LCD Monitor Buyer’s Guide: Spring 2010

In our today’s article we will try summing up everything we already know about LCD displays in order to answer the following question: what monitor shall I buy this coming spring?

by Oleg Artamonov
02/22/2010 | 10:52 AM

We all of us buy stuff. We buy this and that and we have to face the unavoidable problem of choice. We are offered various products with enticing labels and new-fangled technologies – sometimes lots of them in a single product – and the two opposing desires to get a good one and not to overpay are struggling in our heads.

 

This article is focused on the problem of choice of a computer monitor and consists of two parts. The first part covers the new trends that emerged or came to full force in 2009. In other words, it covers the most important technologies offered by the manufacturers and I will discuss them not in the way of how it works but rather in the way of what it gives to us, customers. The second part of the article is about choosing a monitor for specific applications. I will explain what parameters to pay attention to and name a few specific products you may be interested in. Of course, I cannot enumerate all monitors selling today and give my recommendations on each of them. So, I name specific models basing on my personal experience and taste. As everybody’s opinion is biased, you may not like the models I suggest for some reason. In this case, you should read through the theoretical part and approach the problem of choice on your own.

I will not discuss such parameters as contrast ratio, dynamic contrast, response time and some others again. If you want to know that, refer to our previous articles:

You may also want to check out the Monitors section of our site for reviews of specific products. Again, in this article, I will be trying to approach the issue from a purely practical point of view: what is the best buy?

Technologies

Aspect Ratio of 16:9

Although TV-sets and computer monitors have long gone widescreen, they have had different aspect ratios. An aspect ratio of 16:9 became standard for television whereas monitors used to be 16:10. This discrepancy could provoke some problems for users of gaming consoles and video players that did not support that format (and most monitors did not recognize the 16:9 format and would stretch such visual content to full screen). When used together with a computer, there were no problems with either office applications or video playback, though.

TV-sets and monitors arrived to one and the same format in the last year as monitors transitioned to 16:9. Why? And what should users do about that?

First, it is more profitable for the manufacturers. Each manufacturer operates with two parameters, namely the size of the screen (the smaller the screen, the cheaper its LCD matrix) and the number of matrixes fitting into a single factory wafer. The diagonal being the same, the wider the screen, the smaller its area is. A screen with an aspect ratio of 1:1, i.e. a square one, is going to have the largest area for the given diagonal. However, it looks like prior to the introduction of the new generation of production facilities, cutting a wafer up into matrixes with an aspect ratio of 16:10 would leave less waste. But now the situation has changed and it has become profitable to produce 16:9 matrixes. The manufacturers are likely to stay with this format for long now because a frame in HD video formats is exactly the same aspect ratio. It is logical to use this aspect ratio to avoid the customer’s asking questions about any discrepancies.

So, what should users do about that? Nothing! The transition to 16:9 has brought about even more shopping options. The model range used to be 19-20-22-24 inches before. But now it is 18.5-20-21.5-23-23.6-24 inches. What is especially good, there have appeared inexpensive 23-inch Full-HD monitors with a resolution of 1920x1080 pixels. Clearly, there is no problem now finding a monitor that would suit you in terms of price, size and resolution. When it comes to professional applications, there is nearly no difference between the 16:10 and 16:9 formats.

There are two objections often voiced at web-forums. The first one goes like this: “your 20-inch (or even larger, depending on the actual dimensions as well as on the poster’s imagination) monitor is comparable to my 19-incher because they have the same height!” It is, however, unclear why we are asked to compare the height of the screen rather than its width, total area or native resolution. Perhaps just because this way the old and nearly square (5:4) 19-inch monitor with a resolution of 1280x1024 and a huge pixel pitch is going to have a large advantage? The natural field of vision of our eyes is stretched out horizontally. It is also easier for our eye muscles to move the eyes sideways rather than up and down. Moreover, ergonomics demands that the display be placed on the same level with the eyes for them not to dry out, and the lower monitor helps to achieve that. Thus, widescreen monitors are overall more suitable to the peculiarities of human physiology than monitors with an aspect ratio of 4:3 or 5:4, which is almost square. Widescreen monitors are obviously better for movies and games – again as they match the field of vision of our eyes better and thus deliver more realism. That’s why the widescreen format is long a de-facto standard in cinema, by the way. When it comes to professional applications, this is largely a matter of habit. In most applications menus, palettes, toolboxes, etc, are historically placed in horizontal rows but can also be placed to a side of the work area. In some applications where the palettes and tools take up a lot of space (image-editing software, rapid application development tools, etc), they are placed at the side by default, and a widescreen monitor allows to open up a lot of tools simultaneously and leave a lot of space for the work area.

The second objection is that the screen area has become smaller, the diagonal being the same. This is indeed so, but I must note that the manufacturing cost of LCD panels has lowered, too. And monitors themselves have become cheaper. If you compare similar monitors with different screen aspect ratios, you’ll have a commonsensical picture: for example, 20-inch monitors with a 16:9 screen and a resolution of 1600x900 pixels are but slightly more expensive than 19-inchers with 16:10 and 1440x900 and they also have a slightly larger display area. Besides, the 16:9 format has brought about 23-inch monitors with their lucky combination of properties such as a large screen, Full-HD resolution, optimal pixel pitch, and an appealing price. Today, you can buy a monitor with a resolution higher than 1680x1050 for less than $300 (by the way, 21.5-inch monitors are even cheaper while having the same resolution, but some people won’t like them due to their small pixel pitch).

Thus, there are no real reasons to shun widescreen monitors. On the contrary, the broad choice of screen diagonals in the most popular market sector (20 to 24 inches) and the rapidly declining prices of monitors with a Full HD resolution of 1920x1080 are very good news for the end-user.

LED Backlight

Monitors with LED backlight, often referred to as LED monitors (which is not quite correct because true LED monitors are those huge ad billboards in which the image is indeed formed by LEDs), have been quickly gaining popularity. They were expensive, premium-class products at first, but now, for example, BenQ offers a 19-incher with LED backlight for less than $200.

But if we are going to talk about the real, not marketing, advantages, we want to know what type of LED backlight we mean. There are three of them available today:

So, ordinary home monitors usually come with an edge backlight based on white LEDs. Other types of LED-based backlights may become popular in the future, but that’s what we have now.


Samsung SyncMaster XL2370: LED backlights allow designing very thin models

The manufacturers often promise that a LED backlight affects nearly all of a monitor’s characteristics including contrast ratio, color accuracy, brightness uniformity. Is it really so?

Contrast ratio is only determined by the characteristics of the LCD matrix, namely by the ratio of the transparency levels of open and closed pixels. It depends neither on the backlight nor on the type of that backlight.

Dynamic contrast. As opposed to gas-discharge lamps, LEDs can be lit up instantly or turned out completely, which leads to extremely high levels of dynamic contrast (to remind you, it is calculated as the ratio of white on an all-white screen to black on an all-black screen). But in real applications, for example when watching a movie, there are no absolutely black frames even in the credits. Most of the time there is something on the screen besides blackness and a monitor with a huge specified dynamic contrast will never have the chance to deliver it in practice. As a result, there is no practical point in increasing the dynamic contrast higher than 10,000:1 which has already become standard for any monitors, including those with a backlight based on fluorescent lamps.

Uniformity of brightness. As I’ve said above, home monitors utilize an edge backlight, i.e. a line of LEDs along the edge of the matrix. The whole screen is lit by means of a special diffuser. This is the same design as is used in notebook displays and in inexpensive models of monitors with lamp-based backlight: the lamp is also located near the edge of the screen (more expensive models have a few lamps, located behind the matrix). The uniformity of brightness depends only on the design of the diffuser and you can often see various defects like bright spots or a brighter zone at the edge of the screen where the lamp or the line of LEDs resides. Therefore, LED-based monitors can be both better and worse than lamp-based ones. It depends on the specific models.

Color gamut is due to the properties of the color filters of the LCD matrix and the backlight’s radiation spectrum. The 3-color backlight (red-green-blue) can ensure a really large color gamut with pure and saturated colors (you can refer to this review for details), but home monitors currently use white LEDs with a continuous radiation spectrum of a complex shape. As a result, the color gamut of such monitors differs but little from that of monitors with lamp-based backlight. I don’t say they are identical, but the difference can hardly be spotted with a naked eye.

Color accuracy. Obviously enough, the other aspects of color reproduction do not depend on the type of backlight at all. They are determined by how accurately the monitor is set up, by the monitor’s electronics, the characteristics of the LCD panel, etc.

So, although it would be wrong to claim that LED backlighting has no advantages, those advantages do not affect the image quality. The only indubitable high of LED-based monitors is their lower power consumption, but their image quality won’t be any better until the manufacturers switch from the white edge backlight to other technologies. And I have doubts that this will occur in near future because edge backlighting is cheap while the more advanced alternatives are far more expensive.

Summing it up, you should only deliberately look for a LED-based monitor if you care about power consumption. Otherwise, you should base your choice on other parameters, ignoring the type of backlight altogether.

C-PVA and e-IPS

The year of 2009 was remarkable for users who appreciate monitors with large viewing angles as rather inexpensive monitors with C-PVA and e-IPS (H-IPS) matrixes came to the market. Until that moment, we could only choose from TN-based monitors whose vertical viewing angles are still far from ideal and expensive monitors with S-PVA and S-IPS matrixes (the manufacturers would occasionally roll out inexpensive products with such matrixes, e.g. the Samsung 215TW or the Dell 2007WFP, but those were really rare occasions).

I tested C-PVA matrixes in Samsung’s SyncMaster F2080 and F2380 monitors. Featuring a simpler subpixel structure in comparison with the more expensive S-PVA technology, it doesn’t look any worse to the eye. Moreover, the contrast ratio of C-PVA proved to be record-breaking. Unfortunately, C-PVA had inherited such shortcomings of S-PVA as the tonal shift when viewed at an angle and the loss of details in darks when you are looking directly at the screen. Anyway, C-PVA monitors are perfect for working with design drawings and text as well as for home applications if you don’t mind their rather high response time (it is high with the two mentioned models).

The developers of e-IPS technology also simplified the subpixel structure in comparison with S-IPS, increasing the transparency of the matrix and reducing its manufacturing cost (particularly, because of the reduction in backlight intensity: you need less light to achieve the same screen brightness if the matrix is more transparent).

The main drawback of e-IPS in comparison with S-IPS is that the viewing angles are smaller. When you take a look at an e-IPS matrix from a side, the image will lose its contrast as black turns into gray. On the other hand, there is no tonal shift (as with TN and C-PVA matrixes) and the viewing angles, especially vertical ones, are still much larger than with TN.

By the way, the contrast drop occurring when the screen is viewed from a side can be compensated by means of special correcting film, but as e-IPS matrixes are meant for midrange monitors and this film costs money, most products come without it.

Today, there are a few monitors with e-IPS matrixes at very appealing prices. For example, the 23-inch NEC MultiSync EA231WMi, whose color accuracy and viewing angles are good enough even for processing photographs, will cost you less than $600.

Interestingly, like Samsung with its F series, NEC did not try to achieve a low response time. The EA231WMi has no response time compensation and its real speed is about 16 milliseconds (GtG). This is acceptable for movies and even games, but much slower compared to gaming TN-based products. Another popular e-IPS monitor, the 22-inch Dell 2209WA, is free from that downside, but it has a lower resolution of 1680x1050 as opposed to the EA231WMi’s 1920x1080. Considering the current popularity of HD video, this can be viewed as a drawback already.

Thus, the new C-PVA and e-IPS monitors cannot directly compete with TN-based products because they are 30% to 50% more expensive and generally have a high response time, which makes them less suitable for games. However, the introduction of the new, cheaper types of matrixes has had but little effect on their real parameters in comparison with the expensive alternatives (S-PVA and S-IPS). So, if you want a good monitor with large viewing angles for work or home at a reasonable price and you don’t need a very low response time, the C-PVA and e-IPS models are what you should certainly consider in the first place.

As for choosing between these two types of matrixes, e-IPS technology is somewhat more universal and better in terms of color accuracy whereas C-PVA delivers a higher contrast ratio and costs somewhat less. Thus, C-PVA will be perfect for working with design drawings and text, and e-IPS will be good for processing photographs.

120 Hz and 3D-Glasses

Monitors capable of delivering a true 3D picture came out back in the last century along with shutter glasses that were connected to the graphics card and worked in pair with CRT monitors. But it looks like this technology is going to come to full bloom only in this year of 2010. Early models of shutter glasses disappeared along with CRT monitors because LCD monitors could not provide a refresh rate higher than 60-75 Hz. The alternative technologies have not taken off due to their complexity, quality issues, and protecting patents.


NVIDIA GeForce 3D Vision stereoscopic glasses

Last year I tested Nvidia’s GeForce 3D Vision glasses together with the first 120-gigahertz LCD monitor Samsung SyncMaster 2233RZ and predicted bright perspectives for that technology. It delivers high image quality in 2D and 3D modes. It works with rather simple-to-develop and manufacture monitors that are not protected with lots of patents and are not inferior to ordinary 2D monitors when you use them without the glasses. It is compatible with TV-sets and projectors. It connects to computers easily, not requiring a special interface from the graphics card. Critics would say that the glasses were expensive and the very idea of watching a TV-set in glasses was bad, but the recent Consumer Electronics Show has had the final say: very few of TV makers did not show new products with support for 3D stereo there and all of such products worked with active shutter glasses. Cable and on-air 3D broadcasting, video cameras for 3D shooting, a new version of Blu-ray with support for 3D, the refilming of old and the release of new movies in 3D: stereo imaging was the hot topic of CES’2010.

This is the near future, but what do we have today?

Today, we have two models of 120-gigahertz monitors that support stereo glasses: Samsung SyncMaster 2233RZ and ViewSonic VX2268wm (it sells as VX2265wm on the US market). Both have a diagonal of 22 inches and a native resolution of 1680x1050 pixels. You can complement them with the active shutter glasses GeForce 3D Vision that work with Nvidia’s cards only.

Two facts may be disturbing here: the native resolution and the brand of supported graphics cards. If you buy an expensive monitor today, you want a Full-HD resolution of 1920x1080 pixels. And AMD has left Nvidia behind on the graphics card market by releasing the Radeon HD 58xx series and it is yet unclear when Nvidia is going to catch up with its opponent.

Fortunately, both problems are going to be solved soon. Acer is expected to market its 23.6-inch 120-Hz monitor with a resolution of 1920x1080 pixels in February or March. ASUS and ViewSonic plan to introduce such products, too, and other makers will follow the suit soon. There are already at least two makers of LCD panels for such monitors: CMO and LG.

It’s somewhat more difficult with AMD/ATI. The company had been expected to showcase the playback of stereo Blu-ray movies on its graphics card at CES and to enable the stereo mode in its Catalyst 10.1 driver, but neither happened. AMD is planning to release stereo glasses compatible with its graphics cards not sooner than the second half of 2010. But if they do enable stereo mode in their drivers, third-party glasses may come out even sooner than AMD’s own ones.

Most importantly, purchasing a 3D monitor makes sense even if you don’t plan to buy stereo glasses or if you have an AMD graphics card. Why? First, a monitor is usually expected to serve for 3 to 5 years and stereo glasses will have become a standard device, compatible with all graphics card brands, by that time. And second, 3D monitors are superior to their “flat” counterparts in response time even without any glasses.

The fact is stereo glasses impose strict requirements on the real (not only on the specified) response time of a monitor. The monitor must be able to refresh the picture during the period when the glasses are opaque, which lasts for a few milliseconds. If this requirement is not met, there will be various unpleasant visual artifacts in 3D mode, making the monitor unsuitable for showing stereo video content.

Thus, although stereo monitors do not hold the world record in terms of response time (the 2233RZ is as fast as 3 milliseconds while a lot of ordinary monitors have a response time of 2 milliseconds), they prove to be among the fastest available models if you set their refresh rate at 120 Hz. They combine this high speed with a very low level of RTC-related artifacts. So, if you are into games and want your monitor to be as fast as possible, you have no other choice but consider the 3D Vision compatible models. You can have one with a resolution of 1680x1050 today or wait a little for the 1920x1080 model to come out this spring. You can buy the glasses later on and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed (if you don’t believe me, just watch James Cameron’s Avatar in a 3D cinema).

What about the competing technologies if any? To cut it short, their fate is sad. There are no real opponents to the active shutter glasses today. The whole story goes like this. There are two alternative technologies with cheap passive glasses: interlaced polarization (Zalman’s Trimon) and polarization plane adjustment (the iZ3D). The former technology lowers the monitor’s resolution by half in 3D mode (thus, a matrix with a native resolution of 2160x1920 would be required to show Full-HD video) and has very narrow viewing angles. The latter technology is too expensive as it implies the use of two LCD matrixes in one monitor and still suffers from a persisting problem of the image tripling due to insufficient separation of the right and left frames. Monitors with these technologies are manufactured by two companies only (Zalman and iZ3D, respectively), and there are no such TV-sets at all.

You may also come across the idea of stereo imaging without any glasses. I must assure you that this idea won’t go beyond specialized journals and exhibitions in the next decade. The problem is in the very basics of the formation of a stereo image: each eye has to be shown an individual picture. There is only one way to separate the two images in the glasses-free concept – the spatial one. The left and right eyes are looking at the screen at slightly different angles. Thus, there must be a filter on the surface of the matrix with micro lenses or small slits made in such a way that the user saw different pixels at different angles of view.

The fatal problem with this technology is that a man’s eyes are only some 65 millimeters apart. Thus, if you move your head a few centimeters rightward while watching video, your left eye will get to the position where the right eye has been and will see the picture meant for the right eye. The right eye, in its turn, will either see the image for the left eye (the stereo video will be kind of upside down then) or just a jumble of frames in which the left frame will merge into the right one depending on what part of the screen you are looking at. Thus, auto-stereoscopic monitors (those that do not require any glasses) have a few strictly defined points from which a normal 3D picture can be seen. But the main problem is that as soon as your eyes are deflected from those points, you lose the sense of space and your eyes and brain begin to receive a mix of right and left frames, which will make your head ache very soon. This technology is okay for exhibitions and other public entertainment where visitors come up for a couple of minutes to move their heads around searching for a pretty image and can just turn away if they don’t like what they see. But it is no good for normal home use.

Summary: monitors with support for stereoscopic glasses are interesting not only for their ability to work with such glasses (even though this application is quite exciting in itself) but also as monitors for devoted gamers as they boast a very high response time with a minimum of visual artifacts. Just don’t forget to set the refresh rate at 120 Hz in your graphics card driver!

Shopping for a Home or Office Monitor

The first section of the shopping related part of this article is going to be broad and unspecific. What do I mean by an office or home monitor, anyway? Well, it must be inexpensive and must have acceptable technical parameters. It may also look nice, but there are no specific requirements as to its color accuracy or other specs. So, I will give you some general recommendations rather than talk about specific models.

First off, you must decide what type of the LCD matrix you want. If you don’t know well why you need a PVA or an IPS matrix, you may as well buy a TN one. Today’s TN-based monitors produce a nice-looking picture, have a fast response time and cost very low. An average 23-inch model is going to cost you some $300. And there are entry-level models that will cost even less.

Reading through the monitor’s specs, you should check out if it has a DVI input. The DVI interface (or the DVI-compatible HDMI) is currently available on all discrete and on many integrated graphics cards. As opposed to an analog interface, it guarantees a sharp and high-quality picture. An analog connection may provoke problems at high resolutions such as dithering, fuzziness, and the necessity to adjust the monitor’s image up each time you turn it on. Well, the analog interface is going to be okay in most situations, but I do advise you to add $10 or something a buy a DVI-interfaced monitor. You will be safeguarded from the mentioned problems then.

Home-oriented TN monitors fall into two large categories in terms of response time: 2 milliseconds (GtG) and 5 milliseconds. They differ sharply because the former category is equipped with Response Time Compensation whereas the latter is not. If measured using the same method, the response time of the 5-millisecond models is going to be 12-15 milliseconds (GtG). The real difference is very large as you can see.

On the other hand, 5-millisecond models are fast enough for any applications save for dynamic games. They will even do for undemanding users even in games. Therefore, there is no point in preferring 2-millisecond models if your requirements are not very strict. As for gamers, I will discuss their requirements below.

When it comes to TN matrixes, you often don’t have to check out such parameters as contrast ratio and viewing angles. The former is specified for the LCD matrix and does not account for the monitor’s specific setup. And the latter parameter can be measured in two methods which do not count in possible color distortions. Thus, you should not take these numbers too seriously. It is much better to have a look at the monitor alive. A monitor with specified viewing angles of 160/160 degrees measured in one method may prove to be better than a monitor with specified viewing angles of 170/170 degrees measured with the other method.

The size of the screen should be determined by financial considerations in the first place. Besides, your choice may be affected by the pixel pitch you want to have (for example, many people find it difficult to discern small interface elements on the screen of 21.5-inch monitors with a native resolution of 1920x1080). Generally speaking, I think that 23- and 24-inch monitors with a Full-HD resolution of 1920x1080 pixels are the optimal choice today. They are rather inexpensive and have a large resolution for comfortable work and watching Full-HD movies in original quality. Their pixel pitch is neither too small nor too big. There is no point in buying a larger monitor for work because it will have the same resolution of 1920x1080 and will display the same amount of information. The larger monitors are meant for movies in the first place.

With this general approach, you have a broad choice of specific models. Basing on my experience, I can recommend you to consider the inexpensive Acer V233HABD, the original milk-white BenQ V2400 Eco or the beautiful and fast Samsung P2370H. These are by far not all the options available, of course.

22-inchers with a resolution of 1680x1050 are leaving the market. There is no point in buying one of them. Instead, you should add a little money and purchase a 23-incher with 1920x1080 which will be better from any point of view: larger resolution, larger screen, smaller pixel pitch (fonts look smoother as the result). Even if you are not planning to watch HD video right now and your graphics card cannot cope with high resolutions, you must keep it in mind that your monitor is going to serve you for a few years!

If your budget is limited, you may want to consider 20-inchers with a resolution of 1600x900, for example the surprisingly cheap yet good-quality Acer V203HCbd or the fast 2-millisecond Samsung P2050.


Acer V203HCbd

You should beware monitors with a diagonal of 21.5 inches (it is often rounded off to 22 inches sharp) and a resolution of 1920x1080. They have a very small pixel pitch, so you should first make sure that the interface elements won’t look too small to you, especially if you usually sit rather far from your monitor.

If you are ready to pay more for a monitor with really wide viewing angles, you should consider products with C-PVA and e-IPS matrixes I have discussed above. These are the Samsung SyncMaster F2380 (C-PVA) and NEC MultiSync EA231WMi (e-IPS). The latter model looks preferable. Although e-IPS matrixes are somewhat inferior to the more expensive S-IPS ones, it is really hard to find fault with them: wide viewing angles, high enough response time, good color accuracy. This particular model is handy and functional, featuring a DisplayPort, an integrated USB hub, a stand with height adjustment, a user-friendly menu, an ambient lighting sensor, and automatic brightness adjustment. Overall, the EA231WMi is a very good choice for demanding users.


NEC MultiSync EA231WMi

The Samsung is somewhat inferior in viewing angles and does not distinguish between very dark halftones. Instead, it offers a much higher contrast ratio, two DVI inputs, and a lower price. This monitor is available as a 20-inch version (SyncMaster F2080) which may be an excellent buy for users who want an affordable monitor with non-TN matrix.

It must be noted that neither the EA231WMi nor the F2080/F2380 can boast a really good response time. The former has no RTC altogether and the second and third models have RTC but it doesn’t work well on darks. These monitors are not too slow and roughly correspond to 5-millisecond TN matrixes, but you should take this into account if you like to play dynamic games.

Besides these three models, Dell’s IPS-based products can be mentioned: the 22-inch 2209WA and the 24-inch U2410. You may look for the Dell 2209WA if you want an inexpensive monitor with good viewing angles and a fast response time.

Shopping for a Gaming Monitor

This category is much narrower. A gaming monitor is a monitor with a low response time. Of course, you may play Pacman or Dwarf Fortress, but monitors for such games should hardly be given a specific category.

Today, TN matrixes are the fastest, but only if their specified response time is not 5 milliseconds. As a matter of fact, TN-based monitors with a specified response time of 2 and 5 milliseconds differ 3 to 5 rather than 2.5 times in reality. Why? Because their specified speed is measured in two different ways. For 2-millisecond models, the average response time for all halftones is measured (the so-called GtG method). For 5-millisecond models, the white-black-white transition is measured only. If a 5-millisecond monitor is tested using the GtG method, its response time will be 13 to 15 milliseconds, which indicates its real-life speed.

So, monitors with a specified response time of 5 or more milliseconds are no good for gaming. All 2-millisecond monitors are fast even if the GtG abbreviation is not written in their specs.

Choosing between 2-millisecond models is not easy. You must base your choice on test results. The RTC mechanism, which ensures those 2 milliseconds GtG, may be set up differently in different monitors. For example, in some monitors from Samsung, which are currently leaving the market, RTC does not work on black-to-gray transitions, preferring halftone transitions. The level of visual artifacts provoked by RTC (they look like white trails or rainbow patterns behind moving objects) may vary, too. Basing on my personal experience, I can recommend you Samsung’s P series which is currently available with diagonals from 20 to 24 inches (here is our review).


Samsung SyncMaster P2370

But if you are a truly devoted gamer and are ready to give everything, or at least a lot, for a monitor that is as fast as possible, you must not pass by the new models with a refresh rate of 120 Hz. They are formally designed for Nvidia’s 3D glasses, but can work without them just fine. For the glasses to work without unpleasant artifacts, the monitor has not only to support the high refresh rate but also offer a highly optimized RTC mechanism. Our tests (here and here) proved that these models are practically the fastest of all available monitors. Again, you don’t have to buy Nvidia’s stereo glasses for them (even though the glasses themselves are an exciting device). You only have to set the refresh rate at 120 Hz in your graphics card driver.

There are only two drawbacks with the 120-Hz monitors: there are too few of them and they are rather expensive. At the current moment, there are only two officially released models: Samsung’s SyncMaster 2233RZ (read our review) and ViewSonic’s VX2268wm (selling as VX2265wm on the US market; read our review). Both have a screen diagonal of 22 inches and a native resolution of 1680x1050 pixels, which is too low for premium-class products today.


Acer GD245HQ: 120 Hz and FullHD

Fortunately, 120-Hz monitors with a diagonal of 23 and 24 inches are coming out this spring. Acer is about to roll out its GD245HQ (the exact size is 23.6 inches) also known as GD235HZ on the US market. Other makers will follow soon, so gamers and users interested in stereo imaging will have a wider choice in the summer.

The other criteria for choosing a gaming monitor are the same as for choosing a home one. You can ignore the specified viewing angles and contrast ratio as these parameters are going to be measured in different ways, bearing no indication of how the monitor will perform in reality. The optimal size of the screen is 23 inches at a resolution of 1920x1080. You should only buy a smaller monitor if your budget is really limited. A DVI or HDMI input is highly desirable to eliminate the very possibility of problems with image sharpness.

Shopping for a Photographer’s Monitor

Although this category is the narrowest one, I discuss it separately because choosing a monitor with high color accuracy often proves to be a problem for many users. I won’t delve into such specifics as prepress preparation of print materials, but instead will focus on a rather general case – let’s try to choose a monitor for everyday processing of photographs professionally or amateurishly.

First off, the high color accuracy requirement limits the range of available products to models with IPS matrixes as only they can deliver large viewing angles without a tonal shift when viewed from a side. Any monitor can be set up for good color accuracy, color temperature, brightness and other parameters but you cannot do anything with a TN matrix so that its colors did not depend on the position of your eyes. As soon as you move your head up or down or sideways, the colors on the screen of a TN matrix change noticeably. It doesn’t mean that TN matrixes can’t be used for any color processing (I’ve seen people doing color correction on notebooks even), but you should avoid them if you can.

PVA matrixes, including C-PVA and S-PVA, ensure higher color accuracy than TN matrixes but have two shortcomings: there is a slight tonal shift when you are looking at the screen at an angle (that is, besides a reduction in contrast ratio, the colors of the image change somewhat). And second, darkest halftones become the same as pure black when you are looking directly at the screen of many PVA-based monitors. Therefore, PVA-based products are good for working with design drawings and text. They can also be used as high-quality home monitors without specific applications. But if color accuracy is your main priority, you should limit yourself to IPS right away.

Fortunately, there is now the cheaper variety of IPS called e-IPS I have talked about above. With this new matrix type, IPS technology has become affordable.


Dell 2209WA with e-IPS matrix

For example, you can buy a 22-inch Dell 2209WA with a resolution of 1680x1050 for about $400. This is not Full HD but the price is highly attractive. A high-quality 22-inch TN monitor will cost almost as much. So, if you are looking for an IPS-based monitor, you may want to consider the 2209WA.

Next goes the NEC MultiSync EA231WMi, a 23-inch monitor with a resolution of 1920x1080 and priced at $600 or lower. It is good not only as a rather affordable IPS-based product (like the mentioned Dell, it employs an e-IPS matrix) but also as a high-quality and all-purpose home/office monitor. Take note that the rest of EA series monitors from NEC are based on TN technology and have nothing to do with the EA231WMi (particularly, I don’t know why the MultiSync EA241WM, even though with an extra inch of screen size, costs much more than the EA231WMi while being based on a trivial 5-millisecond TN matrix with all its accompanying shortcomings).

Be careful when shopping for an e-IPS based monitor: some samples have artifacts in the form of pink spots on the screen. You can check this out easily: display gray on the screen and take a look at the monitor from a distance of 1.5 meters. You should see a uniform color without any tonal distortions.

The EA231WMi is the best choice for most applications because the more advanced models cost far more while their increased color accuracy won’t matter much for most users. However, if you don’t want any compromises, you should take a look at NEC’s UXi series, from the 20-inch MultiSync LCD2090UXi (over $1000) to the huge MultiSync LCD2690WUXi².  These models are all based on S-IPS matrixes and designed for professional image editing. Besides their high price, some users report that the 24-inch and 26-inch models have high non-uniformity of brightness. Anyway, NEC’s UXi series has almost no alternatives when it comes to color accuracy. I want to note that the first models of the 90 series (LCD2090UXi and LCD2190UXi) delivered such a high color accuracy that you may only want to switch to the larger models (LCD2490WUXi and LCD2690WUXi²) if you want to have a larger work area. If you buy this monitor as an auxiliary one for checking out the results of your work and the size of the work area is not important, you can buy an LCD2090UXi and save a lot of money. Are there any better monitors than these? Yes, NEC offers the SpectraView series based on the same components but that allows automatic hardware calibration. Such monitors are only needed by very few users, though.

Finally, I want to say a few more words about Dell which has eagerly taken up IPS technology. Besides the good and inexpensive 2209WA, Dell has introduced the 24-inch U2410 with a resolution of 1920x1200. This model is more expensive but not much superior to the NEC EA231WMi. The 27-inch Dell UltraSharp U2711 is more interesting as it has an IPS matrix with a huge resolution of 2560x1440 pixels, which makes it perfect for professionals who work in CAD applications with complex design drawings and for photographers who are not satisfied with 1920x1200. The UltraSharp U2711 has recently hit the shops in the United States and is priced at $1099.