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Dated: Aug. 13, 2004
The increasing availability of 20-inch (and bigger!) LCD monitors means high-class looks and high resolution on a tiny footprint.
The monitor market is experiencing a revolution. LCD-based monitors now outsell CRT displays in many areas, but the really hot sellers are larger monitors. While many purchasers are zooming in on 17 and 18-inch displays, even larger LCDs are hitting store shelves.
Before you buy that 17-inch monitor, think about moving up to a 20 or 21-inch LCD display. It is more expensive than a model with less screen real estate, but in this case, more is better. The larger monitor provides you with a multipurpose display terrific for day-to-day word processing, Web browsing, CAD, and other graphics applications. When the work is done, it's great for watching DVDs and playing games.
Why LCDs Are Better?
LCDs often portray moving images better than CRTs; in addition, LCDs can accurately display differing resolutions. While LCD panels are currently more expensive, this cost differential is starting to close due to increased demand, and prices are dropping fast.
The most obvious advantage to an LCD is size, or lack of it. Width really doesn't vary more than an inch or two between similarly-sized CRT and LCD displays, because the bezel (the part of the cabinet that surrounds the display) is usually narrower with an LCD monitor.
The real savings are in depth and weight. Because cathode ray tubes are deep, the cabinet on a CR1 monitor can often extend up to two feet behind the display. The glass and components used in CRTs contribute a lot of weight; the original 19 and 20-inch CRT displays weighed close to 100 pounds, and even today a 21- inch CRT is around 50 pounds. Meanwhile, today's LCD monitors are just a few inches deep, and even the 21-inch monitors we tested weigh less than 25 pounds each.
LCD panels have a perfectly flat imaging surface, which means there is no geometric distortion at the side or edges. CR1 displays are starting to address this issue with the latest generation of "Perfect Flat" and "Natural Flat" tube designs. A well designed LCD also has excellent overall brightness, uniform across the entire screen.
In addition, unlike CRTs, LCD monitors never go out of focus with age. The pixels that make up an LCD panel are physically fixed; it is impossible for them to shift. The panel will provide the same sharp image year after year.
Why so Large?
Another reason people are buying larger and larger displays is because the standard resolution has changed over the years. The first shift was from CGA (320 x 240 pixels) to VGA (640 x 480 pixels). Many of today's applications expect a minimum resolution of 800 x 600 pixels. With that many pixels being displayed, small screens produce unreadable images.
Users manage to work with 800 x 600 on displays as small as 14 inches; laptops are proof of that. When you get into 1280 x 1024, however, you really want a 17-inch or larger display. All of the 21-inch monitors we tested have a default resolution of 1600 x 1200. That's a lot of pixels, but it's useful if you are working with CAD or other graphics applications. It also assures that your display will be useable for many years to come as screen resolution moves upward.
Putting Them to the Test
To rate the performance of the seven large-screen LCD monitors in our roundup, we turned to the industry standard utility, DisplayMate. Developed by DisplayMate Technologies (www.displaymate.com), the utility provides a set of specially designed screen images to test different aspects of a monitor's performance. DisplayMate provides a special script for LCD monitor testing, with almost two dozen tests that check resolution, bandwidth, pixel timing, tracking, grayscale, and color performance. The utility also tests for monitor problems.
In addition to the formal DisplayMate tests, we conducted less formal tests by playing several high framerate games and watching action-packed movies. On both of these tests, we looked for streaking and ghosting. When testing image quality, every system component has to be top quality.
We configured a test platform specifically for these tests with an Intel motherboard and Intel 2.4-GHz Pentium 4 CPU, along with a gigabyte of Kingston DDR RAM. We used an Antec case and 480W power supply to protect against power fluctuations that would affect testing.
For the video card, we turned to NVIDIA. Because many of these displays will be used in CAD and other graphics applications, we used a workstation oriented video card, rather than a high-performance gaming card.
The Quadro FX 2000 card NVIDIA supplied for our testing has the GeforceFX graphics core, so it provides great gaming performance, but the card is optimized for workstation applications. We installed a clean copy of Windows XP Professional and downloaded the latest version of the Quadro video drivers. With our testplatform configured and in place, we started opening monitor boxes.
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