Three-quarters of the way through our product-testing regimen, we saw HP’s unremarkable 23-inch display headed toward a verdict of 6 or 7. It has a couple of nice features—as well as a couple of odd omissions—but at that point we hadn’t encountered anything that would set it apart from the crowd either way. But then we came to the Extreme Grayscale phase of the DisplayMate benchmark and our eyes just about popped out of their sockets.
This test renders extremes in the grayscale, beginning with boxes of increasingly intense shades of gray displayed on black and then white backgrounds. The w2338h had no problems passing the first half of this test, and it performed as expected when we cycled through shades of blue, red, and magenta. But the monitor proved incapable of differentiating between any of the high-intensity shades of green displayed on a fully saturated green background. What should have been cyan boxes on a cyan background showed up as yellow, and what should have been yellow boxes on a yellow background were rendered green, instead.
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.
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.
LG insists its W2353V-PF is based on a true eight-bit TN panel, a feature that would make it unique in this roundup, so we were surprised at how poorly the display performed with several of our DisplayMate benchmarks. We were also irritated by the display’s gimmick of rendering a black screen by turning off its backlight. This might be acceptable if the transition was instantaneous—after all, there’s no better way to achieve true black—but the fade takes at least two seconds, which exposes the trick.
The LG produced inconsistent color uniformity, with colors near the top of the display appearing significantly darker than the same colors shown in the middle and bottom of the screen. This same flaw also manifested itself in DisplayMate’s graduated grayscale tests.
HP’s new 27-inch 2709m is considerably larger than the rest of these displays; it’s also more expensive ($400).
The 2709m offers the same native resolution as the rest of the field, so it spreads the same number of pixels over a much larger area. As a result, DisplayMate’s high-resolution sample photos looked just a bit softer than they did on the smaller monitors. The HP also did a poor job of rendering very small text.
Those criticisms don’t matter when you’re watching a Blu-ray movie or gaming—this big screen shines here, and you needn’t worry about your videocard supporting an insanely high resolution as you would with a 30-inch display. Unfortunately, the 2709m suffers from the same specular reflection problems as Gateway’s mirror-like FHX2300.