Closer Look at 17" LCD Monitor Features. Part VII

Today we are going to continue our series of articles devoted to the features and performance of 17” LCD monitors. We will look at 12 monitors from BenQ, LG, Philips, Samsung, Sony and Viewsonic.

by Oleg Artamonov
02/09/2006 | 01:11 PM

My previous article was entirely dedicated to the newly-born class of LCD monitors with response time compensation. This technology is indeed a new word on the market as it helps to dramatically improve the response time of a monitor in reality rather than only on paper (as it was the case with 8ms and 12ms monitors which could not be told apart without special tools because the speed of 8 milliseconds was only achieved on a very limited range of matrix state transitions).

 

Although I have no doubt that the new technology will sooner or later be implemented in the absolute majority of LCD monitors, the older RTC-less models still dominate the market today. Some manufacturers haven’t even yet produced their monitors with RTC. So, this review is all about 17” LCD monitors without response time compensation.


BenQ FP72V

The BenQ FP27V is surely going to differ from many other monitors with a diagonal of the same length just because of its appearance. The market of 17” LCD monitors being now less interesting for the manufacturers due to severely reduced prices, new models usually come out with a standard plain gray-colored office-like face. Against them the FP27V is far more attractive.

The base and the back of the case are made of a milk-white glossy plastic (it resembles me the new 760th series from Samsung in which the whole case is made of such plastic). The front of the case is painted a silvery color; there are black speakers on the sides (the back part of the speakers is milk-white, too). Some single elements of the case are also painted black.

The monitor’s matrix is covered with a protective glass, and you can see in the snapshot above how the glass is reflecting the daylight lamps hanging at the ceiling of our lab. There is anti-flare coating on the glass, as is indicated by the characteristic lilac color of the reflections, but its mirror-likeness is not disturbing at work (but if you have bright light sources behind your back, you will surely see them reflected in the screen).

The monitor’s stand has two joints for simultaneous adjustment of the height and tilt of the screen up to horizontal position. This monitor doesn’t look compact even when folded up, though:

You discover the main disadvantage of this type of the stand when you try to adjust the screen height. First, the adjustment range is rather small in comparison with ordinary vertical stands. And second, the screen is getting closer to or farther from your eyes as you are changing its height. On the other hand, a monitor with such a base looks much more interesting than classic models, while the mentioned drawbacks are not so very serious for a majority of users.

The connectors are located at the back of the stand. Besides the standard DVI-D, D-Sub, audio and power connectors there is also a USB connector here as the monitor features a 3-port USB hub. The first two ports are placed on a side of the base and are quite handy for plugging in flash drives, Bluetooth adapters and various other small gadgets. The third port is to be found in a rather unusual place – at the center of the top edge of the case.

This port is intended for the web-camera included with the monitor:

The attached camera is firmly fixed at the center of the screen a few centimeters above the top edge of the case. The camera’s connector is a standard USB plug, so you can also connect it to another USB hub or a USB extension cord rather than to the monitor, but it would be hard to fix the camera upright then as it has no stand of its own.

The top USB connector of the monitor can be likewise used not only for the camera, but also for any other USB device, even though a USB flash drive sticking out of the monitor’s top is going to look somewhat funny. If you don’t use this connector at all, close it with a rubber plug against dust.

The camera itself is an ordinary device of its kind. After the appropriate software is installed, you can use it to record video in 320x240 resolution at 30 frames per second or in 640x480 at 15fps. There is an integrated microphone in it, too. The image quality is quite typical for an inexpensive web-camera and is quite sufficient for the intended purpose of the device, i.e. for various video conferences.

The monitor’s control buttons are placed at the bottom of the case and are quite handy. A headphones socket is located to the left of the buttons. I guess many users are going to use it instead of the integrated speakers, which are rather large and loud, but suit poorly for listening to music. The maximum they can do is to reproduce the system sounds in Windows.

This is the typical onscreen menu of BenQ monitors and our readers should already be familiar with it (the Auto Adjust and Geometry items are inactive in the picture because the monitor is connected via DVI). There is, however, a curious feature: the FP72V is equipped with a photo-sensor and can automatically adjust the screen brightness depending on the external lighting. You can see the photo-sensor’s port in the top left corner of the case; its behavior is set up in the onscreen menu.

There are three modes that determine the brightness auto-adjustment range, from Bright to Dim. You can disable the sensor altogether and control the brightness of the monitor manually.

There is only one photo-sensor on the case and it reacts to any changes in the lighting of the front panel of the monitor. If you’ve got a light source behind the monitor, the sensor won’t react to it too readily. When the lighting intensity changes (you can check this by simply covering the sensor up with your finger), the monitor takes a few seconds pause and then smoothly adjusts the screen brightness. As a result, the monitor doesn’t react to short-term changes (when a stray shadow or a ray of light falls on the sensor), and it doesn’t change the screen brightness suddenly in a jump to avoid hurting your eyes.

By default – with the photo-sensor turned off, of course – the monitor has 90% brightness and 50% contrast. I selected 45% brightness and 40% contrast to achieve a white brightness of 100nit (1 nit = 1 candela per square meter).

The color reproduction isn’t exactly perfect: color gradients are displayed with visible banding at the default settings as well as at a reduced contrast.

Another distinguishing feature of the FP72V is that it uses an MVA matrix rather than TN+Film as in a majority of 17” LCD monitors and its viewing angles are thus much better in comparison with competitors. As I said above, the matrix is under protective glass – the glass doesn’t improve any of image characteristics, only produces more flares. On the other hand, the recently introduced monitors with “glossy” matrix coating produce even more of them; take the NEC LCD1970GX as an example (I don’t mean an external protective glass but that the matrix’s top lusterless layer is replaced with a glossy one).

The color curves are not perfect, but passable. The gamma value is a little lower than necessary: the real curves are higher than the theoretical ones, resulting in a whitish onscreen image. The curves don’t become worse at reduced brightness and/or contrast settings; the monitor reproduces the entire range of colors in full.

The color temperatures are set up accurately; there are small differences between the real temperatures of white and different levels of gray.

Alas, the response time graph is just what you can expect from an MVA matrix: the monitor may take as long as 80 milliseconds to switch from black to a dark gray. As a result, the FP72V is not suitable for dynamic games, even though it is fine for text processing and for watching movies.

The measured contrast ratio of this monitor is not quite impressive (the declared ratio is 1000:1), yet it is better than most TN+Film matrixes can offer. A contrast ratio of 300:1 is considered good for TN+Film, but here it is higher than 400:1 even. The brightness of white is average, too, being about 200nit at the maximum, which is more than enough for a majority of applications.

So, the FP72V is quite an interesting option for home as well as for office (as a pretty-looking device on the boss’s or secretary’s desk). It has a magnificent appearance, good characteristics (partially due to its matrix type – MVA technology is but seldom employed in modern 17” LCD monitors) and curious functional features like automatic screen brightness adjustment, an integrated USB hub, and the included web-camera. The FP72V will suit nicely for working with text and graphics, for watching movies and for playing games that don’t require a very fast response time. It suits poorly for dynamic computer games, which somewhat reduces its appeal as of a home monitor.

BenQ FP737s-D

This monitor is in fact the direct opposite of the above-described FP72V. The FP737s-D model is an inexpensive office LCD monitor with an unpresuming appearance and a minimum of functionality. A TN+Film matrix is employed here, of course, as you can’t expect to find anything else in such a product.

The case is black with a silvery front panel. The power adapter is integrated into the case, so it is not the thinnest case I have ever seen, yet the monitor leaves an impression of being very compact, not the least due to the neat low-profile rectangular-shaped base. The functionality of the base is unfortunately only limited to screen tilt adjustment.

It was a nice surprise for me to find a digital input here. The connector is placed rather awkwardly, on the back rather than bottom panel of the monitor, and is closed with a rubber plug. The attached cable sticks unaesthetically out at 90 degrees to the monitor’s case as a result. Well, it is quite surprising for such an inexpensive monitor as the FP737s-D is to be equipped with a DVI-D connector at all, so I shouldn’t really be grumbling about its placement.

The monitor’s controls reside at the bottom of the front panel. They are handy, but the labels lack clarity. For example, the button to perform image auto-adjustment for analog signal is labeled “i” for some reason; the Exit button also switches over between the inputs. Quick access is provided to brightness and contrast settings, but there are no preset modes in this monitor, only manual adjustment.

This is the standard menu of BenQ’s monitors and it is quite user-friendly.

The monitor’s brightness and contrast are set at 90% and 50%, respectively, by default. I had to set both these parameters at 30% on digital connection and to choose 35% brightness and 38% contrast on analog connection to achieve a white brightness of 100nit. I want to remind you that the white color brightness of 100nit is used as a reference point in our tests because it is considered optimal for working with text under ordinary daylight. Of course, it can be achieved at other brightness/contrast settings (for example, by choosing a little higher contrast and a little lower brightness or vice versa), but each monitor is tested at the settings mentioned in the text of the review.

The viewing angles are what you usually get with TN+Film technology – they are too narrow along the vertical. I was pleased with the way the monitor reproduced color gradients – without undesired banding at any contrast/brightness settings.

The color curves look good to me, even though they betray a too-high default contrast with their characteristic bend in the top right of the graph. When you reduce the contrast setting in the monitor’s menu, the bend disappears and the measured curves merge well with the theoretical ones.

The monitor has no serious problems reproducing dark or light tones in full when you change the default settings.

The response time of this monitor is absolutely typical of TN+Film matrixes without response time compensation. It is very small on black-to-white transitions (about 14 milliseconds), but nearly doubles on mid-tones. The matrix is not slow, though. This is a rather average speed.

I measured the color temperature of different levels of gray to find two defects. First, there can be a twofold difference between the temperatures of white and grays. Second, although there is a Reddish option in the menu, you can only get a really warm-looking image (with a color temperature of about 5400K) by manual adjustment. Meanwhile, the monitor is set up quite well for the typical home/office-oriented range of temperatures near 6500K, so the absolute majority of users shouldn’t have any complaints at all. You can select either Reddish (corresponds to a not-so-very-warm 6500K instead of the expected 5400K) or sRGB mode, there being a negligible difference between the two.

The contrast ratio let this model down, unfortunately. It is below 200:1, which is quite poor as contemporary TN+Film matrixes go, not to mention the above-described MVA matrix.

So, the BenQ FP737s-D model can make a good office or inexpensive home monitor oriented mainly at text processing. It is set up well enough and even has a digital input, quite a rare feature for monitors of its class. It is not free from drawbacks like low contrast ratio and inaccurate setup of the color temperature modes other than the standard 6500K, yet the FP737s-D is anyway a good choice in its category, considering its very low price.

LG Flatron L1717S

One more affordable office-oriented LCD monitor, the Flatron L1717S looks somewhat more elegant than the FP737s-D model from BenQ, despite the plain exterior. The curve in the row of the control buttons around the Power key reminds me of more expensive models from LG which, however, also use contrasting color schemes, while the case of the L1717S and all its smaller elements is made of plastic painted one and the same silvery color.

The L1717S is no bigger than the FP737s-D, but looks bulkier due to a different outline of the case in profile. The base is not tall and permits to change the tilt of the screen only. It also lacks rigidity and the monitor wobbles even when you press the menu buttons. The power adapter is integrated into the case.

The monitor only has an analog input.

A rather curious option can be found in the monitor’s menu – you can completely turn off the Power indicator. Even though the L1717S’s is not a too-bright LED (as opposed to many expensive models whose manufacturers think that every means is a good one to attract the potential customer), this is a useful option as even the mild green light may become distracting in semidarkness. The monitor also features the LightView technology with its six brightness/contrast presets – quite a rare feature for an entry-level model.

The monitor’s brightness and contrast are set at 100% and 70% by default. By choosing 55% brightness and 50% contrast I achieved 100nit brightness of white.

Color gradients are reproduced nicely at the default settings, but banding becomes perceptible at lower contrast settings. The width and number of the bands as well as how conspicuous they are depends on the specific settings of the monitor.

The color curves look fine. These are neat, smooth lines without any serious defects and lying quite close to the theoretical curves. The same is true for the reduced brightness/contrast settings – you don’t lose any of dark tones.

The monitor’s response time is quite typical for that type of the matrix. It is a couple of milliseconds faster than the BenQ FP737s-D on black-white transitions, but then a couple of milliseconds slower on mid-tone transitions.

The color temperature is set up badly in this monitor. There’s a big difference between temperatures of white and gray whatever setting you choose in the menu. The “warmest” setting gives you a more or less acceptable image for office work. At the rest of the settings the image looks definitely bluish.

The contrast ratio is, on the contrary, good for a TN+Film matrix, reaching 270:1. This is anyway lower than what you get with MVA matrixes, but quite acceptable already.

Like many other low-end LCD monitors, the Flatron L1717S has strong as well as weak points. It looks nice and has a good contrast ratio, but it lacks a digital input and has a sloppy color temperature setup. Still, you can view the L1717S as an entry-level model suitable for text processing in office. You should consider more serious offers if you’re shopping for a home monitor.

LG Flatron L1750SQ

The Flatron L1750SQ is yet another inexpensive LCD monitor from LG. Like the L1717S, it has a black-and-silver case, but without any designing whims whatsoever. The monitor’s appearance is overtly business-like.

The monitor’s base allows only to change the tilt of the screen and that in a rather small range, too. The thinner case, notwithstanding the integrated power adapter, makes the monitor look slimmer in profile than the above-described L1717S, even though the big round base spoils the impression somewhat.

This monitor has only one, analog input. The attached cables can be hidden under a decorative plastic panel.

The controls are placed in the bottom right of the case and are almost flush with the front panel. It’s easy to press them down, though.

This monitor’s menu offers you the option to disable altogether the LED-based power indicator, too – this seems to have become a standard feature of all new models from LG. Besides that, there are six brightness/contrast LightView presets available you can switch through with two buttons.

The color curves are set up so well that they nearly coincide with the theoretical ones. This marvelous picture is not at all distorted when you change either brightness or contrast. The monitor finds it no problem to reproduce all the range of colors from the darkest to the lightest at any sensible settings.

The response time of this matrix is a bit of a disappointment. It is as high as 35 milliseconds at the maximum, while the declared speed (for black-white transitions, of course) is only 8 milliseconds.

Unlike the two above-discussed models, the L1750SQ can easily provide warm color tones. Setting the color temperature at the extreme right position of the scale (only two positions are labeled in LG monitors’ menus) does give you a real temperature of 5400-5500K. Still, I can’t call this setup accurate since there’s a rather big difference between temperatures of white and gray, especially when you select high color temperature values in the menu.

The monitor’s contrast ratio is rather average at about 200:1. This is better than that of the above-described BenQ FP737s-D, but is far from setting a record even among TN+Film matrixes.

I wouldn’t say the L1750SQ differs dramatically from the L1717S. Generally speaking, it is typical of the current market of 17” LCD monitors that there exist numerous inexpensive models with similar characteristics, so you should make your choice basing on the appearance of a monitor rather than on its results in tests. Of course, there are objective differences. The L1717S has a faster matrix and a higher contrast ratio while the L1750SQ boasts a better color temperature setup, yet these differences are negligible when it comes to practical application of such monitors, which is text processing and nothing more. If you are interested in the best-quality onscreen image, you should search in quite another category than the one the L1750SQ and L1717S belong to.

LG Flatron L1750U

I once complained in one of my earlier articles concerning some monitors from Samsung that I couldn’t quite grasp the difference between the half a dozen of formally different models. Now it seems LG has started a similar production of near-identical models, too.

The L1750U hardly differs from the L1750SQ in front view: the same design of the front panel and the same rectangular buttons flush with the case. There’s the same round base, too. You can only see the difference in profile: the L1750U uses an external power adapter, so the monitor’s case is thinner.

The monitor has no video connector as such – the cable goes through the base and deep into the case. The interface is analog, of course. The power adapter connector is placed rather unusually, along the center of the case, right above the base.

The monitor’s controls are the same as the L1750SQ’s. You can quickly switch over between the brightness/contrast presets (LightView technology) and turn off the power indicator’s LED. The latter feature is quite appropriate here as the indicator is a bright blue LED rather than a traditional green.

The monitor’s default brightness and contrast are 100% and 70%, respectively. I achieved 100nit brightness of white by choosing 50% brightness and 60% contrast.

The image quality is subjectively the same as the L1750SQ delivers. Color gradients are reproduced flawlessly at the default settings, but banding occurs as soon as you reduce the contrast setting below the default value.

The gamma curves look nice, except for the darkest blue tones (the bottom left of the graph) where some colors are indistinguishable from pure black.

The response time graph doesn’t bring about any surprises. The matrix is rather slow, as the L1750SQ’s: the maximum point of the graph is lower, but the average response time is bigger.

The color temperature setup is surprisingly accurate. The monitor allows setting any standard color temperature from 5500K to 9300K without manual adjustment and the difference between temperatures of white and gray is small in all the modes.

The contrast ratio is satisfactory, too. The brightness characteristics of this model are almost the same as the L1717S’s and much better than the L1750SQ’s.

To tell you the truth, I hadn’t expected much from this monitor. After all, the L1750U is an entry-level model, so simplified that the developers even discarded a D-Sub connector. The monitor, however, proves to be not so bad. It is worth every cent of its price and even surpasses the more expensive L1750SQ at some points. In fact, the developers saved on the video cable alone; at least the characteristics of this model are no cheaper than those of the L1750SQ. So, the Flatron L1750U is going to make a good inexpensive monitor for typical office work, i.e. for text processing. It won’t disappoint you if you use it as such.

LG Flatron M173WA

In one of my previous article called Closer Look at 17" LCD Monitor Features. Part VI I described LG’s 17” LCD TV-set Flatron L172WT and was greatly disappointed with it. Having a terrible color reproduction setup, the monitor could only produce an acceptable image at the default settings, but as soon as you changed its contrast or brightness, either dark or light tones would disappear. Judging by the name, the Flatron M173WA seems to be the result of further development of that model. It is an LCD monitor with an integrated TV-tuner and a set of video inputs.

Although the monitor’s outline has remained unchanged – it is a typical LG design – its appearance is completely different. The glossy chromium-plated base is now replaced with a matte silvery-black one (I like it because too many shiny elements on the monitor may be distracting). There is now a black bezel around the screen that makes it larger visually. The main feature that distinguishes this model from the L172WT as well as from many other monitors is that the speakers are placed right on the front panel and their cones are not even covered with some kind of decorative grid. This solution surely looks odd, but it’s a matter of taste after all. I personally hold an opinion that it’s better to have as few visually obtrusive elements on the monitor’s case as possible, so I’m rather negative about this design.

The monitor is large and massive. The base is not tall and allows to adjust the tilt of the screen and in a very narrow range, too. If you tilt it too far backwards, the monitor will just tumble over.

The monitor offers D-Sub and DVI-D connectors for connecting to a computer, and an RF antenna input, SCART, Composite and S-Video inputs for video sources.

The control buttons are located in the bottom left of the front panel. Unlike on the L172WT, they do not “simulate” a joystick – this is just a row of buttons as usual.

The M173WA has the same onscreen menu as its predecessor had. The functionality is the same, too, including that the M173WA, like the L172WT, cannot automatically determine which input is receiving the video signal and you have to switch to the necessary input manually. The monitor supports Picture in Picture mode and permits to change the position and size of the additional window (by offering to choose from a few preset values) as well as to adjust the brightness and contrast parameters for it, which may be quite handy in some cases.

By default, the monitor’s brightness and contrast are set at 64% and 100%, respectively. Brightness is adjusted through the matrix rather than by means of the backlight lamps. When the brightness setting is over the default value, the onscreen image looks whitish. That’s why I measured the response time of this monitor at 64% brightness rather than at 100% like with all other monitors.

The M173WA uses an S-IPS matrix which means excellent viewing angles, much better than any existing TN+Film-based model can offer. It is actually a very singular thing for a 17” monitor to have a matrix of that type because S-IPS technology is but seldom used even in 19” monitors today, having been replaced with cheaper TN+Film, MVA and PVA matrixes. Moreover, the L172WT claimed a response time of 25 milliseconds on black-white transitions, which was quite a normal speed for an S-IPS matrix, whereas the L173WT is declared to have a response time of 12 milliseconds, but on mid-tone transitions (to remind you: in the first case the total time it takes to switch a pixel from black to white and back again to black is measured and in the second case the average time of switching from any color to any other color is measured, but not including the time it takes to switch the pixel back).

Mid-tone response time is usually declared for monitors with response time compensation. Such models do have a considerably better speed as you could see in my previous article called LCD Panels with Response Time Compensation: 7 Monitors Reviewed . However, my tests of the L173WT prove that it still uses an old 25ms matrix without any compensation.

The first picture, a 3D histogram, shows that mid-tone transitions are performed no faster than by ordinary S-IPS matrixes. The matrix is as slow as 30 milliseconds on some transitions, although the average response time is really about 15 milliseconds.

The second picture, a 2D chart showing transitions from black to deferent levels of gray, is the same as an ordinary non-overdriven S-IPS matrix would have.

Thus, it is the speed measurement method that has changed rather than the matrix. From the user’s point of view, there is of course no difference between the old and new matrixes.

This gamma curves diagram represents the monitor’s color transfer capacity at the default settings. It’s easy to see the monitor has too much contrast – the green and red curves have a characteristic bend in the top of the diagram, and the blue color is over-saturated. In other words, light-blue tones are not distinguishable from each other.

Let’s check it at the reduced brightness/contrast settings.

Alas, the monitor now doesn’t differentiate between dark tones – of all the three basic colors. It doesn’t reproduce almost one third of the range.

So, nothing has improved since the L172WT as concerns color reproduction. The monitor still reacts very badly at any change of the brightness and contrast settings.

The color temperature proved to be exceedingly high. There is no mode with a temperature of less than 8000K, despite the menu claiming a temperature of 6500K. You should make the image warmer by manual adjustment of the R-G-B channels rather than by choosing a menu option.

As for the brightness characteristics of the monitor, its contrast ratio is quite normal for an S-IPS matrix (which never sported a really high contrast), but it degenerates suddenly as soon as you change anything in the settings.

So, here’s my verdict: the Flatron M173WA is nothing else but the old L172WT in a new case. There’s no difference in functionality or image quality between them. Moreover, the M173WA has all the defects of its predecessor. These monitors are made on absolutely identical matrixes, even though they have different response time values written in their specifications – the speed has improved due to the new measurement method rather than to any real improvement of the matrix. Alas, the utter inaccurateness of color reproduction setup – the monitor can only reproduce all the colors normally at the default or close-to-default settings – makes it unappealing as a monitor for work or games or as an LCD TV-set.

Philips Brilliance 170S6

After we’ve done with an LCD TV-set, let’s again return to inexpensive office-class monitors. The Brilliance 170S6 is a typical representative of the breed and shows its low pedigree in its every feature: a plain plastic case with a minimum of decorations and no extra features whatsoever.

The base only allows adjusting the tilt of the monitor’s screen. The case lacks rigidity, by the way. It wobbles at a slightest push and dark patterns appear then on the matrix where it is fastened to the base. When the screen is tilted backwards to the end, these dark patterns appear even when you press down the control buttons.

The monitor is equipped with an analog input only. The power adapter is integrated, although the case isn’t very thick.

The control buttons are placed along the center of the front panel and are pressed down easily, but as I mentioned above, this effort is enough for the monitor to tremble on its base.

We’ve got an average-convenience menu here. Quick access is provided to the auto adjustment feature and to the brightness setting. There are no brightness/contrast presets in the 170S6.

The monitor’s brightness and contrast are set at 100% and 50% by default. I achieved 100nit brightness of white by choosing 60% brightness and leaving the contrast setting intact. Among obvious image defects I should mention cross bands in color gradients that are visible at any contrast settings.

The gamma curves look neat and are close to the theoretical ones. There are no obvious defects in the monitor’s reproduction of dark or light tones at the default as well as at the reduced brightness/contrast settings.

The response time graph looks similar to the graphs of the above-described 1750 series models from LG. Well, it is quite probable that the 170S6 uses exactly the same matrix because LG and Philips have a joint venture that produces LCD matrixes.

The color temperature setup is not perfect – the calibrator couldn’t even cope with measuring the real temperature after my choosing 9300K in the menu. The 6500K and sRGB modes are more or less acceptable, though, but the color of white is below 6000K (these two modes don’t differ much between each other).

The monitor’s contrast ratio is not very high, 200:1 on average, but kept almost constant irrespective of the settings chosen.

All in all, the Brilliance 170S6 doesn’t try to stand out with its parameters or functionality or exterior against the common mass of typical office monitors. On the other hand, it is free from serious defects and is a good choice in its price category.

Philips Brilliance 170X5

The Brilliance 170X5 belongs to a higher price category and looks accordingly: a black case with a silvery bezel around the matrix and an elegant silvery base. The black plastic of the case is not matte, as usual, but glossy.

Unfortunately, you have either beautiful or a functional stand rather than both together at once. Here, screen tilt adjustment is the only possible transformation. You can’t change the height of the screen or pivot it into portrait mode.

Besides the portrait orientation, which is actually used by only few people, the monitor lacks one more important thing, a digital input. It has only an analog one. The monitor is also equipped with an audio input, built-in 2W speakers, and a headphones output on a side of the case.

The control buttons are placed on the right edge of the case and their order is somewhat illogical. For example, the Volume Up button is below the Volume Down one for some reason.

The onscreen menu looks simpler than the 170S6’s and somewhat resembles menus of ViewSonic monitors. It doesn’t offer any extraordinary options, just the typical ones. Quick access is provided to the auto adjustment function as well as to sound volume and brightness parameters.

By default, the monitor’s brightness is set at 100% and contrast at 50%. By setting brightness at 60% and contrast at 40% I achieved the white brightness of 100cd/sq.m. I have no complaints about the monitor’s reproduction of color gradients, but I did notice some slight color noise on a pure gray background that the auto adjustment couldn’t eliminate.

The gamma curves look well, without any considerable defects. Changes of the brightness and contrast settings do not have a negative effect on the range of tones the monitor can reproduce.

The matrix is not fast (it is TN+Film, the standard matrix type for 17” monitors). It is about as fast as the matrix of the 170S6, the difference being within the fluctuations of parameters of different samples of the same matrix.

Like the 170S6, this model is into colder colors, but the 6500K and sRGB modes are set up acceptably well, even though not ideally.

The contrast ratio is very good, almost 300:1, and it doesn’t degenerate when the screen brightness is low. This is one of the best results among TN+Film matrixes included in this review.

So, although belonging to a higher price category than the 170S6, the Brilliance 170X5 differs from it only in the exterior design as well as in built-in speakers. The latter feature is quite irrelevant for a home user this model is evidently targeted at due to low sound quality. The real parameters of this monitor are no better than those of cheaper models, and its functionality is poor, too. You can get an LCD monitor with a digital input, screen height adjustment, portrait mode, etc. for the same or even less money. So I know of only one reason why you may want to buy this monitor – if you just happen to like the way it looks.

Samsung SyncMaster 720NA

I’ve been writing for some time in my articles that the market of 17” monitors is somewhat stagnant at the moment. I don’t mean the number of models offered, but how many new ideas are implemented in them – the latter number is near zero. The price of 17” LCD monitors has declined dramatically in the last few years, so the production profitability is low and it doesn’t pay to implement a new technology on this market. Matrix types other than TN+Film have almost disappeared from here (it won’t take more fingers than you have to count up all the available 17” models on PVA and MVA matrixes while S-IPS matrixes have vanished altogether and you can only see an LCD TV-set, like the above-described Flatron M173WA, occasionally use such a matrix). All really interesting products, like monitors with response time compensation, for example, are produced only in pairs with a 19” model. Overall, the market of 17” LCD monitors is a realm of uniformity with a lot of models that don’t almost differ from each other.

This situation poises a difficult task before the manufacturers. They have to single their product out of the common mass, but they also have to do that without increasing the cost of the product too much – the user wouldn’t understand if the price of a 17” model, even though with some unique features, is as high as that of 19” models which are constantly getting cheaper, too. So, the unique feature of the SyncMaster 720NA is a built-in air ionizer.

It is placed behind the lattice on the right, below the word “Samsung”. According to the developers, the ionizer creates a weak stream of negatively charged ions to refresh the air around your workplace. I’m not so versed in this area to discuss the wholesome effect of air ionizers – you’d better look up some medical books on the subject. The performance of the device obviously suffices for only one workplace right before the monitor. A special brush is supplied with the monitor to clean the ionizer as its gets dusty with use.

Otherwise there is nothing extraordinary about the 720NA. The monitor employs one of Samsung’s standard case designs and the simplest version of the base (it only allows adjusting the tilt of the screen – or should I say the direction of the stream of ions?).

There is only an analog input on the monitor; the power adapter is integrated into the case.

The control buttons are placed on the bottom edge, just as they are on some other Samsung’s monitors. The Power indicator is blue rather than green, but it has a moderate intensity and is not distracting at work. If you wish, you can also use the MagicTune utility to control the monitor from Windows. The onscreen menu is the same as on any other modern monitor from Samsung. Quick access is provided to the auto adjustment function, to the brightness parameter, and to the MagicBright feature (quickly selectable brightness/contrast presets)

The monitor’s brightness and contrast are both set at 80% by default. I reduced them both to 60% to achieve 100nit brightness of white. The monitor reproduces color gradients without banding at any brightness/contrast settings.

The gamma curves look well, but pass below the theoretical ones. It means the image looks somewhat darker and has a higher contrast than it should do. The curves are closer to the theoretical ones at the reduced brightness/contrast settings, while the monitor still distinguishes between darkest tones.

The matrix employed in the 720NA is a little faster than the matrixes of the above-described monitors from LG and Philips, yet its behavior is not dramatically different. Having a speed of 12 milliseconds at the minimum, it is as slow as 27 milliseconds, or over two times slower, at the maximum.

The color temperature setup is rather sloppy. The monitor is too predisposed towards cold hues and there is also a big difference between white and even light grays.

The contrast ratio is average, not exceptional (because the contrast ratio degenerates at low screen brightness) but not bad, either (because it is high enough for a TN+Film matrix at high screen brightness).

In other words, the SyncMaster 720NA is an average product and doesn’t stand out an inch from the crowd of same-type monitors. And I won’t venture a guess as to how many customers will be as thrilled about the integrated air ionizer as to prefer this model to others…

Sony SDM-S75A

Sony’s LCD monitors are sharply divided into two classes: HS & HX series and S & X series. The letter H means the monitor has a fancy-looking but less functional case, while the models without this letter in the name have a classic stern-looking case that is more appropriate on a work desk. Inside each series, the letter S denotes a junior model and the letter X, a senior model.

Now you can read the model name: the SDM-S75A is an entry-level monitor with a case of classic design.

Despite its rather tall stand that is made as a vertical pole, the monitor doesn’t permit to change the height of the screen or pivot it into portrait mode. You can only adjust the screen tilt, like with any other LCD monitor. The screen bezel is thin, but the monitor doesn’t look compact due to the thickness of its case. On the contrary, it looks massive and stout.

There is only an analog input here; the power adapter is integrated into the case.

The monitor is controlled with the buttons on the left of the screen. This is handy as you can seize on the edge of the monitor and use your thumb to press the buttons. The onscreen menu, on the contrary, isn’t quite user-friendly. It is Sony’s typical dual-menu structure which does not remember the last changed option. An interesting feature is that you can control the screen brightness independently with the matrix and with the backlighting lamps (this is a characteristic feature of Sony’s monitors, too). There is also an option of precise gamma compensation adjustment with a step of 0.2. The ECO button serves to quickly switch between several backlight-brightness presets.

By default, the matrix brightness parameter is set at 50% and the contrast and backlight brightness at 100%. I measured the response time at these settings since the image is downright unusable at the maximum matrix brightness. By choosing 0% matrix brightness, 95% contrast and 0% backlight brightness I achieved a white brightness of 100nit.

What’s curious, I couldn’t find any traces of pulse-width modulation when adjusting the backlight brightness. It seems that the backlighting intensity is changed through changing the current of the lamps. This is indirectly confirmed by the fact that the backlight brightness setting doesn’t affect the real brightness of the screen too much.

Color gradients are reproduced well. Cross bands appear on them at some contrast setting values, but they are not as conspicuous as to be really disturbing.

The backlighting is not really uniform. A bright band is perfectly visible at the bottom of the screen on a dark background, even though I perform my tests under normal daylight. The irregularity of backlighting will be more conspicuous in the evening, in semidarkness. You can also spot a similar bright band along the top edge of the screen, but it is narrower and is less conspicuous.

The color curves look normal but go higher than the theoretical ones. It means the resulting image is somewhat faded, low-contrast. This can be corrected by adjusting the gamma value in the monitor’s menu, if necessary.

Alas, when the matrix brightness is set too low, the monitor suffers from the same problem as the Flatron M173WA, i.e. some dark tones vanish altogether and are displayed as a pure black color.

This problem wouldn’t be at all serious, if you could adjust the screen brightness by changing the backlighting intensity. As it is, the backlight lamps do not affect the image brightness much, so the user just has to use the matrix to adjust the brightness of the monitor.

This is a typical response time of TN+Film matrixes, but the sudden slump at the end of the graph is missing. I guess this is again due to the matrix-based brightness adjustment. In fact, when the matrix brightness setting is set at something other than zero, the graph shows transitions from one and the same dark gray to lighter grays rather than from black to gray. Of course, this affects the response time measurements.

The color temperature setup is something the S75A can be proud of. The 6500K modes are set up so accurately that there is less than a couple of hundred degrees of difference between the real temperatures of white and gray. Even in the 9300K mode the monitor doesn’t produce the bluish image typical of many other models. The only thing I could gripe about is the lack of 5400K mode, but it is not in such a high demand by the users that I should write it down as a drawback of the monitor.

The contrast ratio must have suffered because of the matrix-based brightness adjustment, too. The monitor has the worst contrast ratio among the models included in this review even at the factory settings. And it did even worse than that after I tried to increase or reduce the screen brightness, even though when testing it at the minimal brightness I first reduced the brightness settings to zero (lamps and matrix), and then began to lower the contrast setting.

So my impressions about the SDM-S75A, like from many other monitors from Sony I have dealt with, are rather ambiguous. At a rather high price, it has rather mediocre characteristics like low contrast ratio, ineffective lamps-based and inaccurate matrix-based brightness adjustment, no digital input, and the lack of screen height adjustment. What’s good about this monitor is its restrained exterior that would looks well in an office and the accurate color temperature setup. On the other hand, you don’t need accurate color temperatures for text processing, while for working with color this model won’t be the best choice.

Sony SDM-S75F

The SDM-S75F is an update of the above-described SDM-S75A. Both models are available today, the S75F being somewhat more expensive.

As for external differences, the monitor’s base has changed: it has become heavier, but allows to adjust the height of the screen which is a useful option indeed.

Another important change is that a digital input has been implemented. Besides it, there are two audio inputs, each of which corresponds to a particular video input. When you switch over from one video input to another, the appropriate audio input is turned on automatically.

There are no other differences externally. The monitor is controlled exactly like the S75A. Let’s see if the update’s parameters differ from the original’s.

To achieve our reference white brightness of 100cd/sq.m on analog connection I chose 25% matrix brightness, 85% contrast and 0% backlight brightness. On digital connection (that’s how the monitor was tested) the backlight brightness remained at zero and the matrix brightness and the contrast settings are reduced by 5% each.

The monitor offers you an ECO button to switch between four brightness/contrast presets: User (100% backlight, 100% contrast, 50% matrix brightness), High (100%, 90%, 50%, respectively), Middle (100%, 90%, 50%), and Low (15%, 70%, 50%). These are the default numbers – you can change any setting in any preset and the monitor will remember them, so the name of the first mode (“User”) is a kind of historical one.

Cross bands are visible in color gradients reproduced on this monitor, their number and the degree of visibility depending on the matrix brightness and the contrast settings. Frankly speaking, they are not really very conspicuous at any settings.

The gamma curves are almost perfect at the default settings. Alas, like with the previous monitor in this review, this one loses the darkest tones when the screen brightness is low.

The response time is what you can expect from a TN+Film matrix but without the characteristic decline at the end of the graph. There is no significant difference from the S75A.

The color temperature measurements produce similar results to those of the S75A, too. It’s all very well: there is such a small difference in temperatures of different shades of gray that you shouldn’t bother about it at all.

Alas, the contrast ratio of this monitor is very low, too. It is only a little better than the contrast ratio of the preceding model.

So, the Sony SDM-S75F differs from the SDM-S75A in functionality rather than in real characteristics. The S75F has a digital input, audio connectors, and screen height adjustment. But considering its higher price, I have bigger complaints than about the S75A: the monitor’s characteristics are too unassuming to be well compensated with the digital input and the new base alone.

ViewSonic VG712s

The ViewSonic VG712s is yet another inexpensive 17” LCD monitor to visit our labs.

It is a very simple device and its functionality is no wider than that of most of the above-described models. The stand is not tall, but the screen is rather high above the ground thanks to the speakers located below it. You can only adjust the tilt of the screen here.

The monitor has both analog and digital inputs, which makes it somewhat more appealing. Besides that, there’s an audio input and a connector for the external power adapter on the back panel.

The monitor is controlled with the buttons on its front panel. Following ViewSonic’s tradition, they are not comprehensibly labeled: “1” and “2” instead of “Menu” and “Exit”. The labels are pressed out on the small buttons, so they are barely legible.

By default, the monitor has 100% brightness and 50% contrast. I reduced them both to 20% to achieve 100nit white brightness. The image quality is subjectively good. The monitor has good viewing angles (for a TN+Film matrix) and reproduces color gradients without apparent defects.

The gamma curves are not ideal (which you can hardly expect from a monitor of this class), but look well and betray no critical problems. They still look well when the brightness and contrast settings are reduced below their default values: dark tones are always reproduced in full.

It’s worse with the response time parameter: although it is about 10 milliseconds at the minimum, the maximum is as high as over 30 milliseconds.

The color temperature setup isn’t perfect, either. You have seen worse setup in above-described models, but the discrepancy of a couple of thousand degrees is somewhat disappointing after the accurately set-up monitors from Sony. On the other hand, the color temperature corresponds to the declared values. That is, if you choose “5000K” in the menu, you do get a warm image on the screen.

And last go the brightness measurements. Here the monitor shows its best, boasting a really good contrast ratio. It is unfortunately lower at the low brightness of the screen, yet remains acceptable anyway.

So, the VG712s is no better or worse than most of the other monitors included in this review. It doesn’t have any serious defects, but it can’t boast anything exceptional, either. The matrix is rather slow and the color reproduction might have been better set up. So you should choose basing on the price of the monitor relative to its competitors as well as on your own preferences concerning the appearance of your PC peripherals.

Conclusion

The main point of this review is to show you how similar different 17” LCD monitors from different manufacturers are today. The real parameters of a majority of inexpensive models lie in a very small range, with some samples occasionally being better or worse. However, the better models usually cost more, too.

As a consequence, the problem of choice of a monitor doesn’t have a universal solution now. Monitors differ in some subjective things like exterior design or setup features; the name of the manufacturer may also influence your choice. However, their objective parameters are so close that they can be even regarded as absolutely identical, especially considering their usual application (office work).

There are only two models in this review to be really different from the rest of the monitors described. I mean the BenQ FP72V and the LG Flatron M173WA. The former is a really very interesting monitor for home use (except for dynamic games that its matrix doesn’t suit for), but the latter was mostly a big disappointment as it proved to differ from its rather defective predecessor just with the different design of the case.

Of course, you shouldn’t forget about two more classes of monitors not touched upon in this review that are really different: models on TN+Film matrixes with response time compensation and models on PVA matrixes. The latter are rather expensive and not very numerous, though.