer's

Choice


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Overall Grade: A
Performance A+
Features: A
Value: A


The SyncMaster 213T is a cut above the others in this review. It scored near perfectly on every display test we threw at it. And at $799, it is one of the cheapest monitors to boot.
The 21-inch display comes on a tilting and pivoting stand, and fits a very compact desk space. A single button auto calibrates the monitor when you're using an analog input, and a second input slot calibrates the monitor for use with digital video cards.

It rendered a rare perfect gray and also handled light images over both black and white backgrounds. Its reds were perfect'and not at the expense of greens or blues, which it also rendered flawlessly. There was no flicker when displaying interlacing images, and text was also crisp and easily readable.

If you don't need an LCD display larger than 21 inches in your office (and frankly the quality of larger displays doesn't yet match that of slightly smaller models), then the SyncMaster 213T is a perfect choice.

Samsung Electronics America Inc., Irvine, Calif., 800-726-7864, www.samsung.com


Samsung SyncMaster 243T

Pros: Good text display

Cons: Light pollution at corners, some color washout























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Overall Grade: B
Performance B
Features: A-
Value: B-


The $1,599 SyncMaster 243T is identical to its smaller cousin, but has a 24-inch display, the largest we tested.

Unfortunately, its display performance was not as good. Like the smaller model, the 243T produced a good gray, although it wasn't perfect. Also, it displayed a bit of light pollution at the edges of the screen, which was particularly evident when we were looking at dark images. Lighter images over both dark and white backgrounds were also a bit skewed.
Text, thankfully, was easy to read. Based on our experience with the SyncMaster line, we expect Samsung to improve upon its 24-inch LCD technology, but for now, there are better ultralarge display options.

Samsung Electronics America Inc., Irvine, Calif., 800-726-7864, www.samsung.com


Sharp IT-23M1U

Pros: Perfect for watching video, rich colors

Cons: Not ideal for daily work























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Overall Grade: B-
Performance B
Features: B-
Value: B-


Among the LCD monitors we tested, the Sharp IT-23M1U is a horse of a different breed. The IT-23M1U is primarily designed to display video, although it does a fair job as a computer monitor as well.

As a video-enhanced monitor, the IT-23M1U sports a 16-by-9 aspect ratio and a large 23-inch diagonal viewing area. It even comes with nice loudspeakers integrated into the stand.
The blues displayed on the screen were not only accurate, but also the best we've ever seen. Greens were also vivid. And the brightness levels, when configured to match the standard settings of other monitors in the review, were much brighter than others. If you spend a lot of time monitoring atmospheric conditions on your desktop, you'll notice the strengths of the Sharp display.

That said, some of the more detailed display tests appeared mostly washed out. Text was particularly difficult to read and there were some slight problems with interlace flicker. Most of this won't affect the monitor's ability to show video, but it would make the display less suitable for daily work.

If you need a combination TV/computer display for monitoring something like C-SPAN while occasionally working on documents, the Sharp IT-23M1U might be a good fit. And at $1,260 for government buyers it's affordable for a 23-inch monitor. Just think twice if most of your work is standard computer application fare.

Sharp Systems of America Corp., Huntington Beach, Calif., 800-237-4277, www.sharpsystems.com


ViewSonic VP231WB

Pros: Lightweight, good display performance for a large monitor

Cons: Pricey, dark at the edges























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Overall Grade: B
Performance B+
Features: B
Value: C+


Among 23-inch LCD monitors, the ViewSonic VP231WP had the opposite problem of others in the category. The other 23-inch LCDs we tested displayed washed-out images; the VP231WP was a bit too dark. But given a choice between washed out and dark, we'd take the VP231WP and its darker images.

Setting up the VP231WP was easy. The monitor's stand can pivot or tilt to your liking. And considering it had one of the largest screens we tested, we were pleased to find the VP231WP was the lightest unit of the whole bunch'regardless of screen size.
During testing, grays displayed reasonably well for a 23-inch monitor. Reds were also crisp and accurate. Text was a pleasure to read on-screen, even in tiny fonts and with various colored backgrounds.

The only real display flaw was that black backgrounds tended to overcome faintly rendered images at the corners of the screen and along the edges. In a typical work environment, you probably wouldn't notice this problem, but if you're buying a 23-inch LCD for a reason'namely to work with precision graphics'you might be disappointed.

In addition, the ViewSonic VP231WP can be hard on agency budgets, listing at $1,549 for government buyers. If you're looking for a big LCD, put this model next to the HP L2335 and let your eyes'and wallets'make the decision.

ViewSonic Corp., Walnut, Calif., 800-888-8583, www.viewsonic.com

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