Articles: Monitors

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Monitors with big screen diagonals are getting an increasingly larger share of the market, but the 19” sector hasn’t stopped to develop yet. New, sometimes very interesting, models are regularly emerging on it because a 19” monitor has a high enough resolution not only for office work but also for home unless the user has particular requirements to the screen size (for example, to watch movies more comfortably) or is limited in his budget. Today, 19” models have a very reasonable price, which is often the decisive shopping factor, because choosing a 17” model instead provides but a small gain in money while the difference in the screen area is significant. Monitors with a diagonal of 20” and longer are more expensive today (but they have been constantly declining in price and are very close to become competitors to 19” models).

Before getting to the tests proper, I want to dwell upon the various image enhancing technologies which are so popular among the manufacturers. I mean NEC’s DV Mode, LG’s f-Engine, Samsung’s MagicBright and MagicColor, ASUS’ Splendid, Acer’s Empowering Technology, Philips’ SmartImage, etc. There is usually a dedicated button on the monitor’s front panel to quickly enable this technology and switch through the modes it offers.

The idea of switching between preset modes depending on the current application is very good. Instead of setting the monitor up for the new conditions (for example, you need a much higher brightness for movies and games than for processing text) you can just switch to a preset mode with a few touches of a button. Such modes are also going to be helpful for users who are not much versed in monitor settings and avoid tinkering with them as long as possible.

However, not all of these technologies are really helpful. Why? Because they often affect not only brightness and contrast but also deeper settings of color reproductions like color saturation, gamma curves, etc. The resulting image may look vivid and saturated but its colors are not accurate. What is especially disappointing, some manufacturers propose such modes not only for games and movies but also for viewing photographs. I guess the quality of color reproduction must be the main priority for the latter application.

Such image-enhancing technologies and factory presets can be viewed as falling into two groups. One group comprises those that are not limited to adjusting brightness and contrast but also change saturation of some colors or the gamma value. You can forget about accurate colors when you enable such a mode.

It is just funny at times. Above are the gamma curves recorded in the Photo mode of the BenQ FP222Wa monitor. While every photographer tries to get as accurate colors as possible from his/her monitor (which means that the gamma curves should be as close as possible to the theoretical curve) in order to see photos on the monitor in the same way as they will look when printed out, BenQ thinks photographs should look different, with an unnaturally intensive blue. Light tones of blue just merge into the same color.

When such a preset mode is turned on, you can sometimes see almost all manner of changes in the shape of the gamma curves that are considered defects.

Here are the curves recorded in the Scenery mode of the Splendid technology on an ASUS VW191s monitor I will discuss at length later in this review. The curves go far from each other to start with. Light-green tones merge into white (the right section of the green curve is flat) and darks merge into black (the flat section in the left part of the diagram). There’s an S-shaped defect in the middle of the diagram, too.

So if your monitor has such an image-enhancing feature as Splendid, f-Engine, DV-Mode, etc, you should be aware of its effect on the reproduction of colors.

The second group of technologies such as Samsung’s MagicBright, Acer’s Empowering Technology, Sony’s ECO and others only change the brightness and contrast settings without affecting those that concern color reproduction. The color temperature may be adjusted as well, but not always. This approach seems the most reasonable to me. It’s only a minimum of monitor settings that is varied between the modes and this should be more helpful for the user.

I don’t want to be interpreted as advising you against using those image-enhancing features. I just want you to use them knowingly.

And now we can proceed to the monitors.

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