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Choosing a large flat panel display

By MSBob in Technology
Sun Jun 23, 2002 at 06:10:15 AM EST
Tags: Hardware (all tags)

Flat panel displays, often referred to as Liquid Crystal Displays (LCD), are taking the PC world by storm. More and more offices are purchasing new equipment with LCD monitors and CRT surely seems to be on a quick path to obsolescence. The LCD boom has begun with the introduction of the Active Matrix TFT - a much brighter panel than the passive matrix LCDs which were difficult to read from and had terrible colour reproduction and a zero degrees viewing angle. Things have got a lot better in the LCD world lately.

Those of you who have had the chance to compare the old LCDs with the latest models can truly appreciate the progress of this technology over the last few years. It really seems like flat panel displays are finally ready for prime time with their colour reproduction and response time improving on pretty much a monthly basis.

There is more to Flat panels than first meets the eye. For one the specs themselves seem to reveal very little about picture quality. LCD monitors fall into two categories. Those that look good and those that look good on paper. Take all numbers quoted by manufacturers with a grain of salt. There are a couple of major parameters often quoted by LCD manufacturers:

  • Brightness. This is the amount of light that the LCD emits from a pixel displaying the white colour. Usually quoted in Candelas/m2 or nits (same thing). Expect to see values between 220 and 350 (with Solarism being extreme at 800).
  • Contrast ratio. This parameter describes the ratio of brightness level between a pixel that is fully off (displaying pure black) to one that displays white. In practice this figure seems to matter less than one would have thought. Anyway expect it to be between 300:1 to 500:1.
  • Viewing angle. This describes the maximum angle from which the monitor can be viewed with no more than 20% brightness loss. Expect to have at least 160 degrees horizontal and vertical.
  • Response Time. It describes the time it takes for the pixel to switch from fully on to fully off and vice versa. Leading edge displays deliver 25ms with 15ms for rise time and 10ms for the falling time adding up to 25ms total. Some manufacturers are deceitful and quote only the rise time as their response time.
  • Input type(s). Basically there are two types of inputs a flat panel can be fed the signal from a computer. The RGB input (or D-sub) which is the same as your standard CRT. This solution offers mediocre picture quality due to signal degradation through double conversion (D-A, A-D). A much better solution is to use the DVI input with a flat panel. The difference in text quality can be quite amazing at high resolutions. Don't even consider a flat panel that doesn't have a DVI input.

Surprisingly, picture quality in LCD monitors seems to vary quite a bit from one LCD manufacturer to another. The modern panels use three types of LCD panels depending on the alliances and deals they made with the glass panel manufacturer. Virtually all modern LCD panels incorporate some form of technology to widen the viewing angle since LCDs naturally have pretty poor viewing angles.

The first (and oldest) technology is known as TN+film which widens the viewing angle by using optical coating that helps increase the viewing angle of the panel. It is the simplest and cheapest approach that yields unimpressive results with viewing angles of 140 degrees or worse.

In plane switching (or IPS) is a very common technique for widening the viewing angle of a flat panel. The technology increases the viewing angle by polarising LCD molecules to be aligned parallel to the substrate. IPS displays tend to have extremely high viewing angles (usually around 170 degrees) and average response times.

Multidomain Vertical Alignment (or MVA) displays are another type of flat panels designed for improved viewing angles. MVA displays attain viewing angles of around 160 degrees and fast response times. But MVA sounds better on paper than in reality. Read on to learn about problems I've seen in MVA displays.

I am in the market for a flat panel display as we speak and already "purchased" a number of them to subsequently return them back to the manufacturers for a refund. What follows is my experience with some of the common flat panel displays that I had a chance to look at. All displays reviewed below work with the native resolution of 1280x1024:

NEC 1850E
The 1850E is a 18.1" flat panel with the native resolution of 1280x1024. It is most likely an IPS panel although NEC won't tell you that. The panel has nice colour reproduction with deep blacks and bright whites but there is a big drawback to this screen. It's a D-SUB only monitor! If text quality is not your primary concern in a monitor it may well be adequate but its response times are not good either making it a poor choice for games and movie watching. It does do a good job of rendering colour, however. I returned this screen to FutureShop under their 30 day no quibble money back guarantee. Overall: 5/10

Samsung 181T
The Samsung is a truly stylish monitor. Beautiful on the outside it has little to offer in terms of picture quality however. Despite being a screen with digital input (it has one DVI and one RGB socket) and the theoretically superior MVA panel, the text quality is only average. This is caused by very poor colour reproduction on the 181T. Black levels are particularly problematic with the monitor displaying black colour as a somewhat darker shade of grey. Its quoted 500:1 contrast ratio (in theory excellent) makes one really sceptical about the numbers Samsung quotes for their products. Whites are very bright on the 181T (almost too bright) and there is a good selection of adjustment options in the analogue mode. Unfortunately my 181T blew up within two weeks (most likely power supply failure) and was sent back to the shop for a refund. I can't say I miss it all that much to be honest with you. I'd give it 6 out of 10 as it's marginally better than the NEC.

Samsung 171 B
I had a chance to play with this monitor at my local Future Shop store. All other units were hooked up to my own computer except for this one. However, I had a chance to play with this screen for quite a while and had it hooked up to a PC powered by the ATI Radeon 7500 which is a pretty decent graphics adapter. Thus I decided to include a review of this monitor along with the ones I actually bought. It is probably an MVA screen as it seems to share a lot of the drawbacks with the 181T. It is not very exciting really as it is an analogue only screen with a mediocre set of parameters and poor colour reproduction to boot. I have no idea who is in the market for such a screen. Poor text display, no DVI and the $1100CAN price tag makes it look like one of the first screens to rule out when deciding on an LCD purchase. Rating: 3/10

Dell 1702FP
I have the Dell 1702FP at work on my desk as part of the OptiPlex system. This screen has only 17" across the diagonal but delivers very crisp and sharp picture with excellent text output under the DVI mode. Analog is slightly worse but not by much. 1702FP is the best LCD I have seen for reproducing the black colour. It's deep and convincing. A black bitmap image makes the screen look as if it were powered off! Very impressive indeed. Unfortunately white levels are a bit off on this monitor with a noticeable hint of green. The IPS technology used in this monitor is the double edge sword that makes the black level so deep and the white level not too great. Overall though the picture is very nice to look at with saturated colours and amazing text quality. It can be had for less than $1000CAN which makes it a pretty nice bargain. Its response time in games is excellent even though Dell don't quote the actual number it must be impressive nonetheless. It is ideal for almost everything except for family viewings of DVDs as 17" is not all that much for movie watching. Don't think however, that the inherently small type on this screen is difficult to read. It's an excellent choice for prolonged coding sessions and a monitor I've yet to see beaten on the overall picture quality. Rating: 9/10.

Well there you have it. You probably want to know which one I settled for. The answer is: don't know yet. I'm about to receive the "big brother" of the 1702FP, the Dell 2000FP. If it lives up to the standard of its little brother I'll be a happy customer. However, with monitors more than anything else in PC hardware, one man's trash is another man's treasure, so shop around till you find something you like and make sure the purveyor has a flexible return policy so you don't get stuck with something you paid big bucks for but don't really like all that much. And the more of them you see the more you'll realise what kind of tradeoffs there are and which shortcomings you are most prepared to accept.

One thing is for sure. Flat panel displays are here to stay and now is as good a time as ever to consider one if you can swallow the price tag.


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Getting a flat panel?
o Not sure. 7%
o Probably. 17%
o Very very soon! 7%
o You'll first have to pry my 250lb CRT from my dead cold fingers! 24%
o As soon as I find a buyer for my left kidney, sure! 34%
o Got one already and I'll review it in a comment :) 9%

Votes: 82
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o NEC 1850E
o Samsung 181T
o Samsung 171 B
o Dell 1702FP
o Also by MSBob

Display: Sort:
Choosing a large flat panel display | 81 comments (63 topical, 18 editorial, 0 hidden)
Too expensive and too bad (3.66 / 3) (#8)
by tftp on Sat Jun 22, 2002 at 11:51:50 PM EST

Flat panel displays are here to stay [...] if you can swallow the price tag

Many neat gadgets hasn't passed the "price test" and ended up dead.

I haven't seen any LCD monitor worthy of even consideration, let alone a purchase. I have Hitachi SuperScan Elite 751 in front of me, this is 19" monitor, and it is as good as I need it to be. None of LCD panels that I have in various notebooks around can even come close to resolution, brightness, viewing angle and response time. I wouldn't buy a 19" LCD panel even if it was priced competitively (and they aren't). Fast animation on an LCD panel looks awful.

the picture is very nice to look at with saturated colours

The picture is not supposed to be "nice" or "with saturated colors". The picture must be correct - with exactly the colors that I should see. Last thing I need is the monitor that corrects colors or gamma for me... and LCD panels always distort colors, and for extra pleasure this distortion depends on minute variations of the viewing angle. I call such products "junk", for what they are.

IMO, LCD panels are OK for text processing offices (because pretty much anything would be OK for them). However for a real work LCD panel is still not as good as a CRT. For example, the LCD panel is unable to switch resolutions - and I need that feature (I run two X servers for that, :0 and :1).

Correct colour reproduction (5.00 / 2) (#10)
by MSBob on Sat Jun 22, 2002 at 11:58:36 PM EST

It's funny you say that colour reproduction has to be correct, not saturated. Did you know that all PC monitors have their gamma set too low? Only Apple screens couple with Apple hardware deliver the correct gamma settings required for photo editing. Yes you can adjust PCs to a good level but they tend to never be quite right in terms of their gamma.

Besides if you're judging the latest LCDs based on laptop displays you saw you really need a trip to your local computer store. Look at the new iMac for example and explain how its displays is in any way inferior to an equivalent sized (17") CRT?

The inability to switch resolutions is a commonly quoted drawback but not an issue for me as I prefer to have the highest possible resolution at all times. Including gaming.

I don't mind paying taxes, they buy me civilization.

[ Parent ]
Quality is key (none / 0) (#14)
by 90X Double Side on Sun Jun 23, 2002 at 12:15:00 AM EST

I think a good point brought up in the article was that LCDs have a much wider variation in quality than CRTs because of the additional concerns of viewing angle, brightness, etc.. The poster probably has just had bad experiences with bad LCDs, and there certainly are a lot of those out there.

As for color accuracy, as you pointed out 99.9% of the PC users I have seen have downright laughable accuracy, mainly due to the lack of something easy, systemwide, powerful tool like ColorSync, and the only ones that did have decent color either bought a calibrator or spent several hours messing with those Adobe gamma and color things. On the hardware side, Macworld actually did a big special on color accuracy in CRTs vs. LCDs right back the 22" Cinema Display came out. Their verdict was basically that prepress machines should have CRTs since they are more tested and there is more calibration hardware designed specifically for them, but there was no reason everyone else shouldn't switch.

“Reality is just a convenient measure of complexity”
—Alvy Ray Smith
[ Parent ]

Re: Correct colour reproduction (none / 0) (#23)
by tftp on Sun Jun 23, 2002 at 01:35:49 AM EST

I prefer to have the highest possible resolution at all times. Including gaming

Then you lose FPS (and increase someone's else fps ;-) Get yourself a 1600x1200 LCD panel, run Unreal Tournament full-screen at that resolution, and be fragged into oblivion faster than you can see it coming ;-)

[ Parent ]

Actually... (none / 0) (#24)
by MSBob on Sun Jun 23, 2002 at 01:53:44 AM EST

Actually, a 1600x1200 LCD will scale down to 800x600 with perfect results as it simply substitutes one pixel with four making each pixel larger but the nasty scaling blur is not present. I'd imagine 800x600 is what most avid FPS gamers default to anyway.
I don't mind paying taxes, they buy me civilization.

[ Parent ]
Hardware scaling (none / 0) (#25)
by tftp on Sun Jun 23, 2002 at 02:11:06 AM EST

The scaling of this type still requires driving four LCD pixels per each framebuffer pixel. This impacts the performance of the video card even if the algorithm becomes much simpler. Sure, triangles are rendered on a rougher grid, but the card still has to put four pixels into the output RAM, or else it won't be able to feed the panel with pixels on any regular basis (and that must be done fast!)

I'd imagine 800x600 is what most avid FPS gamers default to anyway.

No, it varies greatly between types of games, games themselves and between scenarios of each game (not even mentioning the performance of your computer!) In some cases you want speed (battle in close quarters on "The Deck" in UT, for example). In other cases you need as high resolution as you can afford (sniping in a dark city, where you barely can see a shadow of the opponent). There can not be a universally acceptable resolution.

[ Parent ]

No it doesn't (none / 0) (#27)
by Betcour on Sun Jun 23, 2002 at 03:28:21 AM EST

The scaling is done by the LCD screen electronics, not the video card. The video card is really working at 800x600, outputting 800x600 signal, and then the LCD monitor decides what to do with it (usually scaling to its native resolution, or sometimes you have the option of keeping it that way and have black frame around the image if you prefer)

[ Parent ]
Nope. (none / 0) (#56)
by Work on Mon Jun 24, 2002 at 12:16:29 AM EST

How does the video card know if you're using an LCD or a CRT? Why would it care? Answer: It doesn't.

the screen's electronics take care of the pixel manipulations. higher end monitors typically have higher end electronics that can do this faster as well.

[ Parent ]

Re: Nope. (none / 0) (#59)
by tftp on Mon Jun 24, 2002 at 01:21:12 AM EST

You are both right - I was thinking too much in terms of integrated solutions, where LCD and the video processor are tightly coupled.

An external monitor that goes through analog VGA connector definitely has to have some smarts to rasterize the RGB signals. This analog phase is not helping to improve the quality, though.

[ Parent ]

Most LCD panels can scale (4.00 / 1) (#11)
by fluffy grue on Sat Jun 22, 2002 at 11:59:36 PM EST

Why are you running two servers for that? ctrl-alt-numpad+/- is your friend. :) But still, most LCD panels I've seen can scale the image. Sure, it looks fuzzy, but that's because they actually filter the image - on CRTs it still has to scale the image (what, you think 1280x1024 or whatever is the native resolution of the screen?) but a CRT doesn't even filter the image, so at lower resolutions you get big boxy pixels instead of smooth gradients.

CRTs do plenty of gamma correction too. It's not like every phosphor has the exact same response curve.

And why do you need to look at your screen from a severe angle, anyway? My 17" Apple Studio Display seems to have a pretty wide range of angles that I can look at it from before it distorts, and I have to be pretty far outside of the range of where I'll actually be sitting for it to be visible.
"trhurler: he's a bright ray of sunshine shoved right up your ass" -- Misery Loves Chachi

[ Parent ]

Why two X servers (none / 0) (#21)
by tftp on Sun Jun 23, 2002 at 01:30:32 AM EST

ctrl-alt-numpad+/- is your friend. :)

I need them both at the same time. They are running on different virtual terminals (7 and 8). I hate to bother running hi-res apps by switching to low-res mode. Also, sometimes I need PseudoColor visual (due to an old app that I need occasionally), and that will wreck colors on most of other apps.

most LCD panels I've seen can scale the image. Sure, it looks fuzzy

You can't be serious ;-) Yes, they can scale the image, and it looks so bad that I disabled it on all notebooks, so unpleasant it was.

on CRTs it still has to scale the image (what, you think 1280x1024 or whatever is the native resolution of the screen?)

Yes, it is. That's because the resolution switch on CRT is achieved through a different raster pattern, which is not matched to the screen mask. All you need is to change currents that deflect the electron beams. All resolutions are native on a CRT.

CRTs do plenty of gamma correction too. It's not like every phosphor has the exact same response curve.

Right. However their response curves are known, are stable, and do not depend on other factors such as viewing angle. The latter makes LCD calibration a futile procedure, short of head vice.

why do you need to look at your screen from a severe angle, anyway?

I am not glued to my chair, and I move around as my work requires, and depending on how tired I am. I may have piles of equipment next to me, then I change my position to operate it all. Sometimes I need to show something on screen to my coworkers, but they can't possibly occupy the same space as I do (we are not ghosts yet ;-)

Of course, the level of distortion depends on quality of the LCD and on demands of a job at hand. As I said, many jobs do not require correct color reproduction. But some do, and some people are too demanding anyway, just because they like to have things set their way.

[ Parent ]

Um, what? (none / 0) (#47)
by fluffy grue on Sun Jun 23, 2002 at 07:48:53 PM EST

What sort of applications are you running that even care what resolution you're running at?

Whether you consider those resolutions to be "native" on a CRT or not is a matter of semantics. Not worth arguing further.

I am not glued to my chair either, but my 17" Apple Studio Display has plenty of angle range nontheless. I wonder what you're doing that requires so much person-to-monitor mobility anyway.

And if color reproduction is so important to you, answer me these questions, without looking it up:

  • What is your monitor's whitepoint?
  • What is your monitor's gamma?
  • What is your calibration methodology?
  • Will your work be seen on other peoples' uncalibrated monitors at any time?

"trhurler: he's a bright ray of sunshine shoved right up your ass" -- Misery Loves Chachi

[ Parent ]

Re: Um, what? (none / 0) (#58)
by tftp on Mon Jun 24, 2002 at 01:11:08 AM EST

What sort of applications are you running that even care what resolution you're running at?

Any app with its window maximized. I frequently run Eagle CAD, it needs every pixel on the screen. If I change the video mode then its window will go beyond the screen, and that is not convenient. It is much easier to press Alt-Ctrl-F8 and switch to a completely different X server.

my 17" Apple Studio Display has plenty of angle range nontheless

That is a good monitor then. I'll have a look when I am at a computer store next time.

answer me these questions, without looking it up

I can't tell you numbers that relate to monitor calibration, simply because on the box that is used for publishing (Win2K, due to apps used) an automated process is used for calibration. Adobe has a utility to adjust the monitor, there are ICC files, there are settings in the monitor itself, and the video card has some controls to adjust its DAC. My needs here are simple - to see our color documents on screen as they will be printed on the laser printer (it has its own calibration procedures!), and as they will be later printed on a big Xerox printer (a machine 6 meters long) at the printer shop when I am ready to publish. So far, the monitor on that DTP box is correct enough.

Will your work be seen on other peoples' uncalibrated monitors at any time?

I will, and I do. None of our notebooks are calibrated in any way, for example. Some jobs, like firewall configuration, do not require precise colors (it's grey on black anyway :-) But I will be unhappy if I have to prepare a publication on an uncalibrated monitor, only to send it to printer shop and receive back 500 prints with incorrect colors. It will not ruin the run, likely, but still it is a risk that I don't need to take.

[ Parent ]

For what it's worth... (none / 0) (#62)
by fluffy grue on Mon Jun 24, 2002 at 02:45:31 AM EST

Apple takes color calibration very seriously, and as a result their desktop LCDs have color quality which rivals CRTs. If their LCDs weren't so color-perfect, they wouldn't have essentially replaced all of their high-end CRTs. (Notice how the only current Apple machine with a CRT is the decidedly not-high-end eMac...)
"trhurler: he's a bright ray of sunshine shoved right up your ass" -- Misery Loves Chachi

[ Parent ]

That's Apple... (none / 0) (#64)
by tftp on Mon Jun 24, 2002 at 03:51:23 AM EST

Quite possibly so; Apple prides itself being the DTP platform :-) Apple has the benefit of tight integration of all components into a fully supported system with guaranteed characteristics. PC makers are in much tougher position, given the wild assortment of parts (and monitors, as this article mentions).

But I am not familiar with Apple stuff anyway, can't even say why - probably because Apple is nowhere to be found in business offices in North America. I saw a tech writer with Apple boxes once, and the setup was outrageously expensive.

[ Parent ]

CRTs don't scale. (none / 0) (#67)
by autopr0n on Mon Jun 24, 2002 at 05:08:17 AM EST

on CRTs it still has to scale the image (what, you think 1280x1024 or whatever is the native resolution of the screen?)

CRTs produce the image by running a beam of electrons across the screen. They can do this at any size. A 1280x1024 will be composed of 1024 scanlines, and a 1600x1200 image will use 1200 scanlines.

[autopr0n] got pr0n?
autopr0n.com is a categorically searchable database of porn links, updated every day (or so). no popups!
[ Parent ]
That's still a form of scaling (nt) (none / 0) (#72)
by fluffy grue on Mon Jun 24, 2002 at 10:41:37 AM EST

"trhurler: he's a bright ray of sunshine shoved right up your ass" -- Misery Loves Chachi

[ Parent ]

Projector (none / 0) (#16)
by kreyg on Sun Jun 23, 2002 at 12:57:01 AM EST

Personally, I'm pondering an LCD projector - 84" of pure love, baby. :-) If only I can find something that doesn't cost me more in bulbs annually than a new LCD monitor...

There was a point to this story, but it has temporarily escaped the chronicler's mind. - Douglas Adams
Resolutions? (none / 0) (#17)
by MSBob on Sun Jun 23, 2002 at 01:00:50 AM EST

A projector would be sweet for DVD watching but what about its resolution? The highest I've ever encountered personally was a 1024x768 which is hardly enough for coding which is what I do 90% of the time I'm awake.

And those damn bulbs. $700 dollars for what effectively is a very strong light bulb sounds like a daylight robbery...

I don't mind paying taxes, they buy me civilization.

[ Parent ]
Resolution (none / 0) (#35)
by kreyg on Sun Jun 23, 2002 at 06:41:38 AM EST

Ya, resolution can be a bit low, 1024x768 seems about the max (or something like 1368x720 for widescreen) unless you want to pay a lot. A 1024x768 will usually accept 1280x1024, no idea if the scaling would be acceptable, particularly for text or windows.

I'd mostly be using it for movies or games, potentially game development/programming, probably some web browsing. But a $700 2000-hour bulb begins to make diddling around on the web an expensive proposition.

It would still be sweet though. Hopefully there will be something acceptable by the time I get around to affording one. :-)

There was a point to this story, but it has temporarily escaped the chronicler's mind. - Douglas Adams
[ Parent ]
why i like lcd's.. (2.50 / 2) (#18)
by Work on Sun Jun 23, 2002 at 01:02:17 AM EST

even though mine is over 2 years old now and pretty crummy compared to the newest offerings, I still like it way better than any crt ive come across.

No matter what kind of crt i look at, even brand new, they're noticably more blurry than the lcd. It gives me a headache to use.

And then theres the practical considerations of lcd's. They weigh far less, and take up much less space. This reason alone has justified its extra cost.

power (none / 0) (#43)
by dalinian on Sun Jun 23, 2002 at 02:42:31 PM EST

They weigh far less, and take up much less space.

...and they consume less power as well.

[ Parent ]
Sun and Apple (4.50 / 2) (#20)
by prometheus on Sun Jun 23, 2002 at 01:20:35 AM EST

You almost can't have a review on good LCDs without mentioning Sun and Apple.  I did actually use the Apple display at the Apple Store locally, and they typically don't misconfigure them, so you can get a good idea of what they look like.  I'm just extrapolating from my ass now, but I'd imagine the Sun displays don't suck, either, being Sun and all.

I haven't looked into SGI's offerings, but if they have displays, they'd definately be worth a look.

<omnifarad> We've got a guy killing people in DC without regard for his astro van's horrible fuel economy

Wondering about price (3.50 / 2) (#28)
by MickLinux on Sun Jun 23, 2002 at 03:34:48 AM EST

I switched from desktop to notebook a while back, partly to get away from the CRT monitor.  My impression is that ozone isn't all that good for a person, so if I'm going to be spending a lot of time with computers, I want low-ozone devices.  

Probably I don't know what I'm talking about, but I've found that active matrix LCDs are fine.  The time response of passive matrix is lousy in my opinion, but I can still work with it.  

However, when I buy a computer, I typically get something like an old Powerbook 1400 for a few hundred dollars, upgrade it to 500 MHz for a few hundred more, and end up with an active-matrix 500 Mhz notebook (as fast as what they sell for about $1500) for a price of $800 to $900, often with licensed software and always with an OS to boot [pun, ha ha.]

But if new, 500 Mhz powerbooks sell for $1500, and the LCD cost is $1000, and the other equipment costs are $1000, and the OS is $100...  something here isn't adding up.  

Are the LCDs really all that expensive?  I honestly cannot imagine spending $1000 for a monitor.  Are there cheaper options?  Is it possible to grab an old notebook computer, yank its LCD, and somehow convert it to operate as the monitor for a desktop computer?  [if so, I can imagine a business opportunity right there:  the used flatpanel.]

I make a call to grace, for the alternative is more broken than you can imagine.

I love my LCD (3.80 / 5) (#29)
by Logan on Sun Jun 23, 2002 at 03:42:43 AM EST

Eight months ago I had some money and really wanted to upgrade my computer. Among the components I most desired to replace was my aging 17" CRT. I'd been wanting to try out an LCD for a long time, and I finally had the money to afford one, so I started researching online. I decided I wanted a 17" display, as the price difference between 17" and 19" (or even 18") was way too high for me. After looking at specs (which do not really tell you much), customer reviews (which are probably most useful), and prices, I eventually settled upon the Samsung Syncmaster 170T. After shipping this ran me about $800 or so.

I am no expert on LCD technology, and I haven't had the luxury to try out and compare any models, so I can't give a very professional or objective review of this thing, but I will never regret purchasing it. Just sitting on my desk turned off it looks beautiful, with a stylish design and a rotating base (that and the ability to alter your display's angle is an absolute must for any LCD, because despite breakthroughs in technology viewing angle is still important). Though most of my friends are reluctant to replace their primary CRT with an LCD due to concerns about response time, in truth I have rarely been able to notice it. I'm not a heavy gamer, but the occasional times that I have played fast-paced games on this display I've not noticed any problems.

The first thing I noticed when I turned this display on was how huge it seems. It's only 17", the same as the CRT it replaced, but on an LCD the entire display is used. When you've been staring at a CRT for years, the difference is amazing. On top of that you have the crispness and brightness of a modern LCD, which makes the display stunning when you are accustomed to CRTs. I spent a little bit more money to purchase a video adapter with DVI-digital output that was supported by XFree86, and have been very happy with it.

The only problems I've encountered have been more related to making things look nice in Linux. First, there were XFree86 problems regarding my newly purchased video adapter. Support was very recent, and the latest release did not support my particular adapter at all (it would lock up the machine, in fact). Dealing with the obnoxiousness that is XFree86's CVS repository was not pleasant, but eventually gave me a working digital display. Fortunately XFree86 4.2 finally supports this particular adapter well.

The other main problem is making text look good. This is a problem in any OS. LCDs are ill-suited for displaying most font faces. Slanted font faces are the worst, and are nearly unreadable. Antialiasing helps, but at the expense of making everything look a bit blurry, which is very hard on the eyes.

Fortunately there is another technology related to antialiasing, called subpixel-decimation (SPD), which takes advantage of the precision of an LCD. When a pixel is drawn on an LCD (at its default resolution), the pixel will always correspond precisely to a red-green-blue triple on the display. By skewing the color of the pixel slightly, one can completely turn off the subpixel on the left or right (by eliminating red or blue intensity), giving subpixel accuracy along the horizontal axis (which happens to be the most important axis in rendering English text).

Although enabling this for most of my applications was initially a pain in the ass, the results are amazing. My desktop is now the envy of most people I know (or so I like to think). With the release of Mozilla 1.0 came proper usage of gtk for font rendering, which in turn meant support for Xft, giving SPD support to Mozilla (and galeon). So now my web browsing is beautiful. I can even use konsole from KDE for antialiased terminals while I code.

If you're a heavy computer user and you love your eyes, I can't see any reason not to get an LCD if you can afford it. However, until LCD technology advances to the point where LCDs can compete with CRTs pricewise, CRTs will remain dominant.


The Apple Studio Display (3.33 / 3) (#32)
by SlickMickTrick on Sun Jun 23, 2002 at 04:37:52 AM EST

The 21" NEC Multisync I'd used for 6 years started playing up on me a few weeks ago, so I can speak in retrospect on this subject.

As I'd expect any monitor I'd buy to last me at least another six years (ha), I went looking for the best in flat panels. After much deliberation, and visual testing of about 15 different brands and models, I realised:

  • 90% of LCD's have horrible colour management
  • 90% of LCD's only accept analog input
  • 90% of LCD's are have hopeless refresh rates (test: Matrix DVD)
It doesn't make sense to me to spend more on an LCD that doesn't at least match the performance of a CRT in each of these areas. While I admit, I didn't look at any Sun models, and I only tested out one low end SGI screen, the winner was clear. Apple. The Apple was the only screen on which you could see the watermark on older versions of MSN Messenger was coloured (didn't test SGI, however colour wasn't very good compared to a CRT). The Apple was the only screen which improved the experience of watching a dvd, and the Apple seems to be less reflective that other LCD's, so in sunlight situations like my office, the screen is still readable.

The only screen that came close to the apple was an NEC for which I can no longer remember the model number.

My apple screen is currently running on a PC with an ADC (apple display connector) to DVI adapter, and is flawless. My only gripe in retrospect was I skimped AU $700 and got the 15" instead of the 17".

How is that working for you? Is the adapter HW? (none / 0) (#36)
by gte910h on Sun Jun 23, 2002 at 09:53:23 AM EST

My apple screen is currently running on a PC with an ADC (apple display connector) to DVI adapter, and is flawless. My only gripe in retrospect was I skimped AU $700 and got the 15" instead of the 17".

How well is that working? Is the adapter a hardware only thing, or do you have to run some special software for it? Do you know if it runs under linux?

I have always loved apple's hardware and would die if I could use a LCD screen by them on my PC.

[ Parent ]
It works fine under Linux (5.00 / 1) (#39)
by fluffy grue on Sun Jun 23, 2002 at 11:48:55 AM EST

The ADC connector is just DVI, USB and power rolled into one plug. The convertor just rolls them together and supplies power to the monitor. (Most of the cost of the adaptor is actually for the power supply!)

It works great under Linux. The only gotcha is that you need to have a video driver which supports DVI, and for many cards that means you have to either use the unaccelerated VESA driver (which doesn't provide any gamma correction or scrolling desktop stuff) or upgrade to XFree 4.2. Also, the radeon driver still doesn't support DPMS for digital flatpanel monitors, so you have to manually turn the monitor on and off, and the Apple displays in particular are controlled only through DPMS - so you have to unplug it to turn it off. I keep the power supply in a readily-accessible position for this reason.

Oh, and the 22" and 25" displays supposedly won't work with Windows, because none of the Windows drivers know how to deal with their funky resolution. Theoretically you can tweak the Linux drivers to do that, though, and even under Windows there's always SciTech's thing.
"trhurler: he's a bright ray of sunshine shoved right up your ass" -- Misery Loves Chachi

[ Parent ]

Man, they're too sweet (none / 0) (#38)
by VoxLobster on Sun Jun 23, 2002 at 11:32:03 AM EST

I've never seen an LCD screen that's even remotely as good at the Cinema Display... the 21" is absolutely amazing if you can afford it.

I was raised by a cup of coffee! -- Homsar
[ Parent ]

Building a system (2.50 / 2) (#37)
by MicroBerto on Sun Jun 23, 2002 at 11:16:15 AM EST

If you're building a system, there are 2 things that I think you should splurge on, and then go cheaper on the rest. The two items are monitor and speakers -- those take way longer to go obsolete, so get good ones!

Then go for the best deal with everything else... never again will I spend 300 on a video card. Just get what's hot, something that has just dropped in price but is still quality. But monitor and speakers, go all out, and hope that they last you through 2 or more computers!

- GAIM: MicroBerto
Bertoline - My comic strip

noise (off-topic, but here goes) (none / 0) (#42)
by dalinian on Sun Jun 23, 2002 at 02:33:40 PM EST

Also be sure to get low-noise components. The parts that usually make the most noise are fans (in the PSU and the processor) and the hard disk (of course the CD/DVD as well, but these don't get used that much). Having a silent (well, almost silent) computer makes a bigger difference than you'd think. It doesn't cost you as much as a bigger (or better) display either.

Getting a cheap video card is good advice, because the more expensive ones tend to have fans on them. I don't recommend getting AMD processors (even if they are cheap), because they require more cooling (which means more noise from the fans).

[ Parent ]
[OT] Essence (none / 0) (#52)
by swf on Sun Jun 23, 2002 at 10:13:05 PM EST

I challenge you to show me that something has an essence.

[ Parent ]
yeah, but in an other sense :-) (none / 0) (#71)
by dalinian on Mon Jun 24, 2002 at 07:52:45 AM EST

I meant in a metaphysical sense. A thing has an essence if it exists independently of everything else. To me, this seems impossible.

[ Parent ]
Apple Cinema Display (3.33 / 3) (#40)
by corwinlw on Sun Jun 23, 2002 at 12:09:19 PM EST

I know it's still expensive ($2500, or $2000 if you're an Apple Developer) but it's totally amazing. It does 1600x1024 on a 22 inch display, it is perfectly clear, has perfect color representation, can play games extremely well, and is all around the second best display I know of. (Second only to the Cinema HD display, which is 23 inches, and does 1900x1200.)

At my office, we have 12 Cinema Displays, one SGI, and one Viewsonic. The Viewsonic is just crap because it's analog. The SGI is OK- it does the same resolution as the Cinema Display, but it's way smaller- and not as bright, etc.

I'm lucky enough to have one already- but if I didn't, I know I'd be saving my pennies for a Cinema Display. I've never seen another LCD anywhere close to as good as it.


Caveat: (none / 0) (#46)
by fluffy grue on Sun Jun 23, 2002 at 07:44:00 PM EST

The cinema display won't work properly with Windows due to the drivers choking on its odd resolution. I don't know if it'll work with Linux. The studio display works just fine under both.
"trhurler: he's a bright ray of sunshine shoved right up your ass" -- Misery Loves Chachi

[ Parent ]

Also... (none / 0) (#54)
by John Miles on Sun Jun 23, 2002 at 11:34:56 PM EST

The dot pitch on the Cinema Display is reminiscent of an early-90s VGA monitor.  Looks like about 0.28mm.  If you don't like staring at huge pixels all day, avoid the Apple display.

For so long as men do as they are told, there will be war.
[ Parent ]
You sure about that? (none / 0) (#61)
by fluffy grue on Mon Jun 24, 2002 at 02:42:21 AM EST

I don't know about the cinema display, but my studio display is a solid 100dpi, which would make it a 0.25 dot pitch. Perhaps the fact that the pixels are discrete and not blurred together like on a CRT is confusing you.
"trhurler: he's a bright ray of sunshine shoved right up your ass" -- Misery Loves Chachi

[ Parent ]

True... (none / 0) (#63)
by John Miles on Mon Jun 24, 2002 at 03:17:44 AM EST

Sounds like the Studio's dimensions are similar to the 170T, so that makes sense.  I haven't seen a Studio display in person.

The Apple Cinema Display in the office next door definitely has much larger pixels than my .26mm Samsung 170T.  The horizontal resolution of the 170T is 1280 pixels over ~13.25", or .26mm.  The Apple Cinema display puts 1600-pixel scanlines onto an ~18.75"-wide screen, which works out to almost .30mm.  If I were using a Cinema Display, I'd need to position it farther back on the desk to be able to live with its coarse pixel pitch.

The Cinema HD display, on the other hand, seems to have about a 19.25" wide screen with 1920-pixel resolution.  That would put it in .25mm territory.  Drool...
For so long as men do as they are told, there will be war.
[ Parent ]

Huh? (none / 0) (#66)
by autopr0n on Mon Jun 24, 2002 at 05:02:15 AM EST

Wouldn't that depend on the video card's driver?

[autopr0n] got pr0n?
autopr0n.com is a categorically searchable database of porn links, updated every day (or so). no popups!
[ Parent ]
I'm surprised at the Samsungs (3.50 / 4) (#41)
by John Miles on Sun Jun 23, 2002 at 02:15:22 PM EST

I haven't seen any of the later models you mention, but in the 17" size range, the Samsung 170T is the best there is, IMHO.  They seem to live up to their specs (400:1 contrast ratio with solid blacks and almost-blinding whites), they have excellent color quality, and almost no motion artifacts at all except when scrolling dithered bitmaps.  Everything from Quake to Maya looks awesome.

I replaced my very high-end Hitach 21" monitor (Superscan Supreme CM-2112) with a 170T and have literally never looked back.  I don't miss the Hitachi at all.  In fact, I bought two more 170Ts for the other machines at home.  This was about six months ago, and apart from one or two missing pixels on one of them, they've worked perfectly.

That being said, I have begun to notice a very slight hint of burn-in due to leaving a Windows desktop up on one of them without a screen saver for a few months.  It's visible only under just the right conditions, and certainly isn't enough to be bothersome even then, but it's clear that at least with this monitor, you still need to be careful with the brightness level if you don't power your monitor down or use a screen saver.

I probably have the same lack of toleration for crappy monitors as you do, and I'd give the 170T a solid 9/10.  You just can't do any better in the 17" form factor, as far as I can tell.

For so long as men do as they are told, there will be war.

Cost (none / 0) (#50)
by premier on Sun Jun 23, 2002 at 09:40:43 PM EST

What did you pay for the LCD's you got?

[ Parent ]
They were around $900 IIRC (none / 0) (#53)
by John Miles on Sun Jun 23, 2002 at 10:52:20 PM EST

I ordered two through Gateway's web site, and one from an off-brand reseller.  

This was several months ago.  Most of the vendors on Pricewatch show them in the $700-$800 range at this point.

For so long as men do as they are told, there will be war.
[ Parent ]

Got one (5.00 / 1) (#44)
by useful on Sun Jun 23, 2002 at 03:28:48 PM EST

I have a slyvania 15" flat panel. With ClearType fonts in windows xp the monitor is a dream. I play many fast paced action games with it. The only problem I have is that I have to turn vsync on, which lowers the refresh rate to 60hz, which I can see if I wear glasses, but if you cant see 60hz then GET A FLAT PANEL. This thing is sooooo much better than a CRT. Cost me $280 at costco.

Hrm? (none / 0) (#65)
by autopr0n on Mon Jun 24, 2002 at 05:00:49 AM EST

Your LCD flickers at 60hz? I was under the impresssion that they didn't flicker the same way monitors do.

[autopr0n] got pr0n?
autopr0n.com is a categorically searchable database of porn links, updated every day (or so). no popups!
[ Parent ]
agreed (none / 0) (#77)
by TheLogician on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 11:34:42 PM EST

That's what I thought. I went to FutureShop to ask the salesman if the refresh rates still really matter for LCDs because I didn't think they flickered like the CRTs. Some help us out! Do refresh rates still matter?

[ Parent ]
No they don't (none / 0) (#79)
by MSBob on Thu Jun 27, 2002 at 10:08:36 AM EST

Refresh rates in an LCD are meaningless because they indicate the INPUT refresh rate. The screen still refreshes at 60Hz and no it doesn't cause flicker in an LCD. People who say they 'switched' their LCDs to higher refresh rates and noticed difference are imagining improvement. They see improvement because they want to see it. 60Hz in an LCD is just fine.
I don't mind paying taxes, they buy me civilization.

[ Parent ]
Apple's LCDs (5.00 / 2) (#45)
by iggie on Sun Jun 23, 2002 at 03:44:11 PM EST

My First LCD was an Apple Studio 15" (1024x768). The beauty of it was that it had a RCA jack for NTSC video, and a button on the front to switch between the analog D-sub computer input and the RCA NTSC input. It's been our only TV (connected to a cable box or VCR) for about 3 years while we lived on a boat. Whenever I sit in front of a CRT (TV or computer monitor), I realize how much better an LCD is. I've also used Sun's 18" (crap), IBM's 15" (pretty good), and various Viewsonics (almost all crap). You can pay anywhere between $500->$1000 for an 18" LCD nowadays, and the quality of the picture is completely uncorrelated to the price. It could be far worse than even an average CRT or completely blow you away. Apple's LCDs are consistently spectacular, PowerBooks included. I wouldn't buy any other LCD unless I could test it myself first.

System Requirements (none / 0) (#55)
by brainrain on Sun Jun 23, 2002 at 11:45:28 PM EST

To use these monitors, do you have to have an Apple system - or can you use a PC? At a quick glance over the Apple web site I noticed some of the system requirements:

-- Power Mac G4 with NVIDIA GeForce2 MX, GeForce3, GeForce4 MX, or GeForce4 Ti graphics card,* or ATI Radeon 7500 graphics card; and Mac OS X v10.1.3 or Mac OS 9.2.2
-- Power Mac G4 with DVI port (via an NVIDIA GeForce4 Ti graphics card*) and Apple DVI to ADC Adapter
-- PowerBook G4 with DVI port and Apple DVI to ADC Adapter
* NVIDIA GeForce4 Ti graphics card available in late May 2002.

Now, please excuse my ignorance, but I am assuming that the graphics cards mentioned above are standard NVIDIA graphics cards, and not Apple-specific, so therefore, couldn't the LCDs be used with any other NVIDIA card? I'm just curious, thanks for the explanantion.

Kleptotherapy - Helping those who help themselves
[ Parent ]

Apple is your friend (1.00 / 1) (#57)
by miah on Mon Jun 24, 2002 at 12:32:45 AM EST

Almost all of the Apple branded monitors are PC compatible. The only exception to that are their older ones which used a different VGA connector, even then you could just buy the $9US adapter and it would work just fine.

Hope that helps...

Religion is not the opiate of the masses. It is the biker grade crystal meth of the masses.
[ Parent ]
Apple Desktop Connector (none / 0) (#74)
by daviddennis on Mon Jun 24, 2002 at 06:18:56 PM EST

Apple uses a proprietary connector called ADC.  The appeal is that the monitor signal, power and USB are all sent to the monitor through a single cable, which lets users avoid the cable clutter common with lesser monitors.

You can use an Apple monitor with a PC by getting a DVI to ADC connector, which costs about $150.  Unfortunately, that makes most Apple monitors a bit pricey.

But the Cinema Display ($2,500) and Cinema HD Display ($3,500) are amazing, especially the latter at 1920x1280 resolution.  Every home user needs at least one or two of these.

What I'm wondering is why so few LCDs are over 1280x1024.  I think Apple is the only mainstream manufacturer that has higher resolution LCDs.


amazing.com has amazing things.
[ Parent ]

Pivoting the screen (4.00 / 1) (#48)
by cribeiro on Sun Jun 23, 2002 at 08:11:42 PM EST

Do someone here knows which LCD displays allows for pivoting the screen? I know some do, but I'm not sure about the majority of the displays available. I also don't know about the quality of the implementations available, and any pointers would be welcome.

It is my intention to buy a LCD screen with such pivoting feature. I do some writing (MS Word, and recently Kword), and it is very nice to be able to read the entire page at once. An inverted screen (1280 height, 1024 width) is big enough to render an entire A4 page with readable text.

Glad you wrote this (none / 0) (#49)
by awgsilyari on Sun Jun 23, 2002 at 09:05:42 PM EST

I'm also currently looking at LCD panels. I've grown really tired of this massive box sitting on my desk (19" Hitachi). I've been thinking of getting two 18" panels, preferably with pivot. I'll use one in pivot mode for editing code (the taller the window can be the better) and use the other in standard configuration for debugging.

Do video cards exist that do dual-head DVI output? And does anyone know if XFree86 supports pivoting LCD displays?

Please direct SPAM to john@neuralnw.com

yeah.. Matrox all the way! (none / 0) (#51)
by seer on Sun Jun 23, 2002 at 10:03:01 PM EST

I've used dual-head Matrox cards with good results. I love Matrox for 2D, and I'm waiting for the new card that will (possibly) have 3 heads, all DVI, not to mention some decent 3D. (As an aside, I'm not too unhappy with the Matrox G450 dual head (analog) 3D support... Wolf and Quake III look pretty good, and that's the only games I truely care about..)

[ Parent ]
You need one of these (none / 0) (#60)
by DCMonkey on Mon Jun 24, 2002 at 02:18:37 AM EST

You need one of these. They come bundled with Matrox G550s :)

[ Parent ]
omigod (none / 0) (#78)
by TheLogician on Thu Jun 27, 2002 at 12:08:15 AM EST

I'm drooling!! Is that what you're talking about when you say pivots?

[ Parent ]
Big viewing angle sometimes not so good. (none / 0) (#68)
by zby on Mon Jun 24, 2002 at 05:16:58 AM EST

When you work in a room with others, and especially when your boss can come and look over your screen.

I've been very satisfied with Iiyama (none / 0) (#69)
by gio2k on Mon Jun 24, 2002 at 05:28:37 AM EST

I have a pair of Iiyama AU4831D's, 19" beauties at 1600x1200. Yes, they're a bit expensive - but there's a nice product line that includes more reasonable models too. My justification for spending the cash is that I'm in front of my monitors 12-14 hours a day, and my eyes need a big screen to combat fatigue. I run mine off a Matrox G550, and my only complaint there is the failure of Matrox to support dual digital input from their Linux drivers. Regards, Gio

Pivot? (none / 0) (#73)
by awgsilyari on Mon Jun 24, 2002 at 10:52:44 AM EST

Can XFree86 support the pivot mode for those monitors? What if I wanted to run one in standard and one in portrait configuration?

I'm thinking of getting the Iiyama's too. Maybe I'll even get two arm mounts for them ;)

Please direct SPAM to john@neuralnw.com
[ Parent ]

Pivot on Iiyama and G550 (none / 0) (#75)
by gio2k on Tue Jun 25, 2002 at 09:27:23 PM EST

Yes it does, at least with the Matrox G550 (unaccelerated) - I just tried it (because inquiring minds want to know), and you simply add
Option "Rotate" "CCW"
to the driver section in the XF86config-4 for the head you want to pivot. Check the driver man page for your card. The NVidia and MGA support it - the Rage 128 driver doesn't. Gio

[ Parent ]
Awesome (none / 0) (#76)
by awgsilyari on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 01:28:41 PM EST

Thanks, that's exactly what I needed to know. I just ordered a G550, expect to get both the panel and the card tomorrow!!

I hope the XFree guys eventually get the dual DVI 550 support working...

Please direct SPAM to john@neuralnw.com
[ Parent ]

ViewSonic VA800 (none / 0) (#70)
by houser2112 on Mon Jun 24, 2002 at 07:24:37 AM EST

I just bought one of these a few weeks ago and I'm very satisfied with it. It has 17.4" viewing area, 400:1 contrast ratio. Native resolution is 12801024. The price tag is a bit hefty ($800) but I feel it was well worth it. I believe ViewSonic is running a $100 rebate that's good until the end of July.

Flicker (none / 0) (#80)
by useful on Sun Jul 28, 2002 at 05:30:57 AM EST

I wasnt to specific on how it happened, Ive been gone for a bit so I forgot about this post. If anyone reads this. I see a flicker in the rims of my glasses, if Im wearing them and there are moving objects that use most of the screen, ie games. But I can usually tune it out and focus on the screen, not seeing the lighted outline around my glasses.

Bad pivot picture quality (none / 0) (#81)
by mmeri on Sun Sep 08, 2002 at 07:17:47 AM EST

I don't know if other people have the same problem, but the W2000 screen fonts in my Samsung SyncMaster 175s produce ghost traces below them in pivot mode. I'm using PivotPro as the pivot program. Anybody else having same kind of problems? I get headache for looking at the pivoted picture for a few hours in a row, so I'm unable to use the pivot mode.

Choosing a large flat panel display | 81 comments (63 topical, 18 editorial, 0 hidden)
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