20" LCD Monitors Roundup. Part V

This article continues our series of reviews of 20” LCD monitors. Today we are going to discuss 9 models from Acer, Asus, Dell, Samsung and NEC using mostly TN matrix technology. Let’s find out what the market prospects of TN matrix in general are and how successful the reviewed models turned out to be.

by Oleg Artamonov
12/21/2007 | 10:53 PM

This article continues our series of reviews of 20” LCD monitors. Our previous report covered quite a lot of products with *VA and S-IPS matrixes, but you’ll only see one model with a matrix type other than TN in this review. It is a logical consequence of the current market trends – TN technology with its modest parameters but a very appealing price is getting an increasingly larger share of the market.

 

But is this trend so bad after all? Are TN-based monitors so utterly hopeless? Let’s check it out.

Testing Methodology

Click the following link for a description of our testing methodology, the equipment we use, and a brief explanation of what the specified and tested parameters of LCD monitors mean: the article is called Xbit Labs Presents: LCD Monitors Testing Methodology Indepth. If you feel overwhelmed with the numbers and terms this article abounds in, check out an appropriate section of the mentioned Description for an explanation.

New in our reviews is the objective measurement of the uniformity of the monitor’s brightness. This irregularity is measured with a photo-sensor on both white and black backgrounds because it may differ between these two cases. For each monitor we draw a picture that shows the qualitative character of the irregularity and also publish two quantitative marks: the average and the maximum deflection of brightness. You can refer to the appropriate section of the mentioned article for a detailed explanation of the measurement method.

Some monitors in this review were tested before the introduction of the brightness uniformity test, and we didn’t perform this test for them, but we promise to measure the brightness uniformity for every monitor in our future reviews.

Acer AL2016WBsd

TN technology has conquered the 20” monitor market. I won’t even prove my point since it’s obvious. It is also obvious that most of TN-based models also have a wide screen with an aspect ratio of 16:10. Thus, the first monitor to be reviewed here is in fact a typical representative of the given market segment.

The AL2016WBsd has ordinary specifications and doesn’t differ in anything from others of its class. It is based on a widescreen TN matrix without Response Time Compensation (RTC) and without dynamic contrast mode.

The plain-looking black-and-gray case typical of Acer’s inexpensive monitors will look properly on an office desk, but a home user is likely to demand something more elegant. Fortunately, Acer’s product line-up includes elegant models as well – I’ll talk about them later.

The stand allows adjusting the tilt of the screen. It can be replaced with a standard VESA mount if necessary.

The monitor was packed into its box with the bottom of the stand detached, which was an unpleasant surprise to me because the fastening mechanism was obviously not meant for being frequently attached/detached. There are as many as eight plastic locks along the perimeter of the pole of the stand, and these are also covered with a metallic plate at the back for more rigidity. So, once you attach the stand, you will have problems detaching it again, but the monitor just doesn’t fit into its box with the stand attached. The other Acer monitors tested for this review are free from that problem with their stand fastened with one or two locks that can be easily unlocked with one finger.

This monitor has both analog and digital video inputs. It looks like monitors without a DVI interface have become outdated already. This is interface is currently so cheap to implement that there is no sense to save on it even in inexpensive products.

The control buttons are placed in a single block below the case. The On/Off button is a different shape and size. It is highlighted with a mild green LED at work. The color changes into amber in sleep mode. Quick access is provided to the automatic adjustment of the analog connection and to switching between preset image modes.

Acer’s traditional menu is average in terms of user-friendliness. It offers just the basic settings such as brightness, contrast, color temperature, menu-related options, etc.

Besides the user-defined settings the monitor also offers four factory presets. You can’t edit them but you can switch between them quickly. Press the “e” button on the front panel to access this feature and then choose the desired mode with the “<” and “>” buttons. This is slightly less convenient that with other monitors that allow switching through such preset modes by pressing one and the same button over and over again (LG’s f-Engine or Samsung’s MagicBright). I’ll tell you shortly what exactly parameters are affected by the preset modes of the AL2016WBsd.

By default the monitor has 77% brightness and 50% contrast (these settings correspond to the Standard mode in the list of factory-set modes). I reduced them both to 35% to achieve a 100nit white. You should not increase the contrast setting above 55% as it leads to a loss of lights, which merge into the same white color. The brightness is regulated by modulating the power of the backlight lamps at a frequency of 240Hz.

Color gradients are reproduced perfectly, without banding, irrespective of the contrast setting.

 

The average brightness uniformity on white is 4.8% with a maximum deflection of 12.0%. That’s a good result. Alas, the backlight is more irregular on black – 6.8% on average and 25.6% at the maximum – with bright areas along the top and bottom of the screen. These are not poor results, yet a black screen is visibly irregular in a dim room.

The gamma curves look good at the default settings. They are not far from the theoretical curve and have no slumps or twists in the area of darks or lights.

The color gamut coincides with the standard sRGB space in blues, surpasses it in greens, and loses to it in reds. This is the normal gamut of a modern LCD monitor, except for few models that feature LED-based backlighting or backlight lamps with improved phosphors that deliver a much larger color gamut.

The monitor doesn’t have response time compensation and its specified response was measured on the black-white-black transition every modern TN matrix performs very quickly. The average response time measured on transitions between different levels of gray is not low at 13.0 milliseconds (GtG), being many times that of RTC-enabled monitors. The maximum response is as high as 22 milliseconds.

The color temperature setup is very sloppy. The image is very cold in each mode. Calling a temperature of 8000-9000K “Warm” sounds like a joke to me.

The brightness and contrast ratio are normal for monitors of this class.

As I wrote above, the monitor offers four presets that go under the name of Empowering Technology. To check out their practical worth I measured the brightness, contrast ratio and color reproduction accuracy in each of the available modes.

A brightness of 80-100nits is considered acceptable for working with text. This is somewhat lower than the value offered by the AL2016WBsd in the appropriate mode. In other words, the monitor is going to be somewhat too bright for processing text unless you’ve got very bright ambient lighting.

The Standard mode is the same as the monitor’s default settings. It is going to suit just fine for playing games and watching movies. The Graphics and Movies modes do not seem to differ much from it, so why do you need them? Let’s look at the gamma curve diagrams.

That’s a rather depressing sight. The levels of green and red are so high in the Graphics mode that light halftones are all displayed as the same color. The blue curve has an odd twist in the middle of the diagram. With such gross distortions of colors this mode is obviously not suitable for viewing graphics.

It’s even worse in the Movie mode: all the three curves are higher now, and the reproduction of colors is worsened. But as you’ve seen above, the Movie mode doesn’t differ from the Standard mode in terms of image brightness.

So, I can’t say that Empowering Technology is utterly useless, but only two out of the four modes have any practical worth, namely Standard and Text. The other two modes distort color reproduction and provide no advantages instead. I guess most users will manually select a proper brightness for working with text, switch into the Text mode for viewing photos, and enable the Standard mode for games and movies.

Highs:

Lows:

Recommended usage:

Acer AL2017Asd

This model is somewhat unusual, having a 4:3 matrix with a native resolution of 1400x1050 pixels. Offered by many manufacturers, such solutions are not very popular. They aren’t much different from monitors with a native resolution of 1680x1050 or 1600x1200 pixels in price and can only be interesting to people for whom the pixel pitch of the traditional 20” models seems too small.

The rest of the specs are quite ordinary and resemble the above-discussed AL2016WBsd: a TN matrix without response time compensation and without dynamic contrast mode.

There is no difference in the appearance, either. The monitor comes in the same humble black-and-gray case, but has built-in speakers underneath the screen.

The stand allows adjusting the tilt of the screen. You can replace it with a standard VESA-compatible mount if necessary. To my relief, the stand of this model could be detached quite easily (you cannot pack the monitor back into the box without that).

There are analog and digital inputs here, and a line audio input for the integrated speakers.

The control buttons are located under the screen. They respond easily and sharply to your touch. Quick access is provided to switching between factory-set modes, to the auto-adjustment feature, and to changing the sound volume. The LED in the On/Off button is green at work and amber in sleep mode.

The onscreen menu is quite typical for an Acer monitor. It doesn’t offer anything special besides brightness, contrast, and temperature.

The menu for choosing a factory-set mode (this feature is referred to as Empowering Technology) provides four options plus a user-defined mode, just like on the AL2016WBsd. It is evoked by pressing the “e” button. The desired mode is selected with the “<” and “>” buttons.

By default, the monitor has 77% brightness and 50% contrast (these settings correspond to the Standard mode in the list of the factory-set modes). I reduced them both to 35% to achieve a 100nit white. You should not increase the contrast setting above 50% because it leads to a loss of light halftones. The brightness is regulated by modulating the power of the backlight lamps at a frequency of 271Hz.

The monitor’s color gamut is exactly what you can expect from a monitor with ordinary backlight lamps: coinciding with sRGB in blues, smaller in reds, and larger in greens.

 

The average brightness uniformity on white is 4.4% with a maximum deflection of 12.8%. That’s a good result. Alas, the backlight is more irregular on black – 8.4% on average and 26.7% at the maximum – with a bright area along the bottom of the screen.

The gamma curves don’t look good at the default settings. The gamma value is obviously too high for the blue curve, which goes much lower than the theoretical one.

The curves improve at the reduced brightness and contrast – they don’t differ that much from each other now.

The monitor’s average response is 13.3 milliseconds GtG, which is quite a normal value for RTC-less TN matrixes. Of course, it cannot compete with RTC-enabled monitors while the pretty-looking specified number of 5 milliseconds is arrived at by using the ISO 13406-2 measurement method which counts in the time it takes to switch between black and white only, which is actually the quickest transition on TN matrixes. To remind you, the Gray-to-Gray method calculates the average value of all transitions, not only between black and white but also between halftones. That’s why the GtG method is more indicative of the monitor’s real-life performance.

The color temperature setup is surprisingly good. The difference between the temperatures of different levels of gray is within 360K. The only downside is the lack of really warm modes (the Warm mode is not actually warm, providing a color temperature of about 7000K), but this is not crucial for most users.

The monitor’s maximum brightness is sufficient for any applications, including games and movies. The contrast ratio is good, over 450:1 in one of the test modes.

As I wrote above, the AL2017Asd offers factory-set modes called Empowering Technology. The user cannot edit them but can quickly switch between them. It is very handy if you want to switch from working in a text editor to a game or movie – just a couple of taps on the buttons and the monitor’s brightness is increased right to the necessary level. And after you’ve finished playing the game or watching the movie, you can quickly return to the previous brightness level.

There are four such modes here, except for a user-defined mode. Alas, the brightness is too high for working with text in the Text mode. It is rather suitable for games and movies under mild ambient lighting. For text applications, the monitor should be set up manually for about half that brightness. The Standard mode ensures an even higher level of brightness, which corresponds to the monitor’s default settings, by the way.

Like with the AL2016WBsd, the first two modes do not distort the gamma curves and thus do not affect the reproduction of colors, but the Graphics and Movies modes are configured sloppily.

The contrast is set too high in the Graphics mode, making the three curves reach saturation in the top right of the diagram. In practice, it means a loss of light halftones. For example, viewing a photograph of a bright sky, you’ll see a solid-color smudge instead of barely visible thin clouds against a blue background.

The Movie mode is somewhat better, but still no good. The red and green curves are saturated in lights.

Thus, I recommend you to use Empowering Technology in the following way. You should configure the monitor manually to achieve a comfortable brightness for office applications and switch into the Text or Standard mode for playing a game or watching a movie. The Graphics and Movie modes should be ignored due to the color distortions they provoke.

So, the AL2017Asd may be interesting for people who want to buy an inexpensive monitor with a big pixel pitch but larger than 19” models in terms of screen diagonal and native resolution. If the pixel pitch in the models with a native resolution of 1680x1050 pixels suits you just fine, you should consider them instead because the prices are roughly similar.

Highs:

Lows:

Recommended usage:

Acer X202WBD

Acer’s new X2 series is an attempt to offer nice-looking monitors for home users. It is not one or two models but a whole series with different screen diagonals. Currently it includes monitors with a diagonal of 19, 20 and 22 inches.

I can only single out the high contrast ratio in this monitor’s specs. Otherwise, it is an ordinary widescreen TN-based model without response time compensation.

The case is made from black glossy plastic but the stand and back panel are matte. The block of controls that used to hang below the screen in previous models has become wider and now protrudes forward as well. It’s somewhat unusual, yet quite pretty.

The matrix surface is glossy just like the case. That’s an arguable solution. Such a matrix ensures a higher contrast and a somewhat sharper picture when the source of light is at your side, but every light source behind your back is going to produce reflections and flares on the screen. You can even see your own reflection on the screen if it displays a dark background.

Moreover, the glossy surface – the one of the matrix and of the case – is easily soiled. Dust speckles and fingerprints are going to be just too visible on it.

The stand allows adjusting the tilt of the screen only. It can be removed and replaced with a VESA-compatible mount.

The monitor is equipped with analog and digital video inputs. It also has a line audio input for the built-in speakers. By the way, the speakers are hidden so well that it’s almost impossible to spot them when looking at the monitor from the front.

The control buttons are centered below the screen. The On/Off button shines green at work and amber in sleep mode. Its light isn’t too intensive and won’t distract your eyes.

The buttons prove not very handy for their main purpose, though. They are placed too far from each other, and the central, On/Off, button doesn’t differ from the others with its shape. As a result, you have to use both your hands when setting the monitor up: one hand to press the buttons to the left of the On/Off one and the other hand to press the buttons to the right of it.

That’s a typical menu of Acer monitors. It doesn’t offer any extra options above the required minimum. Quick access (without entering the main menu) is provided to switching between the preset modes, to the auto-adjustment feature, and to the sound volume setting.

Like the above-discussed models from Acer, the X202WBD has four preset modes for quickly changing the monitor’s brightness and contrast when you switch from work to a movie or game, for example. The implementation isn’t quite convenient to me. Pressing the “e” button opens up a list of the available modes, and you should use the “<” and “>” buttons to navigate the list. It would be better if the list could be navigated in a loop with a single button.

The monitor’s default brightness and contrast are 77% and 50%, respectively. These values correspond to the Standard mode in the preset mode list. I achieved a 100nit white by choosing 35% brightness and 28% contrast. You should not increase the contrast setting above 50% as leads it a loss of light halftones. The brightness is regulated by backlight modulation at a frequency of 240Hz.

Color gradients are reproduced correctly without banding.

The monitor’s color gamut is close to the standard sRGB color space and is no different from the color gamuts of the above-discussed monitors from Acer as well as of many other modern LCD monitors.

 

The brightness uniformity is 6.7% on average and 20.0% at the maximum on white. On black, it is 6.2% on average and 17.5% at the maximum. It is good there are no single bright spots on a black background. It is bad that the white background becomes much darker towards the corners of the screen.

The gamma curves are normal at the default settings. Running lower than the theoretical curve, they are close to each other and are shaped neatly.

The curves nearly merge into one at the reduced brightness and contrast although still lying below the theoretical curve and producing a higher-contrast image that it should be.

Lacking an RTC mechanism, the X202WBD cannot be fast. Its response time average is 12.7 milliseconds GtG according to my test.

The color temperature is set up very accurately. There is no more than 500K of difference between the temperatures of different grays in any of the modes, which is an excellent result for this class of monitors. I would specifically note the Cool mode. In most monitors cold-temperature modes are set up sloppily and produce a bluish gray, but this Cool mode is an example of accuracy.

The maximum brightness is somewhat higher than average for today’s monitors. The contrast ratio is good but breaks no records. Modern TN matrixes often have a contrast ratio higher than 400:1.

Like the two previous models the X202WBD has four preset modes you can switch between quickly – much more quickly than if you use the monitor’s onscreen menu. The following table shows what parameter values the monitor has in each of those modes.

To my surprise (after the two previous monitors), none of the modes provokes any distortions in color reproduction – the gamma curves retained their shape in each mode. That’s good, of course. What is not good, the Text mode is too bright and suits rather for viewing photos or for games and movies under mild ambient lighting, but not for working with text.

Thus, the Acer X202WBD is a good monitor for home or office (for the boss rather than for a regular worker, I guess). It boasts an appealing exterior design, a good setup of color reproduction, and a rather uniform backlight. Its main drawback is the slow matrix without response time compensation. If you need a monitor for playing dynamic games, you should better consider other products but the X202WBD is going to be good for all other applications (except for such areas as photo-editing where all TN matrixes are not good due to their poor viewing angles).

Highs:

Lows:

Recommended usage:

ASUS VW202S

As I wrote above talking about the Acer AL2016WBsd, the DVI interface has now come even to entry-level monitors, but there are still a few models available that have an analog interface only. The ASUS VW202S is one of them. Considering that it is somewhat more expensive that the technically similar models from Acer, Samsung and LG, which have a digital input, I’m interested to see if there is something behind that price difference.

There’s nothing extraordinary about the specifications. The monitor is based on a widescreen TN matrix without response time compensation. The contrast ratio is high because the monitor features dynamic contrast technology (the backlight brightness is automatically adjusted depending on the currently displayed image).

The monitor looks neat, simple and quite appealing. It’s got a black (dark-gray, to be exact) matte case with a silvery streak along the bottom edge. The stand is made from black plastic.

Adjusting the tilt of the screen is the only option with this stand. You can replace it with a VESA-compatible mount using the fasteners at the monitor’s back panel.

The VW202S is one of the few 20” monitors that don’t have a digital interface. It doesn’t make the user’s life harder, yet it is easier to deal with the DVI interface – no problems with image quality, no need to adjust the monitor for the signal, etc. The digital output is currently offered even by many notebooks and mainboards with integrated graphics.

The monitor is also equipped with integrated speakers and has a line audio input. It is located at the other end of the case, next to the power connector.

The control buttons are placed in a row in the bottom right of the front panel. Their labels are painted in gray and perfectly readable. The Try Me sticker points at the button for switching between factory-set modes I’ll discuss below. The same button does double duty launching the auto-adjustment procedure – just press and hold it for a couple of seconds.

ASUS’ traditional menu isn’t quite user-friendly. I don’t quite understand why the first tab lists the preset modes although you don’t have to enter the menu at all to access them – a press on the Splendid button would suffice. The menu doesn’t remember the last changed option and always opens up on the first tab. Besides that, the menu is slow especially when you are switching between the Splendid modes.

What I like is that the menu offers the option of choosing an image aspect ratio. You can make the monitor stretch out a non-widescreen picture to its native 16:10 ratio or leave it as it is, adding black bands on the sides. This option is usually missing in inexpensive monitors.

Alas, I had problems with some display resolutions. For example, the monitor wouldn’t work normally at 1280x800 (an aspect ratio of 16:10) – the image was larger than the screen after the auto-adjustment and the menu didn’t offer the manual adjustment option. There was no problem with a resolution of 1280x768 (16:9) except that the monitor distorted its proportions, stretching it out to its native 16:10.

The monitor has 90% brightness and 80% contrast by default. I achieved a 100nit white by selecting 55% brightness and 58% contrast. You should not raise the contrast setting above 80% as it leads to a loss of light halftones. The brightness is regulated by backlight modulation at a frequency of 209Hz.

The color gamut is typical for a modern monitor that uses backlight lamps with ordinary phosphors. It roughly corresponds to the sRGB color space.

 

The average and maximum brightness uniformity is 5.8% and 15.5%, respectively, on white. On black, these numbers are 8.4% and 22.6%, which is not quite good. As the pictures above show (I want to remind you that those are not photographs of the actual monitor, but pictures that illustrate the distribution of brightness on the screen), the corners and top of the screen are dark on the white background. On the black background, there are light streaks along the top and bottom of the screen.

The gamma curves are rather neat at the default settings, being close to the theoretical curve for gamma 2.2. The blue curve is somewhat lower than necessary but not too much.

At the reduced brightness and contrast the curves almost coincide with the theoretical curve.

Lacking Response Time Compensation, the monitor is rather sluggish with a response time average of 13.1 milliseconds GtG. Most of the transitions are as slow as 20 milliseconds. The monitor is only really fast at switching into pure white or pure black.

The color temperature is set up quite accurately. The difference between the temperatures of different grays in never higher than 500K (except for the User mode with the default settings).

Interestingly, the calibrator reported the same value for the Warm and sRGB modes but they actually produce differently-looking images. The image in the Warm mode is not white but greenish. The calibrator reported the same value as in the sRGB mode because the term color temperature can only be applied to white but not to green and the calibrator couldn’t count this in. If you are interested, I can tell you the color coordinates (CIE x, y) of the white point: 0.313 and 0.345 in Warm and 0.313 and 0.344 in sRGB mode. As you can see, they only differ with the vertical coordinate, which means a shift towards greens.

The monitor’s brightness and contrast are quite typical for modern models of this class.

The VW202S features ASUS Splendid technology – a set of predefined modes you can switch between by means of a single button. The most notable difference from such technologies offered by other manufacturers is the possibility of changing and saving the monitor’s settings in each individual mode. In many other monitors there is only one user-defined mode and the others are not editable. Each group of Splendid settings can be reset to their defaults apart from the others by entering the main menu and choosing the necessary group on the first tab.

As you can see, the values of brightness and contrast are almost identical in each mode by default. So what is different? Color reproduction.

The red and blue curves are lower while the green curve is higher than the theoretical curve. I really don’t know why a theatrical picture should be greenish. The same goes for the Scenery mode except that the level of green is even higher and reaches saturation in lights whereas the curve is still sagging in darks.

It’s funny in the Game mode: the monitor doesn’t display darkest halftones at all (it is the bottom left of the diagram). Up to the middle of the diagram reds and blues are darker than they should be, but then the corresponding curves rise up suddenly up to saturation. The level of green is too high again.

The Night View mode is expected to ensure good visibility in dark games by making all shadows brighter. The previous modes deprive the user of shadows altogether while the Night View mode just shows them: the measured curves coincide with the theoretical one in the bottom left of the diagram. In the right part of the diagram, green is too intensive again.

So, the Splendid modes prove to be rather stupid by default. They only bring various distortions into color reproduction unless you manually configure the monitor in each of them. Unfortunately, the manufacturer bound some features, particularly the dynamic contrast mode, the sharpness and saturation settings, to Splendid technology. These settings become inaccessible in the Standard Mode.

Highs:

Lows:

Recommended usage:

ASUS VW202T

I was grumbling at the lack of a digital interface in the previous model, and the VW202T has it but costs just a little more money. Let’s see if the DVI connector is the only thing that’s different between these two models.

The monitor has ordinary specifications: a TN matrix without response time compensation but with dynamic contrast technology that explains the high specified contrast ratio.

The two models from ASUS are no different on the outside: a neat black case with a black plastic stand and a silvery streak with control buttons.

The stand allows adjusting the tilt of the screen only. It can be replaced with a standard VESA mount.

The monitor has analog and digital (DVI-D) video inputs.

The control buttons are the same as in the previous model. Quick access is provided to switching between the Splendid modes, to the auto-adjustment feature, and to the sound volume of the integrated speakers. You can switch between the monitor’s inputs from the main menu only.

The menu is no different from the one of the VW202S. Not very ergonomic, it is also rather sluggish. Some of the features such as dynamic contrast, sharpness and saturation are unavailable in the Standard mode for some reason. You can only enable them from a mode other than Splendid.

An advantage of this monitor is its ability to adjust the aspect ratio of the displayed image: the menu offers two options, Full and 4:3, so you can display a non-widescreen picture normally.

Interestingly, the settings can be changed just as you want in each of the Splendid modes (in most other monitors such predefined modes are not editable). Each mode can be reset to its defaults independently of the others by choosing it in the main menu and pressing the Menu button. The only annoying thing is that it takes a couple of seconds to switch from one mode to another, and you can only move through them in a loop, one by one.

The monitor has 90% brightness and 80% contrast by default. I achieved a 100nit white by selecting 60% brightness and 61% contrast. At a contrast higher than 80% light halftones are lost whereas dark halftones are distinguishable at any settings. Color gradients are reproduced correctly, without banding.

The monitor’s brightness is regulated by means of backlight modulation at a frequency of 215Hz.

The color gamut is quite normal and roughly corresponds to the sRGB color space. The VW202T is no different from most other monitors in this respect.

 

The average brightness uniformity on white is 6.6% with a maximum deflection of 22.1%. The average and maximum for black are 6.2% and 19.5%, respectively. The distribution of brighter and darker areas on the screen is similar to that of the VW202S: there is a brighter center and darker edges on white. On black, there are brighter bands along the top and bottom of the screen and darker ones at the sides. This is not a coincidence: the VW202S and VW202T are obviously based on the same matrix.

The gamma curves are not ideal, but acceptable. They are lower than the theoretical curve and do not coincide with each other. Still, the difference between them is small as well.

The curves are closer to each other and nearly coincide with the theoretical curve at the reduced brightness and contrast. The monitor reproduces both darks and lights easily.

The specified response time of 5 milliseconds ISO indicates that this monitor is no record-breaker in terms of speed. Its average response time proves to be 12.6 milliseconds GtG.

The color temperature modes are set up well enough although white is always warmer than gray. This drawback vanishes if the temperature is measured at a contrast level below the default one. The only downside is the lack of warm modes. You get a temperature of about 7000K even if you select the Warm option. Anyway, the VW202T is superior to most monitors of its class when it comes to the accuracy of color temperature setup.

The monitor’s brightness and contrast ratio are normal.

Like the VW202S, this monitor features ASUS Splendid technology which means a set of predefined modes you can switch between by pressing a single button, without entering the main menu. And while the previous monitor distorted color reproduction greatly in all such modes except for Standard, the VW202T is much better in this respect. It is only in the Scenery mode that the default contrast is too high and the monitor doesn’t distinguish between light halftones.

The different modes are no different in terms of brightness and contrast, either. Why? The table shows the default values but each Splendid mode is editable – the monitor will save your choice and use it.

Second, besides brightness and contrast settings the monitor allows to enable/disable dynamic contrast (it is called ASCR in the menu), to adjust sharpness, saturation and color reproduction (the latter is referred to as Skin Tone in the menu and can take on any of three values: natural, yellow and red). These additional settings are unavailable in the Standard mode.

The default settings don’t look optimal to me. For example, the excessive sharpness in the Game mode leads to the “light edges” effect every photograph is familiar with – the same effect appears if you apply Photoshop’s Unsharp Mask filter too much. The increased saturation makes the colors too gaudy. Fortunately, these modes can be adjusted to a point that would be acceptable in terms of color reproduction.

Thus, the VW202S is really only different from the previous model in the availability of a digital DVI interface. That’s not a critical advantage, but I think it is worthy of the small price difference between the two models. You should consider the VW202T if you are looking for a rather inexpensive home or office monitor and you don’t need a fast response time or accurate color reproduction. Actually, the VW202T is one of the leaders among TN-based monitors in terms of color reproduction. If you do buy this model, spend 20-30 minutes on examining and configuring its Splendid modes. The factory setup of those modes is questionable but you can change each of them to your own taste. Switching the monitor’s settings instantly from office applications to a game and then to a movie is really very handy.

Highs:

Lows:

Recommended usage:

Dell E207WFP

In my previous review I reported you about two 20” monitors from Dell based on rather expensive VA and S-IPS matrixes. These matrix types are superior to TN in terms of viewing angles, which makes them more appropriate for everyday work and even the best choice for serious image-editing applications. But on the other hand, there are quite a lot of users who are quite satisfied with the modest characteristics of TN and who don’t want to pay more for PVA/MVA or S-IPS.

So, it’s quite logical for Dell to fill in the low-end market sector by introducing an inexpensive monitor with a TN matrix. As you can learn from the specs, it has neither response time compensation nor dynamic contrast mode.

The monitor represents Dell’s traditional exterior design: a neat and even elegant black case on a stand with a thin silvery leg. This monitor would look good both at home and in the office, being neither a senseless bright spot nor a dull gray box.

The seemingly fragile stand keeps the monitor steady without problems thanks to the massive steel plate inside. Changing the tilt of the screen is the only available adjustment option here, though, but the native stand can be removed (by pressing the button at the spot where it is fastened to the case) and replaced with a VESA-compatible one.

The monitor has analog and digital inputs. Its power adapter is integrated into the case.

The control buttons are placed in the bottom right of the front panel. Their icons are hardly readable, unfortunately, especially those that are pressed out near the buttons in the black plastic. The monitor provides quick access to the auto-adjustment feature, to selecting an input, and to the brightness setting. The Power indicator resides in the appropriate button – it shines with a mild green light at work.

Dell has abandoned its extravagant onscreen menu in the inexpensive series and it’s good for the monitor. The simple menu of the E207WFP is much easier to use than the clumsy and awkward menus of senior models that provoke users’ complaints.

There’s nothing extraordinary about the settings: brightness, contrast, color temperature, etc. You cannot disable interpolation – the monitor always stretches the picture out to its native resolution.

The monitor’s brightness and contrast are set at 75% by default. I achieved a 100nit white by selecting 60% brightness and 61% contrast.

The brightness is regulated by backlight modulation, but this modulation looks odd. If the brightness setting is lower than 60%, the main modulation frequency (320Hz) adds up with peaks at 60Hz (the oscillogram above is recorded by a photo-sensor attached to the screen – it shows two such peaks quite clearly). As a result, the flickering of the screen is visible to and strains the eyes.

I can only make guesses as to the cause of such an annoying effect but it must be due to some defect in the monitor’s hardware. The circuit that regulates the brightness of the lamps is somehow affected by the impulses that drive the monitor’s refresh rate (which is 60Hz). I tested a revision A00 sample and the problem will hopefully be solved in newer revisions.

The color gamut is typical for monitors with ordinary backlight lamps. It differs but little from the standard sRGB space, being slightly superior in greens, coinciding in blues, and inferior in reds.

 

The brightness uniformity on black amounts to 5.6% on average and 16.2% at the maximum. For white, these numbers are 4.5% and 14.7%, respectively. The results are quite good and the E207WFP is superior to many other monitors in this respect. The pictures above show that this irregularity mostly shows up as a slight darkening of the right and left sides of the screen on both white and black backgrounds.

The gamma curves are perfect, lying in a group and almost coinciding with the theoretical curve.

The shape of the curves doesn’t worsen at the reduced brightness and contrast except for a bend of the blue curve in the bottom left of the diagram. And it is probably due to the insufficient accuracy of my calibrator on darkest halftones.

Like other monitors without RTC – most of the models in this review – the E207WFP cannot boast a fast matrix. The response average is 13.0 milliseconds GtG.

The quality of color reproduction setup is acceptable. Although the difference between the different levels of gray is higher than 1000K even in the Normal mode, the table shows that the biggest deflection is on dark-gray, which is the least conspicuous.

The monitor’s brightness is average while the contrast ratio is above 500:1 in one mode, which is quite impressive for a TN matrix.

The sections about the previous models ended with a test of predefined modes (Acer Empowering Technology, ASUS Splendid, etc), but no such modes are available on the E207WFP. If you want to change the brightness or contrast much (for example, when switching from an office application to a game and back again), you have to go into the onscreen menu and select their levels manually. That’s not quite handy, of course.

So, the Dell E207WFP is just a regular modern 20” monitor with a TN matrix. It is no different from other products of its class.

Highs:

Lows:

Recommended usage:

Samsung SyncMaster 2032BW

We published a preview of this monitor some time ago – that was a presale sample of the product. Now it’s time to check out the final version that is now available in retail.

At last we’ve got something different from the models discussed above. Yes, it is a TN matrix as well, but it features Response Time Compensation technology. The declared contrast ratio is high – and it is the static contrast. The dynamic contrast ratio of the 2032BW is three times that value at 3000:1 (as you know from our reviews, it means that in the dynamic contrast mode the monitor can adjust the backlight brightness threefold depending on the currently displayed image).

The monitor’s exterior represents a continuation and development of the series that began with the SyncMaster 932B model: black glossy plastic, sleek shapes, a smooth outline. The monitor is elegant and differs for the better from typical computer devices.

Like all other things made from glossy black plastic, the SyncMaster 2032BW gets dirty just too easily. Every touch leaves a fingerprint on it while regular cleaning will eventually result in a web of small, barely visible scratches.

The exterior coating of the matrix is matte rather than glossy. As I could see with the 961BF and 961BG models, Samsung’s developers are aware that some people do not like the glossy screen. That’s why the company turned out two versions of the same model differing with the type of the matrix coating only.

The stand has an original fastening mechanism: it is just inserted with effort into the rubberized groove in the bottom of the case. So, you just push the case down on the stand to assemble the monitor and pull the two away from each other to dissemble it.

This stand looks like an organic part of the whole monitor, but its functionality is limited. It only allows to adjust the tilt of the screen, and in a rather small range. The stand cannot be replaced with a VESA mount because the monitor doesn’t offer fasteners for the latter.

The monitor is equipped with digital and analog inputs. The connectors can be found in the recess of the back panel – there is no decorative cover there.

The monitor’s control buttons are placed on the bottom edge of the case. They are labeled on the slightly protruding bezel of the front panel. The labels are painted gray, slightly lighter than the color of the case, yet visible. You can find and press the buttons easily.

This is a standard menu of Samsung monitors. It is logical and user-friendly, remembering the option you changed last. As for additional options, it offers the MagicColor mode (increases color saturation; you should not enable this feature if you prefer accurate color reproduction), the option of disabling Response Time Compensation, and the option of adjusting the brightness of the Power indicator.

This indicator is designed like a circle around the Power button. Many users of earlier Samsung monitors complained not at its brightness but that the indicator would begin to blink irritatingly in sleep mode. Here, you can reduce the brightness to zero and the indicator won’t show up in sleep mode, either.

The monitor has 100% brightness and 75% contrast by default. I achieved a 100nit white by selecting 10% brightness and 25% contrast. Light halftones do not merge into white at any value of contrast, up to 100%. The brightness is regulated by backlight modulation at a frequency of 308Hz.

Color gradients are reproduced perfectly, without any banding.

The monitor employs backlight lamps with ordinary phosphors, which provide an ordinary color gamut. The only oddity is that the point of blue differs from the one of the sRGB color space whereas in many other monitors the two coincide.

 

The brightness uniformity of white is 5.9% on average and 20.9% at the maximum (the top left corner of the screen is especially dark). For black, the numbers are 6.2% and 20.0%, respectively. This is not the best result possible but the irregularity won’t be too conspicuous. As the pictures above show, the backlight brightness is evenly distributed along the screen, without very dark or very bright spots.

The gamma curves are not very neat at the default settings. The gamma value is too low for the green and blue curves and the corresponding colors are displayed lighter and paler than they should be.

At the reduced brightness and contrast the curves improve and the colors are reproduced more accurately.

Of course, this model is far superior to most other monitors from this review in terms of speed with its average response time of 4.9 milliseconds GtG. However, it is not too fast as RTC-enabled monitors go due to the fact that its RTC mechanism doesn’t work on transitions from black. Look at the farthest row in the diagram above: those transitions take as long as 14-17 milliseconds as is typical of RTC-less matrixes. It is all right with halftone transitions – the response is never higher than 5-10 milliseconds. It’s not quite clear to me why the RTC mechanism is limited in such a way in this monitor.

The level of RTC errors, which are present in every RTC-enabled monitor, is acceptable at 8.6% on average. RTC-provoked artifacts will be visible in some situations, yet won’t be too annoying. RTC not working on transitions from black, there won’t be white trails behind letters of the application interfaces when you’re moving the windows around. The most sharp-sighted users are likely to spot the dark trail of the “ghosting” effect instead due to the same reason.

Alas, the color temperature is set up badly. The monitor’s colors tend to be bluish and there is a huge difference between different levels of gray. You can lower the level of blue somewhat with the menu settings, but it is very hard to bring this awful setup to normal without a calibrator.

The monitor’s maximum brightness is somewhat higher than usual, but the contrast ratio is, on the contrary, below the average level.

All monitors from Samsung feature MagicBright technology, which means a set of predefined modes you can switch through by pressing a single button. The implementation is better than the similar technologies on the Acer and ASUS monitors – the switching is indeed performed instantly and with a single button. These modes differ in brightness, contrast and, sometimes, in color temperature, provoking no distortions in color reproduction. So, I measured the brightness and contrast ratio in each mode:

The settings are overall adequate for the intended applications, yet I think that brightness should be lower by a fourth in each mode. As they are, the modes are meant for bright ambient lighting whereas the 2032BW is obviously a home monitor and is going to serve quite a lot of time under the mild evening lighting of a living apartment. So, you may want to configure the monitor manually for working with text and use the MagicBright modes when you need a brighter image, i.e. for viewing photos, for playing games, for watching movies, etc.

Unfortunately, you cannot edit any of the MagicBright modes.

One MagicBright mode enables the dynamic contrast technology which automatically adjusts the backlight brightness depending on the prevalence of lights or darks in the currently displayed picture. Dynamic contrast may be useful for movies but is absolutely unsuitable for work or games.

Highs:

Lows:

Recommended usage:

Samsung SyncMaster 2032MW

According to the rules of Samsung’s nomenclature, the M suffix denotes a monitor with an integrated TV-tuner. Judging by the rest of the model name, the SyncMaster 2032MW is going to be close to the above-discussed 2032BW but is it really so?

Not quite as you can see from the specs: having a declared response time of 5 milliseconds, the 2032MW obviously lacks RTC and is going to be much slower than the previous model.

The exterior design is just as splendid as that of the 2032BW: a black glossy sleek case with an elegant round stand.

The stand allows to adjust the tilt of the screen only, and in a rather small range.

The monitor features not only a TV-tuner (whose antenna input is located on the rear panel) but also a full set of other connectors: D-Sub, DVI, HDMI, video inputs (component, S-Video, composite), and even SCART, which is rarely installed in multimedia monitors lately due to its large size.

Most of the connectors are placed in a recess on the rear panel.

The side panel offers S-Video and composite connectors, an audio input accompanying the composite interface, and an output for headphones.

Interestingly, the monitor has its own speakers but it’s not easy to find them at a glance. They are hidden deep in a slit in the bottom of the front panel.

The control buttons are located on the monitor’s right panel. They are so inconveniently implemented that it’s virtually impossible to use them, especially as their labels are placed on the side panel, too.

Fortunately, the monitor comes with a remote control that solves the problem. It provides access not only to the TV-related section of the 2032MW but to the entire menu. The monitor’s buttons provide quick access to selecting a video input and a TV channel and to the sound volume setting. The remote control allows to quickly switch MagicBright modes, audio equalizer modes (which allows adjusting low and high frequencies as well as stereo balance), to muting the sound, to enabling the Picture-in-Picture mode and to choosing the image aspect ratio (only two variants are available, 16:10 and 4:3; you cannot enable per-pixel output without interpolation). The remote control is so handy that you may want to have it at hand even if you don’t utilize the TV-related features of your 2032MW.

The buttons for switching TV channels, controlling the volume and turning the power off are labeled with Braille print although it is not so necessary since they are perfectly recognizable with the fingers due to their size and position. I can’t but acknowledge that this remote control is very ergonomic and lies snugly in the hand.

This onscreen menu is used on Samsung’s monitors with video inputs. It is organized like menus of TV-sets and isn’t very user-friendly but the remote control with its full set of navigation buttons and a lot of instant-access buttons facilitates the configuring of the monitor greatly.

The monitor has 100% brightness and 90% contrast by default. To achieve a 100nit white I reduced them both to 40%. Both darks and lights are reproduced normally throughout the entire contrast adjustment range, from 0% to 100%.

Color gradients are reproduced perfectly, without banding.

The color gamut is the same as the 2032BW’s and differs but slightly from the sRGB standard: smaller in reds and blues but larger in greens.

 

The brightness uniformity on white is 5.2% on average with a maximum of 13.7%. On black, the average and maximum irregularity amounts to 8.4% and 19.8%, respectively. Interestingly, the distribution of brightness is similar in both cases: the middle of the screen and the areas at the top and bottom are brighter than the sides of the screen.

The gamma curves look acceptable at the default settings. They deflect but slightly from the theoretical curve.

The deflection remains the same at the reduced contrast, but the curves now go closer to each other.

As you could expect, the matrix is rather slow at an average response of 12.2 milliseconds GtG. This is 2.5 times slower than the response time of the SyncMaster 2032BW.

Alas, this monitor has a sloppy color temperature setup, too. Gray is colder than white by over 2000K even in the Normal mode. You can improve the situation somewhat by reducing the contrast setting in the monitor’s menu (and the color that is denoted as white in the table above will move beyond the displayed color range), switching the color temperature to Custom mode and reducing the level of blue to a reasonable value with the R-G-B sliders.

The monitor’s brightness is higher than average while the contrast ratio is quite good at 400:1. TN matrixes have been progressing little by little. Not long ago I would consider a contrast ratio of 300:1 as a good result for that manufacturing technology.

Like the previous monitor, the SyncMaster 2032MW features a few factory-set MagicBright modes that can be selected with a press of a single button (this button is offered by the remote control while the monitor itself doesn’t have it). These modes change the levels of brightness and contrast but do not affect color reproduction.

There is nothing for me to cavil at – every mode is configured properly for its intended application. There are three of them in total. That’s more than enough considering the availability of a user-defined mode (i.e. the manual settings): two modes for games and movies under different ambient lighting, one mode for viewing photographs and one more for working with text. The monitor has special MagicBright modes for the video inputs which do not overlap with the PC-related MagicBright.

Highs:

Lows:

Recommended usage:

NEC MultiSync LCD2090UXi

In my reviews I usually sort the monitors in alphabetical order – to certain displeasure of companies who didn’t take a name beginning with “AA” or at least just “A”. But today I’m breaking this rule due to the special object of the test. The models I’ve been talking about above are inexpensive products for home and office, suitable only for basic processing of photographs. Now it’s time to have a look at a more serious monitor.

It is a 20-incher with a classic aspect ratio of 4:3 based on an S-IPS matrix. As you probably know from our reviews, this matrix type not only provides the biggest viewing angles, but also does not distort colors when viewed from a side. That’s why it is a de-facto standard for monitors intended for professional image-editing applications.

The monitor’s exterior design is classic. A stern square massive case devoid of any decorations. This model comes in two colors – black and white – but each version is only one color, except for the labels. You get the point – nothing should distract the user from what’s going on in the screen.

The stand of the LCD2090Uxi is unusually big and angular after the neat and sleek home models, but it allows to change not only the tilt of the screen (in a rather big range as the pictures above show you) but also its height. You can also turn the screen around the vertical axis (the whole stand, including the base is rotating at that – a small rotating circle is built into the base of the stand) or pivot it into the portrait mode. The stand can be replaced with a VESA-compatible mount if necessary.

The stand is not locked in the folded position, and when you take the monitor out of the box or carry it from one table to another, the spring in the stand pulls it out to its full length.

The monitor has one D-Sub and two DVI inputs, one of which is a universal DVI-I that can connect to both digital and analog source. A connector for detachable optional speakers is located nearby.

The control buttons are located in the bottom right of the front panel. They are not labeled save for the button you can choose the input with. The labels appear right on the screen when you access the monitor’s menu. The point of this solution is that the labels turn around together with the monitor’s screen in the portrait mode. Yet I’m rather dubious about this convenience since ordinary “static” labels on buttons are more readable.

The monitor provides quick access – without entering the main menu – to the brightness and contrast settings and to selecting a video input.

The Power indicator is located to the left of the corresponding button. It shines with a very bright blue by default, which may be distracting. Fortunately, the menu offers the option of changing this indicator into green, reducing its intensity or even turning it off altogether. To the left of the Power button there is an ambient lighting sensor. Basing on its readings, the monitor can automatically adjust the backlight brightness to match the ambient lighting.

The LCD2090UXi has two menus, ordinary and extended. To enter the latter, you should turn the monitor off and then turn it back on while pressing the Input button. Do not confuse this menu with the service menus of other monitors that usually provide some information about the firmware and matrix type and offer low-level settings. Both menus of the NEC monitor are meant for the user and they are separated only to free the main menu from rarely accessed setup options.

Well, the main menu already has an impressively rich selection of settings in comparison with ordinary, home, monitors. You can enable the automatic brightness adjustment mode, configure the level of black, choose one of seven color temperature modes and correct it manually using a lot of parameters (white point, color shift, saturation).

The extended menu is a long list of various parameters. It is here that you can regulate the brightness and color of the Power indicator, change sharpness, configure the monitor’s behavior as concerns identifying the employed inputs and adjust it for a long signal cable. You can specify power-saving parameters, enable response time compensation (OverDrive, which is off by default) and the backlight compensation feature called ColorComp. You are going to spend quite a lot of time even to read through all the options – the monitor provides broadest setup opportunities.

Let’s see if the monitor was set up well back at the factory.

It has 100% brightness and 50% contrast by default. I achieved a 100nit white by choosing 41% brightness and 43% contrast. You should not increase the contrast setting above 50% as it leads to a loss of light halftones.

 

With the ColorComp feature disabled, the monitor has an awful backlight on black. This irregularity shows up in two spots, one in the top right and another in the top left corner, which are inconspicuous under bright daylight but catch your eye in semidarkness.

Express in numbers, the average irregularity of white is 5.8% with a maximum deflection of 14.9%. The average irregularity of black is 9.8% with a maximum of 38.2%. That’s a very poor result.

The monitor offers the ColorComp feature, though. Each NEC monitor is tested at the factory and a special brightness distribution map is saved into it so that the monitor could compensate the irregularity. This provokes a small reduction of maximum brightness but that’s something you can put up with.

 

Alas, ColorComp cannot help on black – it is no different than in the previous test. On white, the difference is obvious: the average uniformity is as low as 2.3% with a maximum of only 6.8%. A superb result!

The monitor’s got a normal color gamut for a model with ordinary backlight lamps. It is larger than sRGB in greens but smaller in reds. The two gamuts coincide in blues.

The gamma curves look good, merging into the theoretical curve for gamma 2.2.

The response time isn’t impressive with the RTC mechanism turned off: 10.8 milliseconds GtG. After all, the LCD2090UXi is meant for work, not for games.

Well, photographers, artists and polygraphists are also humans and if you want to switch to a new game for a while, you can enter the extended menu and enable OverDrive. The response time goes down to 6.3 milliseconds GtG which is more acceptable.

The RTC mechanism is accompanied with artifacts. The RTC error average is 7.4%, which is not high, yet may be noticeable occasionally.

The color temperature is not as perfect as the gamma curves, but the difference between the temperatures of gray is never higher than 340K, which is very good. In fact, this monitor doesn’t call for hardware calibration or manual setup. Its factory setup is satisfactory for most image-processing applications.

It’s hard to set any records in terms of brightness and contrast ratio, but it is also unnecessary. The LCD2090UXi is average from this aspect.

Of course, everything has its price and the MultiSync LCD2090UXi is considerably more expensive than any other monitor from this review, but its delivers a higher image quality and better color reproduction than the others. This is a model for people who are perfectly sure what they want to get from their PC monitor and are ready to pay for that.

Highs:

Lows:

Recommended usage:

Conclusion

There is no single leader among the monitors I have tested for this review. Of course, I could call the NEC MultiSync LCD2090UXi such, and it is a superb product indeed, but its price is much higher than what most users can afford to spend for a 20” LCD monitor.

As for the other models, none of them stands out among the others. The Dell E207WFP has good color reproduction but a slow matrix. The Samsung SyncMaster 2032BW has a fast matrix but poor color reproduction. And so on.

It looks like it’s still hard to find a universal monitor with a TN matrix. You can refer to my previous reports where there were only such universal monitors as Samsung 215TW, Dell 2007WFP, Philips 200P7ES which are based on S-PVA and S-IPS matrixes, but not on TN.

So, TN-based monitors still occupy the bottom market sector with all the consequences. There are good products among them but none of them can be viewed as a truly universal home monitor. I don’t mean that TN monitors are no good for serious work. They are going to be quite satisfactory in their price category for quite a lot of users, but there are yet inferior to monitors with VA and IPS matrixes not only due to smaller viewing angles (which is the inherent drawback of TN technology) but also due to the manufacturers’ economy on setup, functionality and ergonomics.