Articles: Monitors

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I’ve been repeating the same idea through all my previous reviews of LCD monitors on our site: one of the main disadvantages of currently manufactured LCD monitors is that each particular model lacks versatility. I mean a good CRT monitor is always good whatever you’re doing with it (working with text, processing photographs, playing games and so on), whereas an LCD monitor that’s suitable for games won’t suit for handling photos, and one with an excellent color reproduction would be a bad choice for dynamic games.

Formally, latest LCD monitor models all seem to have technical parameters that allow using them in any area as the manufacturers claim viewing angles of 160 degrees, a contrast ratio of 500:1, a true representation of all 16 millions of colors that you want to see, and the gap between the specs of different models is seemingly negligible – well, can the average human eye, not equipped with measurement tools, tell the difference between the 160 viewing degrees of a good TN+Film matrix and the 170 degrees of a PVA, MVA or IPS matrix? However, theory and practice are more diverse in practice than they are in theory, and if you placed two monitors next to each other – say, one with a TN+Film matrix and another with an IPS one – you would easily see their parameters to be different visually, even if you’ve never worked with LCD panels before.

I’m not driving to say that the manufacturers deliberately overstate the characteristics of their devices, thus confusing the user (well, sometimes they do, but not too often). I say that it’s a matter of perspective or what the manufacturers mean by a specific parameter and how they measure it.

Speaking generally, any measurement of any value should start with a precise definition of the measurement method and conditions and the applicability limits of the result. Without that, the measurement result makes no sense and has no practical worth.

Regrettably, many reviewers and testers, following the latest trend to get objective data rather than subjective impressions, forget this simple rule and fall a prey to two common mistakes: they either erroneously regard the number they’ve got (I say “number”, but not “result” because a number can only become a result after all the above-said items are complied with) as a real parameter of the LCD monitor, which it is in fact not, or put much emphasis on parameters of secondary importance, which but slightly affect the investigated characteristic (for example, “color reproduction” is a complex characteristic which cannot be described by a single parameter). The first mistake is often committed when some side factors, specific for the particular measurement method, come to the fore, obscuring the measured value. The second mistake is often the result of the equipment being not capable of measuring the significant parameters right, so the reviewer has to base his/her suppositions on the insignificant parameters.

Here are a couple of examples to prove my point. An attempt to measure a monitor’s contrast ratio with the help of a digital camera would be totally wrong without accounting for the camera’s matrix’s own noise, the camera’s gamma correction (which is performed when saving into any format, except RAW), the backlight noise and other related factors. An error of the second type is an attempt to compare the speeds of two LCD monitors by measuring their making black-to-white transitions. The result would be useless, even if everything is measured with high precision and correctly, just because it is the response time on gray-to-gray transitions that’s more important here, rather than the transition between the two limiting states.

Thus, in order to compare LCD monitors by their specs or by numbers you’ve got through some tests, it is of paramount importance to understand what these numbers mean as well as by which method and under which conditions they were arrived at.

This article is intended as a comprehensive description of the main parameters of LCD monitors as well as of the typical methods the manufacturers use to measure them. Then, since the bulk of the LCD monitor’s properties is determined by the matrix it is based on, and since there are only four types of the matrix now employed (TN+Film, S-IPS, MVA and PVA), I am going to describe the distinguishing features of each type of the matrix.

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