LCD Monitors Buyer's Guide: Fall 2007

This article is intended to serve as a guide. Without delving into technicalities and features of each monitor we go through the list of currently available models, pointing out the most interesting offers. Hopefully you will find our advice alongside with the links to corresponding reviews in this Fall 2007 Guide helpful.

by Oleg Artamonov
10/30/2007 | 03:37 PM

We have tested lots of LCD monitors, from modest 15-inchers to huge 30-inch models, in the last few years (see Other section for detailed reviews). Unfortunately, too much information may be confusing rather than helpful as you have to read a lot of reviews and keep a lot of things in your memory to compare different products and choose the one that suits you best.

 

This article was conceived to serve as a guide. Without delving into technicalities and features of each monitor I just browsed through the catalogue of currently available models, pointing out the most interesting offers.

Explaining my preference of one model to some other one would have made the article a full-size review, provoking the above-mentioned problem, so I’ll be trying to keep as concise as possible, throwing out unnecessary details. If you want those details, there is a link to our review after the name of each monitor model (for models that we tested in our labs). Overall, this article is a summary of my experience, perhaps subjective and biased, but it is the experience of a man who has seen and tested a lot of various monitors. The models I’ll mention below are the models that I most often name when asked the question, “what should I buy if…”

Of course, it is impossible to cover all the products selling today. Fortunately, most of them present little interest since many monitors are part of an unexciting mass with similar characteristics (and the problem of choice is reduced to the customer liking or disliking the particular monitor’s exterior design) or stand out among others with an inadequately high price, which makes them only interesting for people who like the particular brand.

I don’t mean that monitors not included into this article are not worthy of your interest. It is just impossible to cover them all, so the lists below should be regarded only as a guide directing you where you should go.

There is a brief summary at the end of each section: a few categories with one or a few models in each that are considered by me worthy of the customer’s attention, if not the best ones in the category. I didn’t include a “monitor for processing text” category because each normal monitor would have fitted into it. The other categories should be regarded in the literal sense. That is, models from the “monitor for games and movies” category are indeed monitors that suit well for games and movies but are likely to be a poor choice for editing photographs. Otherwise they would have been included into the “universal monitor” category.

17” Monitors

17” models currently occupy the bottom market segment. They used to have 15-inchers underneath until quite recently, but the latter have almost disappeared from shops today.

Low price is in the fact the single advantage of 17” monitors, but it is their main drawback, too. Profits are too low in this sector for the manufacturers to be interested in introducing new technologies into it. The maximum you can expect is that they carry over some new features from the more advanced 19” models.

The number one consequence of the low price is TN technology. There are no 17” monitors with *VA or S-IPS matrixes left in shops. So, if you don’t want to put up with poor vertical viewing angles, you should go right to the next section of this article.

The number two consequence is that there are almost no monitors with response time compensation among 17-inchers. Most 17” models have a specified response time of 5 milliseconds or higher, which, as you should know from our reviews, is indicative of a lack of RTC. This number of 5 milliseconds is only achieved on the transition between black and white while the average response (GtG) of such models varies from 13 to 15 milliseconds with a maximum up to 30 milliseconds.

You can find a few fast models among 17-inchers, though. I can name the LG Flatron L1760TQ, Samsung SyncMaster 731BF, the fanciful SyncMaster 760BF (see our review for details), and the NEC MultiSync 70GX2 Pro. The latter costs rather too much while not standing out among its competitors in anything. You may want to spend the same money for a very good 19” or an inexpensive 20” model instead.

But if the matrix speed of models with a specified response of 5 milliseconds and higher suits you fine, the choice of a particular monitor is in fact determined by your aesthetic preferences as the exterior design becomes the most notable differentiating trait. You can even skip the formal specs of products in this category as they are so similar in reality than you won’t see any difference.

Even the differences in design mostly concern the trim rather than the ergonomic properties. When talking about LCD monitors I call those case designs ergonomic that allow adjusting the position of the screen. A majority of 17” monitors allow adjusting the tilt only. The NEC MultiSync LCD1770NX allows adjusting the height as well, while the Samsung SyncMaster 760BF and one version of SyncMaster 740N additionally offer the portrait mode. The portrait mode is rather useless for TN matrixes because their poor vertical viewing angles become poor horizontal viewing angles, which is unacceptable for work.

The setup quality of 17” monitors is a random thing that depends on your luck. The manufacturers do not care about it much as the price category doesn’t demand them to. As a result, the accuracy of color reproduction on such monitors may vary from good to unacceptable.

Thus, purchasing a 17” monitor only makes sense if the price difference (a very small price difference, by the way) from 19” models is critical for you. It is also easier to find a 19” model that would meet your requirements in terms of setup quality, ergonomics and functionality whereas it is rather problematic to find, for example, a 17” model with both screen height adjustment and Response Time Compensation.

Anyway, if you are bent on buying a 17” monitor, you can choose from three product groups: a few models with fast matrixes (with a response time lower than 4 milliseconds), a few models with screen height adjustment, and the rest of the available models. You shouldn’t compare the specs of models in the latter group. Instead, go to the shop and compare the exterior design and image quality visually.

So, monitors for games and movies:

Monitors with good functionality and/or good color reproduction:

19” Monitors

Things are much more exciting in the 19” segment.

You are not limited to TN technology here. Although there are rather few monitors with other matrix types, they do exist. If you prefer *VA technology, you can choose from:

The most interesting among these products are the monitors from Acer, Samsung and HP (the latter is hardly different from the SyncMaster 940Fn in its specified and real parameters, though). The monitors from BenQ are not quite ergonomic and should be viewed as the cheapest option with a *VA matrix while the NEC LCD1970NXp doesn’t have RTC and is rather slow as a result. Having a low price, the Acer differs from the BenQ models with its functional stand that offers height adjustment and portrait mode. The monitors from Samsung and HP not only feature a more functional stand than the BenQ models but also have a better-quality setup generally. Well, you shouldn’t expect a miraculous accuracy of color reproduction from any of them. The default setup quality is acceptable at best and can be improved manually to a good level, but not more than that. The main advantage of such models over TN-based monitors is excellent viewing angles, both horizontal and vertical.

The Samsung SyncMaster 971P, the most expensive model offered, stands out with its elegant and remarkable exterior design but not with technical parameters. Moreover, its response time is slower in reality than that of the cheaper SyncMaster 940T and 940Fn. You may want to buy this monitor if you care about the appearance of your PC components. If your priority is technical parameters, there wouldn’t be much sense in paying extra for the 971P.

The Samsung SyncMaster 940T was originally manufactured with a slow 25ms PVA matrix without Response Time Compensation, but now it comes with a fast RTC-enabled matrix whose real speed doesn’t differ from that of the 940Fn.

So, if you need a 19” monitor with really wide viewing angles, you can choose from the following models: Samsung 940T and 940Fn, HP LP1965 and Acer AL1923. The latter model is nicely inexpensive but may sometimes have a sloppy color reproduction setup (this seems to depend on the particular product batch and the version of the installed matrix). The other three are somewhat more expensive but have a consistent setup. If you are limited in your budget, you may want to consider the BenQ FP93GP. If you prefer beautiful things, you may like the Samsung SyncMaster 971P.

Well, as I have noted above, these monitors may be good for everyday work, but are far from being an etalon in terms of color reproduction. If you need as accurate colors as possible, you should choose between two models from NEC: MultiSync LCD1970NX (do not confuse it with the LCD1970NXp !) and MultiSync LCD1990SXi (review).

Both are based on S-IPS matrixes. This is in fact the only special feature of the LCD1970NX. It has a good setup and excellent viewing angles (S-IPS matrixes have no match here), so it is going to be a good choice for image-editing applications. The more advanced LCD1990SXi is a professional monitor with lots of extra capabilities and a very fine factory setup of color reproduction. It is in fact so accurate that most users won’t need to calibrate or adjust the monitor’s settings manually (except for the ordinary brightness and contrast). If good color reproduction is the number one priority for you, you should certainly take a look at the LCD1970NX and LCD1990SXi. Alas, everything has its price: the former of these monitors is about as expensive as 20” models with S-IPS matrixes while the latter is far more costly. The NEC MultiSync LCD1990SXi is a monitor for people who are absolutely sure what they want to get and are ready to pay for that.

Well, most users are going to be perfectly satisfied with TN-based monitors despite their smaller viewing angles. Moreover, there are so many different 19-inchers – in comparison with 17” models – that it is quite easy to find a monitor that combines the features you need. As for the price factor, 19” monitors are but slightly more expensive than 17-inchers today.

The freedom of choice begins with the native resolution even. 19” monitors with TN matrixes can have an aspect ratio of 5:4 (and a resolution of 1280x1024) or 16:10 (1440x900). The latter have a somewhat smaller screen area (as you can remember from your geometry classes at school, a square has the biggest area for a given diagonal), but if you are going to use your monitor for watching movies, a widescreen model may prove more convenient – what’s the purpose of the larger total area of a 5:4 monitor if there are wide black bands at the top and bottom of the standard movie frame (that has an aspect ratio of 16:9)?

Besides, widescreen monitors have a smaller pixel pitch. Many users think that pixels on standard 19-inchers are too large, making the image grainy and angular. This can be regarded as one more plus of widescreen monitors. Unfortunately, 19” widescreen models are manufactured with TN matrixes only as yet.

Early 19” monitors used to lack Response Time Compensation, but now there is quite a broad choice of monitors with fast matrixes, i.e. with a specified response time of 4 milliseconds and less (as I showed in my tests a lot of times, monitors with a specified response time prove to be twice or thrice as slow as 4ms models – the difference is much bigger than 25%). A typical and worthy representative of this class is the Samsung SyncMaster 940BW, a model with a low response time, adequate color reproduction and good ergonomics. It competes with the LG Flatron L196WTQ, but the latter didn't demonstrate uniform brightness in our review. If you want a monitor with a pretty appearance (and are ready to sacrifice the ergonomics for that), you may be interested in other products from Samsung such as SyncMaster 932GW or SyncMaster 961BW.

Most manufacturers, however, go on producing widescreen 19” monitors with rather slow matrixes whose average response amounts to 13-15 milliseconds. These are products from ASUS, Acer, ViewSonic, etc. They don’t differ much from the mentioned fast models in terms of price and often come without a digital DVI input. So, their advantages are rather vague in my eyes.

Of course, the market of 19” monitors with a classic aspect ratio of 5:4 and a screen resolution of 1280x1024 is developed just as well. Besides the relatively expensive models with *VA and IPS matrixes I mentioned at the beginning of this section, there are interesting offers among inexpensive TN-based products. Like with the widescreen monitors, there are two groups: with Response Time Compensation (a specified response time of 4 milliseconds and less) and without it (a specified response time of 5 milliseconds and more). The real difference in speed is two- or threefold, though.

There are actually no clear leaders in either group. Many companies offer appealing products. You can take a look at monitors from LG Electronics: the inexpensive L1953 series (it includes monitors with RTC and monitors without RTC), the elegant L1970 and the fanciful L1900. Samsung’s product range is no less interesting, though, including the inexpensive 940N and the beautiful 932BF.

The other manufacturers are, unfortunately, lagging behind these two Korean giants. ASUS’ monitors are interesting but not quite user-friendly (although the company is working on that and has been making some progress). Monitors from BenQ and Acer aren’t good in terms of ergonomics and exterior design while NEC’s ones are generally more expensive than their counterparts from other brands (the price of the 90GX2 Pro is especially impressive: being an ordinary gaming 19-incher with a TN matrix it is more expensive than some 20” models with *VA and S-IPS matrixes).

So, universal monitors with good viewing angles, functionality and response time:

Monitors for games and movies:

Monitors with good color reproduction for reasonable money:

Monitors with uncompromising color reproduction:

20”-22” Monitors

This market sector is currently the most active one. Here you can easily find a model of any class, with any matrix type and functional feature.

The bottom of the sector is occupied by a few models with a native resolution of 1400x1050 pixels. These are all based on TN matrixes without Response Time Compensation and have poor vertical viewing angles and a low speed as a consequence. You can be interested in such a monitor due to its price or a rather large pixel pitch (if you find the native resolution of 19” monitors too low but the pixels of standard 20” monitors too small). In this category you may be interested in the Samsung SyncMaster 203B that features superb ergonomic properties for a very modest price.

Next go numerous models with 20” TN matrixes that have more common native resolutions. These can be divided into widescreen (1680x1050) and classic (1600x1200) models, but the latter category is in fact represented by the Samsung SyncMaster 204B alone – it differs from the above-mentioned 203B in the native resolution only.

The choice of widescreen monitors is much broader. There are first-wave monitors without RTC and there are models with fast matrixes (the latter can be easily distinguished by their specified response time – it is 4 milliseconds or better).

The rather slow 5ms models are mainly interesting as office tools. The Samsung SyncMaster 205BW seems to be the most interesting among them. Coming at a very modest price, this monitor is good ergonomically and has a relatively good set-up. Many people are going to like the Dell E207WFP which is somewhat more expensive than the 205BW, but has a better exterior design.

If you want a monitor with a fast matrix, you should take a look at models with a response time of 4 milliseconds and less among which the following can be noted as deserving more interest than others: LG Flatron L206WTQ, ASUS MW-201U, Samsung SyncMaster 206BW and SyncMaster 2032BW.

Alas, a low price and a good response time are the only strong points of these models. They are not very ergonomic (particularly, none of the mentioned four monitors allows adjusting the height of the screen), and the TN matrix has traditionally small viewing angles. The setup quality is often low, sometimes very low (the most common problem is a too-high color temperature of gray, which makes it look bluish).

If you want to have good color reproduction and functionality with a small response time, you can look at more expensive products based on *VA and S-IPS matrixes. A few leaders with the best price/quality ratio can be named here:

As you can see, the first four models form two pairs in which the particular models differ in the screen aspect ratio only. What is better? Practice suggests that widescreen models are preferable for movies while classic models are better for CAD/CAM applications. For other applications (games, Internet, processing text and spreadsheets, processing photographs, etc) it all depends on your personal preferences and the interface of software you use (for example, if the program allows placing toolboxes and other such auxiliary elements on the sides of the workspace, the widescreen monitor proves very handy).

Although each of the five enumerated monitors is a very good product and will surely satisfy a majority of users, the models with S-IPS matrixes, i.e. Philips Brilliance 200P7ES and Dell 2007WFP, are special. These are relatively inexpensive monitors for working with colors (for example, for processing photographs).

Following 20” and 21” models there is a large group of 22” monitors. And many people get surprised at seeing that these are often cheaper than 20-inchers. There is a simple reason for that: all 22” monitors, without exceptions, are currently manufactured with TN matrixes, which means not only a low price but also a small vertical viewing angle together with poor color reproduction.

I discussed TN-based 20” monitors at the beginning of this section, and everything I wrote then can be applied to 22” models as they only differ in the size of the screen. Among RTC-less models the Dell E228WFP and the Samsung SyncMaster 225BW are worthy of your interest. Noteworthy among RTC-enabled models are the ASUS MW221U, LG Flatron L226WTQ, and Samsung’s SyncMaster 226BW with SyncMaster 2232BW. Alas, I can’t really recommend any of these monitors as the best one since all of them have some ergonomic drawbacks or a sloppy setup or both. So if you need a really good and universal monitor, you should get a few paragraphs back to the models with *VA and S-IPS matrixes.

Lately there have appeared monitors with a diagonal of 21.6”. They are in fact no different from 22” models. It has just become more expedient for the manufacturers to cut the wafers of LCD panels into 21.6” rather than 22.0” pieces.

I want to add a special word about the new monitors with an extended color gamut such as Samsung SyncMaster 226CW. Many users think that this means an improved reproduction of colors, but that’s not true. The extended color gamut allows the monitor to display more saturated and lush colors, but it depends on other factors how close those colors are to the desired ones. Alas, the extended color gamut is hardly a serious advantage for TN-based monitors that often come with rather low color reproduction setup.

Here’s the summary.

Universal monitors with good color reproduction, response time and functionality for home use:

Universal monitors with good color reproduction, response time and functionality for work:

Monitors for games and movies:

Monitors with uncompromising color reproduction for professional image-editing applications.

23” and 24” Monitors

The previous market segment is all alive nowadays while monitors with really large screen diagonals have actually just begun to develop. There are few models in it today. I think this situation won’t last long as announcements of new products are becoming more frequent.

Monitors of that size have a native resolution of 1920x1200 pixels but can still work with any graphics card that has a DVI output. They don’t need a dual-link DVI interface some graphics card models are not equipped with yet.

Not all matrix manufacturing technologies were available in this market until recently as TN technology, which has poor vertical viewing angles, not very accurate reproduction of colors but a low manufacturing cost, was missing. This omission has been filled in with the Samsung SyncMaster 245B, and the Acer AL2416WBsd is going to join it soon. Other manufacturers will surely follow suit soon after.

Well, the single appealing trait of these monitors, especially considering that they employ rather slow matrixes without Response Time Compensation, is their low price. If you want to have a high image quality, you should instead search among other matrix types, *VA and S-IPS.

The Dell 2407WFP seems to be the leader among them in terms of price/quality ratio. It is a neat, ergonomic and properly set-up monitor based on an S-PVA matrix with Response Time Compensation. I can also point out the Samsung SyncMaster 244T that is free from some of the smaller drawbacks of the Dell but is somewhat less attractive externally due to its somewhat bulky case. It also comes at a higher price than the Dell 2407WFP. On the other hand, the 244T is going to be replaced with the SyncMaster 245T, which is an exciting product with rich setup options, an extended color gamut and a new technology for minimizing the sluggishness of LCD panels that is called MPA. Dell has also released an extended-gamut model called 2407WFP-HC but I haven’t yet had a chance to test it.

For users who need a finest reproduction of colors with flexible setup options NEC has released a new professional model with an S-IPS matrix. It is called NEC MultiSync LCD2490WUXi. Unfortunately, the cheaper MultiSync LCD2470WNX has a higher price than the above-mentioned monitors from Dell and Samsung while not surpassing them in its specified or real parameters.

So, the summary goes like this.

An inexpensive monitor with a high resolution for processing text, spreadsheets, etc:

A universal monitor with good color reproduction, response time and functionality:

A monitor with uncompromising color reproduction for professional image-editing applications:

24”+ Monitors

Monitors with a screen diagonal longer than 24 inches fall into two distinct groups: with a diagonal of 30” and with a diagonal from 25.5 to 27”. I’ll deal with both groups at once as they include not many models.

Junior models with a diagonal of 25.5-27” (the manufacturers often round this number up, e.g. the NEC MultiSync LCD26 90WUXi has a screen diagonal of 25.5 not 26 inches) have the same native resolution as 24” models, namely 1920x1200 pixels. So, they are compatible with any graphics card that has a DVI output, but the quantitative advantage in the size of the screen does not result in a qualitative advantage of being able to display more information. The largest of such models, for example Samsung SyncMaster 275T and Dell 2707WFP also have a very large pixel pitch, making the user move away from the screen so that the image looked less grainy.

That is why I think such monitors are meant for watching movies in the first place. Professional applications are not their priority because it is the native resolution rather than the sheer size of the screen that is more important for work as a means to display more information. And 27” models do not differ from 24” ones in terms of native resolution.

If you need a very high resolution, you should consider 30” monitors such as Samsung SyncMaster 305T or Dell 3007WFP. The latter comes in two versions, just like the Dell 2407WFP, the version with an extended color gamut being called 3007WFP-HC.

30” monitors have a native resolution of 2560x1600 pixels, requiring a graphics card with support for dual-link DVI. This support is formally offered by all ATI Radeon 1xxx and 2xxx series chips and by Nvidia’s GeForce 7xxx and 8xxx series but I had problems with inexpensive graphics cards which would be unstable in dual-link DVI mode and produced a noisy image. So, if you are going to buy a 30” monitor, you may have to upgrade your graphics card to match it.

I won’t give you specific recommendations in this section. The market of such monitors is rather small as yet and we haven’t tested too many of them in our labs. The prices are high enough for such models to have no clear leaders and losers. They are all good enough and will satisfy most users – if you don’t mind the price.