Even though it would be great if we all could afford 30" LCD monitors, the state of the economy is no fantasy, and you probably need to make more realistic component choices when shopping for a new monitor. The good news on the display front is that manufacturers haven’t been sitting on their mushrooms smoking hookahs; they’ve been innovating and driving down costs to the point where 23- and 24-inch widescreen LCDs are the new sweet spot.
Before you set out on your next monitor-shopping adventure, however, make sure you have a firm understanding of the most important specifications, features, and quality and performance criteria, lest you fall prey to the industry’s Jabberwocky. Rest assured, we’ll guide you through the thicket. We’ve also dug up a number of specifications that manufacturers have taken to omitting from their published data sheets.
Even the most thorough checklist can’t reveal how a monitor will perform in the real world, so we gathered eight of the top manufacturer’s latest models and put them through a benchmark wringer.
Intel this week became the latest company to enter the e-book market, only Intel's is specifically intended for the visually impaired. The launch is being spearheaded by Ben Foss, a 36-year old who grew up with such a severe case of dyslexia that his mother used to read him books during his school years.
Not unlike other e-book readers, the Intel Reader is capable of reading digital files aloud. But it doesn't stop there. The Intel Reader can also capture images from any printed material and convert it to speech at a variety of listening speeds. It also boasts a high res camera used to convert printed text to digital text, and it can even capture words from Websites.
"We want people to experience the independence of being able to read on their own in a public place or anywhere they want to," said Foss. "A metaphor for this are the ramps that make buildings wheelchair accessible. This reader is like a ramp."
The reader's also worth its weight in gold, and then some. It's available now, but for $1,500.
Rumors of an Atom ban turned out to be true, as the Hackintosh community found out with the latest update to Apple's Snow Leopard OS.
"Well, looks like I was right, again," Hackintosh guru StellaRola wrote in a blog post. "The netbook forums are now blowing up with problems of [Snow Leopard] 10.6.2 instant rebooting their Atom-based netbooks. My sources tell me that every time a netbook users installs 10.6.2 an Apple employee gets their wings."
While the ban presents a temporary setback, StellaRola reiterated that "this is OSx86 after all," and predicted that a modded kernel is likely just around the kernel.
In the meantime, a user on the MyDellMini forum claims to have found a workaround that entails running 10.6.2 with a 10.6.1 kernel. The process involved booting from a backup, mounting the 10.6.2 partition, and punching in a few commands, all of which you can read here.
Blu-ray has yet to prove itself as a sensible storage medium—there are just too many less-costly solutions for backing up data. But just because you’re satisfied with a standard DVD drive for your burning chores, doesn’t mean you should be denied the enjoyment of watching Blu-ray movies on your PC—especially now that large 1920x1080 monitors are so affordable.
Enter Plextor’s PX-B320SA DVD burner/BD-ROM combo. We can’t say it offers the best of both worlds, but it strikes a nice balance. The drive’s DVD speeds aren’t up to the likes of, say, Samung’s SH-S223 performance DVD drive. For example, the Plextor is rated at 16x for DVD+R writes compared with the Samsung’s 22x. In our tests, that amounted to a 5:20 (min:sec) time to fill a single-layer disc vs. 4:46—not such a big deal. With double-layer media, the Plextor took 16:58 vs. the Samsung’s 13:16—yes, over time those minutes can add up.
The Asus VH242HL-P is one of only two monitors we tested with a stand that tilts, swivels, and is height-adjustable. The 23.6-inch display is based on a six-bit TN panel with FRC and a native resolution of 1920x1080.
The monitor’s default setting prevents changes to brightness and contrast, so we switched to User Mode to tune the monitor when using DisplayMate. Red, green, and blue were all set to 100 percent here, but the entire display nonetheless over-emphasized blue. We also ran into a problem with the gamma measurement test, which indicated a serious color-tracking error. We finally put the monitor into sRGB mode and sacrificed brightness control in the interest of color accuracy.
The Acer H235H is typical of this class of displays: It’s based on a six-bit TN panel that uses frame-rate control to augment its color depth. The screen delivers 23 inches of viewable area at a native resolution of 1920x1080.
As with nearly all the monitors we tested, we found it necessary to make significant adjustments to the display’s brightness and contrast settings to make the monitor look its best with our DisplayMate benchmark software. But the five touch-sensitive buttons in the Acer’s glossy black bezel and the obtuse icons in its onscreen display make this process extremely frustrating; the onscreen icons don’t line up precisely with the physical buttons and it takes too many button presses to drill down into each menu choice. It takes five button presses, for instance, to make a single brightness adjustment.
None of the monitors we examined was flawless, but the ViewSonic VX2433wm surprised us with how poorly it fared in many of our DisplayMate benchmarks, even after an intense round of button-mashing. In the color-uniformity test, for instance, the monitor should have displayed a consistent wash of color from edge to edge; what it delivered instead was a mottled, blotchy mess.
The VX2433wm had trouble with all four test colors (red, green, blue, and gray), but the distortion was particularly objectionable with green and blue—it was almost like staring at a Rorschach inkblot (ironic, considering we used Watchmen for our Blu-ray movie test). The ViewSonic turned in another poor performance when displaying low-saturated colors against the high end of the grayscale, with red, green, and blue at two-percent saturation disappearing into the background.
Gateway’s 23-inch FHX2300 truly is a looking glass: The glossy screen produces extremely distracting glare and specular reflections. Don’t use this monitor if there’s a window or any other strong light source directly behind your seat.
The panel we used for our evaluation had a discolored pixel that glowed green when DisplayMate was producing solid black, gray, or low-intensity cyan and magenta backgrounds; it glowed yellow when the background was solid red. Gateway sent us a replacement unit, but consumers might not be so lucky: The company’s one-year warranty covers dead pixels (meaning pixels that don’t function at all), but it expressly does not cover discolored pixels.
NEC’s EA241WM has a number of features that set it apart from the rest of the displays in this field: It’s the only model to support a full complement of ergonomic features (tilt, swivel, pivot, and height adjustment); it’s the only model with an integrated USB 2.0 hub; and compared to its competition’s flimsy construction, this monitor is built like a Mack truck.
It’s also the most expensive and least consumer-oriented model we tested, with an MSRP of $450 and native resolution of 1920x1200 (versus 1920x1080). And while the monitor does support HDCP, it’s not equipped with an HDMI port (NEC will provide a free DVI-to-HDMI adapter, but doesn’t put one in the box).
Samsung’s heritage as a consumer-electronics manufacturer is readily apparent in its P2370HD monitor. This is the only display we looked at that included not only an integrated HDTV (ATSC) tuner, but also composite and component video inputs, S/PDIF audio output, and support for Dolby Digital Plus.
The P2370HD was also the easiest display to set up and configure, thanks to a very useful remote control, a built-in graphical user interface that steps you through the process, and input ports that are set at right angles, instead of parallel, to its back. The port configuration lets you see how the DVI and HDMI ports are oriented without having to turn the entire monitor upside down.