Why, with all those faults, have LCDs become so popular? Maybe it’s lust. Consumers could be turned onto LCD panels because they have more sex appeal than CRT monitors. Maybe it’s all about body image. LCD screens are thinner and lighter than CRT monitors, and I hear they have fewer carbs, too. Maybe it’s the fact some users can’t stand to go back to CRTs after basking in even a moment of the glorious brightness and clarity of typical LCD screens. Whatever the motivation, LCDs are wildly popular.
Thus, we’ve whipped up a seven-way LCD comparison to commemorate what may turn out to be the year of the LCD. Read on to find out which screen is most likely to tempt you away from that trusty CRT.
Revisiting the good, the bad, and the ugly
Although it’s been almost a year and a half since we last looked at LCD screens, the display technology hasn’t changed dramatically. LCD screens still use liquid crystal panels to manipulate light generated by a backlight. As they’re stimulated, the liquid crystals change their molecular structure to allow light to pass through red, green, and blue pixel components. These pixel components are bound to individual transistors, giving each pixel dedicated circuitry.
Back-lit liquid crystal panels are quite different from the cathode ray tubes that power more traditional CRT displays, but the two technologies are generally capable of producing comparable on-screen images. However, due to differences in how CRTs and LCDs go about producing those images, each technology has its own strengths and weaknesses.
Since we’re only looking at LCDs today, I’ve gathered the relative strengths and weaknesses of LCD screens below. This collection of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly first appeared in an LCD round-up I did almost a year and a half ago, and the basic concepts generally remain true today.
Where are LCD panels far superior to even high-end CRT displays?
- Brightness – Though the relative brightness of LCD monitors varies quite a bit from manufacturer to manufacturer and model to model, LCDs are generally much brighter than CRT displays. Backlit LCD panels excel when it comes to generating vibrant images, and screens typically carry brightness ratings of twice as many candelas per square meter (cd/m2) as CRT monitors.
- Image clarity – Though I can’t break down image clarity to a metric measurement of goodness per square meter, the images and text generated by a properly configured LCD screen at its native resolution are incredibly crisp and clear. Part of the clarity comes from the fact that LCD screens are made up of a collection of static, clearly defined pixels. LCD screens with digital inputs also have a clarity advantage when used with DVI-equipped graphics cards because they bypass any digital-to-analog conversion.
- Footprint – This one’s simple: LCDs monopolize far less desk real estate than CRT monitors of the same size. The key here is depth; while LCD panels are rarely more than a few inches thick, the depth of CRT monitors is often their largest dimension. LCDs are also far lighter than CRT monitors, which makes wall mounting a breeze.
Monitor footprint is less of an issue for those who are only running a single screen, but throw two or more CRTs onto a desk and things quickly get cramped.
- Border width – While I’m on the topic of multimonitor setups, it’s worth mentioning that some manufacturers are building LCD screens with very narrow screen borders. Narrow borders make it easy to create large virtual displays with a series of smaller screens, provided your system has enough video outputs to go around.
- Power consumption – While CRT monitors can easily suck over 100W of power, but LCDs typically consume less than half that. For those looking to keep power consumption to a minimum, LCDs definitely have an advantage, and because the screens run on less power, they also generate less heat. Again, power consumption and heat output probably aren’t going to be huge concerns for anyone running a single monitor, but a small office can get pretty sweaty with even a couple of big CRTs.
- Reduced eye strain – Even high-end CRTs fed by strong video signals can produce eye strain after extended periods of use, but I find LCDs to be much easier on the eyes. This effect isn’t always immediately apparent, because it generally takes hours for eye strain to manifest itself with a decent CRT setup. Spend extended periods of time with a CRT and LCD side by side, however, and I think you’ll find the LCD is a heck of a lot easier to look at, especially when it comes to working with text.
Though LCDs have numerous benefits over traditional CRT monitors, it’s not all roses.
- Pixel response time – LCDs change their display images by altering the molecular structure of liquid crystalsa process that’s far from instantaneous. Because panels rely on these lethargic molecular changes, LCD pixels respond much slower than CRT monitors. Pokey pixel response times can produce ghost-like afterimages that blur or streak fast-moving objects as they travel across the screen.
The majority of today’s mid-range and high-end LCDs claim pixel response times around 25 milliseconds, which means pixels can update themselves a maximum of 40 times per second. The equivalent of 40 frames per second should be fast enough for the vast majority of PC users, and even for casual gamers. If that’s not fast enough for you, LCDs are available with pixel response times as low as 16 milliseconds.
- Viewing angle – Though the images generated by LCDs are bright and vibrant when viewed from directly in front of the screen, they don’t look so hot when viewed from above, below, or either side of the display. When viewed from more extreme angles, LCD displays lose a lot of their brightness, and colors begin to fade.
- Color reproduction – Few LCDs can correctly produce all 16.7 million colors typically associated with 32-bit graphics. Properly calibrated LCDs should be able to produce enough shades of red, green, and blue to satisfy most users. However, graphic designers who really need a broad spectrum of colors are likely to be frustrated by the limitations of some LCD displays.
- Contrast ratio – While brightness is definitely a strong suit for LCD monitors, their contrast ratios could use a little help. Since an LCD’s backlight is always on (at least when the monitor itself is turned on), the display’s liquid crystals must completely block light from the backlight in order to produce a true black. Unfortunately, few LCD monitors are up for the task, and many struggle to produce darker shades of other colors, as well.
If The Bad has turned you off LCDs already, The Ugly can definitely vindicate your decision.
- Dead pixels – Each of an LCD’s pixels is a separate entity with its own color components and dedicated circuitry. If a pixel’s circuitry is defective or fails prematurely, the rest of the screen can carry on as if nothing had happened. In fact, a screen can often survive multiple pixel fatalities. Unfortunately, once a pixel dies, there’s no way to bring it back. Dead pixels remain frozen on either white or black, which can get really annoying, really fast. The fact that screens often don’t quality for warranty replacement until at least five pixels have failed isn’t much help, either.
- Resolution scaling – Because LCD panels have a fixed number of discrete pixels, they’re really only designed to display a single resolutionthe screen’s native resolution. LCDs can’t display resolutions above their native resolution, and can only display lower resolutions through interpolation, which stretches smaller display resolutions to fit an LCD’s native resolution. Except in rare cases where a screen is stretching a resolution that’s exactly half its native resolution (800×600 for a native 1600×1200 display, for example), interpolation is pretty ugly. Generally, scaling completely ruins the image clarity advantage LCDs usually enjoy.
Interpolation is really only an issue if you need to run a screen outside its native resolution, and that’s pretty rare unless you play games. Gamers will have to live with interpolation unless their systems are capable of churning out reasonable frame rates at their LCD’s native resolution. Doing so shouldn’t be too hard for older games like Quake III Arena, but the hardware requirements for churning out reasonable frame rates in new games like Doom 3, even at medium resolutions like 1024×768, will probably be pretty steep.
- Cost – If The Good still outweighs The Bad and The Ugly, you have to ask yourself by how much, because LCD screens carry a hefty price premium over CRT monitors. Typically, LCD screens cost at least twice as much as a CRT monitors of equivalent size. Good luck justifying that to your boss or significant other. To be fair, LCD prices have fallen quite dramatically over the years, but so have the prices of CRT monitors.
Before I detail the specifications and features offered by each of the monitors we’ll be looking at today, let’s take a moment to compare some of their more important characteristics.
|Eizo FlexScan L795||HP L1730||HP L2035||Philips 190B4CS||Samsung 173MW||Samsung 173T||Sony HX93|
|Viewing angle (â—¦)||170||160 horizontal
|Pixel response time (ms)||25||25||16||25||25||25||25|
|Interfaces||VGA, DVI-I||VGA, DVI-I||VGA, DVI-I, composite and S-Video||VGA, DVI-D||VGA, DVI-D, coaxial, composite, CVBS and S-Video||VGA, DVI-D||DVI-D, VGA (2)|
|Left/Right border thickness (mm)||19||22||21||22||25||13||32|
|Warranty||5 years||3 years||3 years||3 years||3 years||3 years||3 years|
|Pixel defect policy||5 defects||7 defects||10 defects||5 defects||7 defects||7 defects||7 defects|
|Power consumption (W)||53 (typical)||â‰¤ 20||â‰¤ 75||45 (typical)||â‰¤ 49||â‰¤ 40||â‰¤ 60|
The screens in our comparo run the gamut from 17 to 20 inches, with resolutions between 1280×768 and 1600×1200. With the exception of the HP L2035 and Samsung 173MW, all the screens use a 5:4 aspect ratio that’s sure to irk 4:3 purists. Personally, I’d rather have a 5:4 display at 1280×1024 than a 4:3 display at 1280×960 that offers 81,920 fewer pixels, but that’s just me.
The contrast ratios range between 400:1 and 800:1, and brightness levels between 250 and 450 cd/m2. On paper, Sony’s HX93 offers the best contrast ratio and brightness rating of any monitor in this comparisonthe screen certainly has a lot to live up to in our performance tests.
HP’s L2035 boasts a speedy 16 millisecond pixel response time while the rest of the pack comes in at 25 milliseconds. Of course, claimed pixel response times don’t guarantee less ghosting and streaking in the real world, but keep an eye on the HP in our pixel persistence tests.
Because analog-only LCDs are just wrong, I limited this comparison to screens that had at least one DVI input. HP and Samsung spice up the interface front by offering a bevy of video inputs in addition to traditional monitor interfaces.
Unless you’re thinking about running a multimonitor configuration, you can skip over the section on left/right border thickness. However, anyone looking to arrange several screens side-by-side will want to pay special attention to Samsung’s 173T, which offers the thinnest screen borders in this comparison. Monitors like Sony’s HX93, whose left/right borders are over an inch and a quarter wide, are clearly not designed for multimonitor applications.
Most of these screens are covered by three-year warranties, but dead pixel policies vary quite a bit from manufacturer to manufacturer and screen to screen. I’ll be discussing each when we take a closer look at the individual screens.
Our earlier discussion highlighted the fact that LCD monitors typically consume less power than CRT displays, but there’s still plenty of power consumption differentiation within the LCD world. Larger screens like HP’s 20″ L2035 and Sony’s 19″ HX93 tend to consume more power than smaller 17″ displays, but HP’s L1730 deserves special attention for having far lower peak power consumption than the rest of the pack.
A quick look at current street prices rounds up our fancy little comparison chart, and as you can see, we have screens to fit just about every budget. While none of the screens are cheap, some are definitely more affordable than others. It will be interesting to see whether the pricier screens have superior performance and features to soften the sticker shock.
Eizo FlexScan L795
Small name, big screen
Unlike PC and consumer electronics giants HP, Philips, Samsung, and Sony, Eizo doesn’t have a massive amount of brand recognition in North America. However, Eizo has been selling monitors since the ’80s, and they were dabbling with LCDs as early as 1992, so Eizo should be well-equipped to take on more established brands.
For this comparison, Eizo fielded its new FlexScan L795. At $927 street, the 19″ L795 is quite pricey, but you get what you pay for. The L795 is loaded with a unique array of powerful features that put it a cut above its competition.
The L795’s 19″ panel has a native resolution of 1280×1024, which is pretty standard for 17, 18, and 19″ screens. The display’s 250 cd/m2 brightness rating and 500:1 contrast ratio are average for screens in this display class, as is the L795’s 25 millisecond pixel response time.
Multimonitor enthusiasts will want to note that the L795 has one of the narrowest screen borders of any monitor in this comparison. With horizontal and vertical border widths of only 19 millimeters, multiple L795s should be equally comfortable regardless of their arrangement.
The L795’s LCD panel is anchored to a sturdy base using a standard four-bolt mounting pattern that also makes the screen compatible with all sorts of monitor arms and wall-mounting hardware. Users who elect to keep the L795 on its base will enjoy plenty of control over not only the monitor’s height, but also its tilt. The screen can also be turned from to the left or right to give the user an ideal viewing angle.
When it comes to video inputs, the L795 supports both VGA and DVI, but that’s it. Given the screen’s hefty price tag, it would be nice if Eizo added a composite or S-Video input option to the mix as well. Eizo does, however, integrate a two-port USB hub directly into the screen.
For those who prefer portrait orientations, the L795 rotates 90 degrees. Since more than half of the screens we’re looking at today support portrait orientations, the L795’s ability to rotate isn’t terribly unique. However, all the rotating screens in this comparison rely on third-party software to switch between landscape and portrait orientations, but the L795 can handle display rotation in hardware, as well. With graphics chip manufacturers like NVIDIA and S3 supporting display rotation in their latest drivers, the L795’s software-independent rotation support isn’t exactly a killer feature. Still, it’s a nice touch.
Users can control the L795’s rotation capabilities and a host of other features using the panel’s on-screen display and a series of nine buttons located across the bottom of the screen. Unfortunately, the black-on-black button text is virtually impossible to read from most angles. That’s really a shame, since the buttons let users easily switch input sources, activate picture-in-picture, and control the screen’s brightness and contrast without even entering the on-screen display (OSD).
The OSD greets users with full array of brightness, contrast, color temperature, saturation, hue, and RGB color controls. The OSD also controls the screen’s clock, phase, and position when using an analog video source.
Eizo must share my pain when it comes to LCDs and resolution scaling, because the L795’s OSD lets users run in full-screen or “normal” mode. Instead of clumsily stretching smaller resolutions across the entire screen, normal mode displays lower resolutions in the center of the screen and only uses as many pixels as the lower resolution requires. Since lower resolutions are displayed on progressively smaller areas of the screen, the L795’s normal mode isn’t really suitable for extremely low resolutions. However, I still prefer normal mode to full-screen interpolation for display resolutions as low as 1024×768. Normal mode is particularly handy for games that support 1280×960 rather than 1280×1024, too.
Of all the L795’s features, the screen’s robust picture-in-picture support is perhaps the most impressive. Though the L795 lacks composite or S-Video inputs, the picture-in-picture feature works with the screen’s DVI and VGA inputs. Eizo’s ActiveShot system lets users control not only the size and position of the picture-in-picture overlay, but also whether that overlay is a scaled down or clipped version of the screen’s secondary input. ActiveShot is really neat, and the L795 stands out as the only monitor in our group that can build a picture-in-picture overlay from a VGA or DVI input. Unfortunately, the L795 also stands out as the only monitor here that can do picture-in-picture but lacks composite or S-Video inputs.
On the warranty front, Eizo boasts an industry leading five-year/30,000 hour warranty for the L795. Unfortunately, the warranty comes with a few caveats. For starters, the monitor’s LCD panel and backlight are only covered for three yearsthat doesn’t leave much for Eizo to cover for the remaining two. Eizo’s warranty covers screens with five or more dead pixels, though no bonus points are given for dead pixels in close proximity to each other. Since the screen’s LCD panel is only covered for three years of the five-year warranty, I suspect pixel defect coverage is also limited to three years.
#2 for PCs, but what about LCDs?
HP has strong brand recognition with consumers and businesses alike; people tend to notice the world’s #2 PC maker. However, HP sells more than just PCs. They also offer a full range of LCD monitors to match just about every budget.
We actually have two HP LCDs to look at today. First, let’s cover the 17″ L1730.
HP isn’t exactly known for wild aesthetics or funky designs, so it’s no surprise the L1730 looks a little dull. Maybe it’s the coloring or the chunky exterior, but this monitor doesn’t exude the same sexiness as some of the thinner LCDs we’ll be looking at. Oh well, at least it’s not beige.
The L1730’s specs are pretty respectable considering its relatively low price. With a 450:1 contrast ratio and 300 cd/m2 brightness rating, the L1730 should be pretty well balanced. The screen’s 25 ms pixel response time shouldn’t have any problem keeping up with the rest of the field, either.
The L1730 is one of only a few screens in our roundup that can fold completely flat. The screen’s mounting arm also affords a plenty of control over pitch and height, and a swiveling base makes turning the screen to the left or right a snap.
The L1730 can also rotate 90 degrees between landscape and portrait orientations. Unlike Eizo’s L795, the L1730’s portrait mode depends on third-party software or a graphics driver to rotate the desktop’s orientation to match.
HP has endowed the L1730 with both VGA and DVI input ports. HP also includes a standard audio jack that hooks into the screen’s speakers. The integrated speakers are adequate for the odd Windows sound here and there, but otherwise sound marginal when compared with even a low-end pair of standalone speakers. Of course, there’s no rule saying you have to use the screen’s speakers.
The L1730 has only four front panel buttons, which limits what a user can do with the panel without diving into the on-screen display.
Fortunately, the OSD is simple and easy to use. Heck, it even looks spiffy when OSD translucency is turned up. Apart from the nifty translucency effect, the L1730 serves up brightness, contrast, color temperature, and RGB levels for DVI connections. The screen also offers position, phase, and clock control when using the VGA input.
Moving to warranties, the L1730 is covered for three years, which is pretty standard among the screens we’re looking at today. The L1730 conforms to ISO’s 13406-2 pixel defect thresholds for class II screens, which covers three dead pixels and seven sub-pixel defects for displays with a native resolution of 1280×1024. The ISO standard also covers screens with three or more sub-pixel defects in a 5×5 pixel block.
Although I set out to cover primarily mid-range LCDs in this comparison, I couldn’t resist including at least one monster. With a native resolution of 1600×1200, the 20″ L2035 is a beast, but in a good way. With a price tag of $999, the L2035 is twice as expensive as some of the screens in this comparison, too.
Behold 20 inches of LCD goodness:
Despite its gargantuan proportions, the 20″ L2035 isn’t that much bigger than the 19″ screens. Still, no matter what she tells you, an extra inch matters.
In terms of panel specs, the L2035’s best attribute is its 16 ms pixel response time, which is the fastest of any of the screens we’re comparing. Unfortunately, HP tempers the screen’s fast response time with the lowest brightness rating and contrast ratio of the lot. You can’t win them all, I guess.
The L2035’s telescoping base gives users several inches of height adjustment. One can also tilt the screen back or swivel the base to achieve an optimal viewing angle. Though the L2035 doesn’t fold flat like HP’s L1730, the screen’s stand can be removed and replaced with either a monitor arm or a wall-mount bracket.
For those who prefer portrait orientations to landscape, the L2035 rotates 90 degrees. As with the L1730, the L2035’s rotation relies on either third-party software or video drivers to switch display output from landscape to portrait.
In addition to DVI and VGA ports, the L2035 also includes composite and S-Video inputs. These video inputs are a nice touch that should work well with game consoles and the like.
The L2035 is equipped with a handful of buttons that can instantly activate the screen’s picture-in-picture mode, switch input between its multiple inputs, and bring up its on-screen display.
In many ways, the L2035’s OSD is identical to that of HP’s L1730. However, the OSD doesn’t give users control over the screen’s contrast while using a DVI input. The screen didn’t need any contrast adjustment out of the box, so the lack of DVI contrast control wasn’t a big deal in our testing. Still, the L2035 is the only screen in this comparison that lacks DVI contrast control. Barring this one exception, the L2035’s OSD is loaded with everything else one might need. There’s even a custom scaling feature that lets users bypass full-screen interpolation for low resolutions. This kind of feature is essential if you’re looking to do any gaming with the L2035. Precious few graphics cards will be capable of running the next-gen titles at the screen’s 1600×1200 native resolution, and you don’t want sloppy interpolation messing with a your eye candy.
A full suite of picture-in-picture controls rounds out the L2035’s OSD options. Users can easily adjust the size and position of the in-picture display, which is limited to composite or S-Video input streams. Sorry, but Eizo’s the only one doing picture-in-picture with VGA and DVI sources.
Without support for VGA or DVI input streams or an integrated TV tuner, I’m not sure how useful the L2035’s picture-in-picture will be for most users. Still, I’m always happy to see $1000 screens offer a little something extra.
As with the L1730, HP covers the L2035 with a three-year warranty that includes a 48-hour replacement service. The L2035 is also covered by the ISO 13406-2 standard for pixel defects, but because the screen’s 1600×1200 native resolution has more pixels, the standard allows for more defects. For 1600×1200 screens, ISO 13406-2 allows no more than four dead pixels and ten sub-pixel defects. The standard also allows for no more than four sub-pixel defects in a 5×5 pixel block.
Simple and effective
Of the screens in our comparo, Philips’ 190B4CS is definitely the simplest, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’m a big fan of extra features like picture-in-picture, rotation to portrait, and oodles of video inputs, but I suspect few users actually need all that extra functionality. Extras are cool, but paying for them isn’t if you never plan on using them.
So the 190B4CS isn’t exactly brimming with fancy extra features, but that doesn’t mean the screen is completely boring. Let’s have a look.
Philips’ 190B4CS has a better contrast ratio than many of our contenders, but its brightness rating of only 250 cd/m2 is one of the worst. Honestly, I’d rather see an LCD screen biased towards a better contrast ratio since just about every LCD I’ve laid my eyes on has been more than bright enough.
As for responsiveness, the 190B4CS’s 25 millisecond pixel response time is par for the course. Since six of the seven displays we’re looking at claim pixel response times of 25 milliseconds, so it should be easy to see if any of the manufacturers are being overly optimistic with their screen specifications.
Only handful of these LCD screens can bend over backwards, and the 190B4CS is one of them. Honestly, I’m not aware of any real-world applications that require this level of flexibility. It would certainly be easier to hang the 190B4CS on a wall with the screen folded flat, but its mounting holes are located on the back of the panel, so this display can be hung without the base. In addition to flopping onto its back, the 190B4CS can swivel from left to right, though that should be less necessary given the screen’s generous 170 degree viewing angle. The 190B4CS’s monitor arm also gives the screen a couple of inches of height adjustment, but screen tilt must be re-adjusted every time the arm height is changed.
The 190B4CS’s front panel is lined with a collection of six buttons and a blue power LED. For my tastes, the button feel is a little too mushy, but I’ll forgive Philips since they throw the blue LED into the mix. Eizo’s L795 also has a blue power LED, but the 190B4CS’s is brighter so, uh, Philips wins.
It strikes me as a little odd that the 190B4CS dedicates two front panel buttons to input switching because the screen has only two input ports. I’m not sure why Philips thinks users need to switch between only two inputs in two different directions. Perhaps the button layout was carried over from a monitor with additional input ports.
Fortunately, the multiple input buttons are actually useful for manipulating the 190B4CS’s on-screen display. The OSD lets users control everything from brightness and contrast levels to color temperatures and RGB levels. When using the screen’s analog VGA input, the OSD lets one tweak the screen’s vertical and horizontal position, phase, and clock.
Philips covers the 190B4CS with a three-year warranty. Unfortunately, Philips’ dead pixel policy is a little less defined. Screens are covered when five or more pixels die, but there’s apparently a little wiggle room since the policy “depends on each specific case.” Philips wasn’t able to provide me with more detail on whether it’s case-by-case analysis takes into account dead pixel proximity, or whether it depends more on how much you yell at them over the phone.
LCD, TV, HDTV
Samsung’s 173MW won’t be available in retail until the spring, so in some ways its inclusion in this comparison is a little ahead of its time. However, Samsung was able to come up with a production 173MW for this comparison, and I’m glad they did. This display has convergence written all over it, and it may very well be the future of consumer-level LCDs.
Of course, the future doesn’t come cheap. Samsung expects the street price of the 173MW to dip under $1100 CDN, which would put the screen under $900US. Since the 173MW is only a 17″ display, a $900 price tag seems excessive to say the least. However, considering its capabilities, the thing might just be worth every penny.
At first glance, the 173MW is undeniably stylish. The screen’s silver finish is certainly unique and would look absolutely stunning next to one of Shuttle’s silver XPC systems.
Once you get past the aesthetics, the next thing that leaps out about the 173MW is its 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio. Though the display is 17 inches across, its native resolution is 1280×768perfect for watching DVD movies, but perhaps less suitable for games that may not support 16:9 resolutions. Either way, basic desktop applications should have no problem adjusting to widescreen resolutions. The extra horizontal real estate even comes in handy for keeping an eye on IM and media player apps while running applications that prefer 5:4 or 4:3 application windows.
In terms of LCD panel properties, the 173MW’s 25 millisecond pixel response time and 500:1 contrast ratio put the screen in the middle of the pack. However, the 173MW’s strong 450 cd/m2 brightness level leads the field and makes me wonder if the screen’s output might be a little unbalanced.
Although users can’t easily adjust the 173MW’s height, the screen limbos all the way back. The 173MW’s base swivels, too, which should come in handy given the monitor’s comparatively weak 150 degree viewing angle.
To ensure that a tangled mess of input cables doesn’t prevent one from hanging the 173MW on a wall, Samsung neatly hides most of the screen’s input ports under a removable panel. I know what you’re thinking: “How much cable clutter can you really generate with an LCD screen?” In the case of the 173MW, a lot. Check out this panel’s array of audio and video input ports:
In addition to VGA and DVI inputs, the 173MW features high-definition CVBS, composite, S-video, and coaxial inputs. The monitor is HDTV-ready and also has an integrated TV tuner. Convergence indeed. The 173MW has more video inputs than any other monitor in this comparison, and I’m particularly impressed Samsung managed to squeeze everything into a relatively small 17″ form factor. However, I can’t help but feel that most of those video inputs are being wasted on such a small screen. 17 inches might be big enough for watching TV or movies in tiny dorm rooms, studio apartments, or offices, but anywhere else you’re probably going to want a much bigger screen.
To help users get a handle on all those inputs, Samsung lines the bottom of the 173MW’s front panel with a total of ten different buttons. The buttons respond to the slightest touch, which is both slick and annoying, depending on how clumsy your fingers are.
Since front panel buttons aren’t that useful if you’re watching TV from a distance, Samsung includes a remote control with the 173MW. The remote is pretty simple fare and lacks any sort of fancy Windows functionality, but it gets the job done controlling the 137MW’s built-in TV tuner.
While I’m talking about extras, the 173MW is the only monitor in this comparison that uses an external rather than integrated power supply. Given the amount of video input hardware Samsung has squeezed into the relatively small 173MW, it’s easy to see why there wasn’t any extra room for power circuitry.
Of all the LCDs in this comparison, the 173MW has by far the most impressive on-screen display. The 173MW’s OSD is easy to read and simply gorgeous, but it’s also loaded with functionality. In addition to controlling basic features like brightness and contrast levels, color temperatures and RGB levels, and position and frequency settings for analog sources, the 173MW’s OSD also gives users control over all of the 173MW’s plentiful video inputs and its audio output capabilities.
The 173MW can do picture-in-picture, too, just not with its VGA or DVI inputs as a secondary source. Given the 173MW’s integrated TV tuner, I suspect most of its picture-in-picture time will be dedicated to TV viewing, anyway. Let’s hope users have better luck than I did finding something on that’s actually worth watching.
Because the 173MW would make a rather poor TV without any sound, Samsung equips the monitor with a pair of “Virtual Dolby Surround” speakers. The Dolby sticker makes the speakers look a lot more impressive than they actually sound, but what did you expect from integrated monitor speakers? To be fair, the 173MW’s speakers sound marginally better than the integrated speakers on other LCD monitors I’ve used.
Warranty-wise, Samsung covers the 173MW for a full three years, and unlike some of the other manufacturers, Samsung has very detailed dead pixel requirements for warranty replacements. For 17″ screens like the 173MW, Samsung considers a screen defective if it suffers from a total of seven or more dark pixels or four or more bright pixels randomly spread over the screen. Samsung will also service a monitor if it suffers from what Samsung calls a 2Dot dead pixel pattern. 2Dot patterns are made up of two dead pixels separated by no more than one pixel in any direction.
Even better in pairs
With more input interfaces than most home theater systems, Samsung’s 173MW is definitely a tough act to follow. However, some of us don’t need an LCD that does double duty as a TV or HDTV, so Samsung has the 173T.
Unlike the 173MW, the 173T is available today. At only $472 online, the 173T looks pretty affordable next to the other screens in our comparison, too. Let’s hope Samsung hasn’t cut any corners to bring the DVI-equipped 17″ 173T in at such a low price point.
If Samsung hasn’t cut corners with the 173T, they’ve definitely cut bezels. The 173T’s 13mm screen borders are the thinnest in this comparison, which makes the monitor perfect for multi-screen applications. If you need to stack screens vertically, the 173T also has narrow top and bottom bezels.
As far as panel specs go, nothing really stands out on the 173T’s rap sheet. The screen’s 270cd/m2 brightness rating, 450:1 contrast ratio, and 25 millisecond response time are all average. We’ll have to wait and see how the screen’s more modest specs stack up in our real-world performance tests.
The 173T offers height and tilt adjustments, but not a whole lot of either. The screen can also swivel on its base to make up for awkward viewing angles, but again, not in a way that makes the monitor stand out from the competition.
Like Eizo’s L795 and both HP screens, the 173T can rotate 90 degrees to a portrait orientation. In order to get your Windows desktop to rotate along with the screen, you’ll need to use the software Samsung provides, or a graphics card driver that supports rotation. Unfortunately, the 173T can’t rotate a display on its own like Eizo’s L795.
A far cry from its port-laden MW cousin, the 173T includes only VGA and DVI input ports. DVI and VGA inputs should be all the vast majority of users are going to need, especially in business environments, so I suspect few will miss the extra inputs.
The 173T’s front panel sports six buttons that are clearly marked and easy enough to use. The controls require a little more pressure than one might expect from such small buttons, which is a stark contrast to the light touch required by the 173MW’s button array.
Thus far, Samsung hasn’t missed anything critical with the 173T. However, the screen’s OSD lacks a couple of key tweaking options for DVI displays. When using the monitor’s DVI input, the OSD’s color temperatures and RGB level control aren’t functional, leaving colors at the mercy of the graphics card and whatever bias exists in the 173T’s LCD panel. Fortunately, the 173T’s LCD panel is pretty neutral. Like many Samsungs, the screen has a faint blue bias, but it’s barely noticeable.
The 173T is covered by the same three-year warranty and dead pixel policy as Samsung’s 173MW.
All in the specs?
Sony’s HX93 occupies an interesting middle ground for 19″ displays. This monitor is much cheaper than Eizo’s high-end L795, but more expensive than Philips’s affordable 190B4CS. Interestingly enough, the HX93’s panel specs are more impressive than both the 190B4CS and L795. Though all three 19″ screens share 25 millisecond pixel response times, neither Eizo nor Philips can touch the HX93’s 450 cd/m2 brightness level or 800:1 contrast ratio.
So the HX93 has the advantage when it comes to panel specs, but what about the rest of the screen’s attributes?
Sony tried something a little different with the HX93’s exterior, and I don’t think it works at all. To me, the screen looks chunky and unnecessarily bloated, especially if you put it next to some of the other displays we’ve seen. However, my quarrel with the HX93’s external design has more to do with function than form. For starters, the HX93 has the widest bezels of any monitor in this comparison. The left/right borders measure 32 millimeters, which is more than two and a half times wider than the borders on Samsung’s 173T.
If you’re not interested in running multiple monitors, the HX93’s beefy bezels might not phase you. However, you may notice that the screen’s “floating frame” base offers very little tilt range and absolutely no control over the display’s height. The base does swivel to the left and right, but given the rather limited adjustment potential, I’d sooner mount the screen on a wall or monitor arm.
Unfortunately, Sony’s “floating frame” design makes wall mounting a bit of a hassle. The screen lacks a standard four-hole mounting bracket, and the screen’s base and frame would complicate flush mounting anyway. That’s a shame, because Sony has done a really great job eliminating cable clutter at the back of the screen.
A sliding plastic panel covers the HX93’s rear and effectively manages just about any mess of power and input cables. If you don’t want bother with the rear panel, the screen also has a handy cable binder.
The HX93 is actually more prone to cable clutter problems than some of the other LCDs we’re looking at because it supports two VGA inputs in addition a single DVI input. Sony even includes separate audio inputs for each of the screen’s video input ports. The three audio inputs are a nice touch, but they’ll only be useful for those who are planning on using the monitor’s built-in speakers. Unfortunately, the HX93’s speakers don’t sound all that hot, which is typical for integrated speakers.
Sony defies convention with the HX93’s buttons, which are mounted around the right edge of the screen. The side-mounted buttons have a nice feel, but it’s a little annoying to have to reach around the edge just to get at them. It’s not like there isn’t any room for the buttons on the front side of the HX93’s massive screen borders, either.
Sony hasn’t done anything wild or funky with the HX93’s on-screen display, which is a relief. The OSD menus are easy to navigate and offer a full range of brightness, contrast, color, and gamma control for both VGA and DVI video sources. Like the rest of the monitors in this comparison, the HX93’s OSD offers screen position, phase, and pitch settings for analog video sources. Sony also serves up three brightness presets tuned for gaming, movies, and normal PC applications.
On the warranty front, Sony covers the HX93 for three years. Sony’s dead pixel policy isn’t published in any of the HX93’s manuals or warranty materials, but the company complies with the ISO 13406-2 standard for “class II” screens. Under ISO 13406-2, the HX93 is covered for three dead pixels or seven defects in a pixel’s red, green, or blue sub-pixel components. The ISO standard also stipulates no more than three sub-pixel defects in a 5×5 pixel block.
General test notes
Without exotic testing equipment, it’s impossible to compare the display quality of LCD monitors without introducing subjective opinions. I’ve attempted to provide the most objective analysis of display performance possible given the capabilities of my Benchmarking Sweatshop.
Each monitor was tested in a series of side-by-side comparisons against every other monitor using a Matrox Millennium P750 dual-DVI graphics card. Since DVI outputs are common even on low-end graphics cards, testing was limited to DVI. Side-by-side comparisons were conducted twice, switching the test and comparison monitors between the P750’s primary and secondary DVI outputs, to ensure that any performance differences weren’t caused by the output port used.
Our testing methods
Our test system used the following configuration:
|Processor||Athlon 64 3200+ 2.0GHz|
|Front-side bus||HT 16-bit/800MHz downstream
HT 16-bit/800MHz upstream
|North bridge||VIA K8T800|
|South bridge||VIA VT8237|
|Chipset driver||Hyperion 4.51|
|Memory size||512MB (1 DIMM)|
|Memory type||Corsair XMS3500 PC3000 DDR SDRAM|
|Graphics||Matrox Millennium P750|
|Graphics driver||Matrox 104.02.007|
Maxtor 740X-6L 40GB 7200RPM ATA/133 hard drive
|Operating System||Windows XP Professional
Service Pack 1 and DirectX 9.0b
We used the following test applications:
- Unreal Tournament 2003
- Battlefield 1942
- Windows Media Player 8.0
- Nokia Monitor Test 1.0a
- PassMark MonitorTest 2.0
Generally, the tests and methods we employ are publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.
Our solid color tests are pretty self-explanatory; PassMark Monitor Test cycles through full screen images of solid red, green, and blue.
In these tests, Sony’s HX93 had more vibrant color reproduction than the rest of the pack, followed closely by the Eizo L795. Sony’s colors were brighter and more intense than Eizo’s, but both screens fared well in this test.
Moving down the line, the Samsung 173T, Philips 190B4CS, and HP L2035 all turned in comparable performances. None of these three was as bright or vibrant as the Eizo or Sony, but they looked decidedly better than the Samsung 173MW and HP L1730. HP’s L1730 consistently produced darker, more muted colors than the other screens. Samsung’s 173MW didn’t fare much better, but for the opposite reason. Its red and green looked a little too washed out and overwhelmed by the screen’s brightness. However, the 173MW’s blue reproduction was quite good.
Scale black to red, green, and black
PassMark’s scale tests display full-screen color gradients from black to red, green, and blue, respectively. Here I was primarily looking for banding, and unfortunately, I found quite a bit.
Only the Samsung 173T and Eizo L795 were completely immune to banding in our color gradient tests, which is a little depressing. Philips came close to eradicating banding with the 190B4CS, but the screen stubbornly produced a single instance of banding at the black end of each of each color gradients.
While it might have been easy to miss the Philips’ subtle indiscretion, each of the other screens went about banding in a much more obvious way. The Sony HX93 and Samsung 173MW both tended to produce wider, brighter bands in the middle of each color gradient, while the HP L2035 favored narrower, darker bands across the entire color gradient.
Of the screens that suffered from repeated banding, the L1730 was the least offensive. The screen had some very pronounced banding problems with our black to green color gradient, but that banding all but disappeared with red and blue gradients.
Brightness and contrast
The Nokia Monitor Tests’ evaluates brightness and contrast by displaying a black and white pattern that measures how well a screen can produce various shades. All the screens were able to produce the test’s different shades of white with little problem. However, the screens had varying levels of success reproducing multiple shades of black.
The Eizo L795 dominated the brightness and contrast test by accurately reproducing all the test pattern’s shades of black. The L795’s whites were also remarkably pure and untainted.
In second and third place were Samsung’s 173MW and 173T. Both screens were able to display even the darkest shades of black, but the differences between each shade were a little less clear than on the Eizo. Overall, the 173MW edged out the 173T because the latter’s whites were a little darker.
Sony ‘s HX93 was next in line; its first three shades of black tended to blend together. The HX93’s performance was nearly identical to that of Philips’ 190B4CS, which also missed the first few shades of black. However, the Philips’ whites weren’t quite as pure as Sony’s.
The Sony and Philips screens are followed by HP’s L2035, which blended the test pattern’s first four shades of black. The L2035’s whites also looked dirty compared with some of the other screens. However, the L2035’s output was far superior to the HP L1730, which didn’t start showing any meaningful differentiation until the seventh shade of black.
AquaMark shadow detail
While Nokia Monitor Test’s brightness and contrast test is a great way to highlight a display’s ability to produce different shades of black, its test patterns are decidedly synthetic. To see how our screens fared in a real-world test, I fired up the AquaMark3 benchmark, which is full of deep, dark shadows and subtle water effects. If a screen can’t display enough shades of black, the demo’s subtle water effects fade into the shadows and may not be visible at all.
The Eizo L795 and Samsung 173T were easily the best screens in AquaMark3. Both were able to capture the demo’s dark shadows and subtle water effects. The Samsung 173MW also had no problem with the water effects, but the screen had problems producing a black dark enough to give the shadows any real depth.
The Sony HX93 and Philips 190B4CS both captured AquaMark3’s deep shadow depths with aplomb, but both screens struggled to show the demo’s subtle water effects. Sony’s HX93 was able to display a few more water effects than Philips’ 190B4CS, which in turn showed a little more than HP’s L1730. The HP 2035 was the worst display in AquaMark3; the LCD’s dark black shadows overwhelmed nearly all the eye candy.
All but one of the screens in this comparison claim a pixel response time of 25 milliseconds, but they didn’t necessarily show the same amount of ghosting in PassMark’s pixel persistence test. When tested alone, each of the 25 ms screens produced a comparable amount of ghosting. However, when tested side-by-side, ghosting was more obvious on the brighter and larger of the two screens. Ghost images are easier to see when they’re displayed on brighter, bigger pixels, I guess.
Normally, I’d try to rank the 25 ms screens in terms of their relative ghosting performance, but it doesn’t seem fair to reward the smaller, darker screens for attributes that are otherwise undesirable. I should, however, point out that the HP L2035 displayed less ghosting than any of the other screens. The L2035 has a 16 millisecond response time, which no doubt contributed to its performance in our pixel persistence test. It probably helped that the L2035 isn’t the brightest screen in this comparison, too.
Desktop ghosting and streaking
After our synthetic pixel persistence tests, I was eager to see how the screens dealt with more real-world ghosting and streaking. These artifacts are usually apparent when scrolling through light text on a black background, so I fired up HardOCP‘s front page for a few tests. In addition to scrolling through the front page, I also moved the entire browser window rapidly from left to right.
As in our synthetic test, after-images were more visible on the brighter, bigger screens. Again, the HP L2035, with its 16 ms rated pixel response, led the way with the least visible streaking and ghosting, but even the quick flick of a scroll wheel would blur and discolor the text. Clearly, LCDs have a long way to go before ghosting and streaking is completely eliminated.
With so many competent competitors, it’s hard to pick only one winner in this comparison. Each monitor has its own strengths and weaknesses, and of course, its own price tag. Since I can’t single out one single display as superior, in every respect, to every other display in this comparison, I’ll leave you with some parting thoughts for each.
- Eizo FlexScan L795 – If I could ignore the L795’s $927 street price, this screen would easily be my pick for top honors in this comparison. The L795’s consistently excellent performance and luxurious features go a long way toward justifying its price tag, especially considering the monitor’s unique hardware-based rotation and VGA/DVI picture-in-picture capabilities. Unfortunately, the L795 doesn’t have everything; composite and S-Video inputs are a glaring omission on a screen that has just about everything else.
- HP L1730 – The HP L1730 has the lowest peak power consumption and price tag of any display in this comparison, but it’s also one of the least impressive performers. The screen’s portrait mode and integrated speakers pack some value for more mainstream consumers, but if I had to use one monitor out of this group, the L1730 would be my last choice.
- HP L2035 – In many respects, the L2035 is one of the most impressive LCDs in this comparison. The panel’s 16 ms response time does a good job cutting down on ghosting and streaking when compared with 25 ms screens, its 1600×1200 native resolution is more than generous, and extra video inputs, rotation, and custom scaling features are nice finishing touches. Unfortunately, the L2035 suffered from pretty extensive banding in our gradient tests, and the panel’s brightness level and contrast ratio aren’t as impressive as I’d expect from a $1000 display.
- Philips 190B4CS – The 190B4CS doesn’t have any fancy extra features or exotic capabilities, but this monitor doesn’t necessarily need them. With a street price under $600, the 190B4CS is the most affordable 19″ display in this comparison, and with no major performance flaws to speak of, it’s a great option for anyone who doesn’t want or need extra frills with his LCD.
- Samsung 173MW – “Unbalanced” is probably the best way to describe the 173MW. The screen seems a little too bright for its contrast ratio, which leads to poor black reproduction and washed-out colors. Also, the 173MW’s extensive array of video inputs, HDTV support, and integrated TV tuner seem a little excessive given the screen’s relatively small 17″ diameter. Don’t get me wrong. I love watching TV on the 173MW’s picture-in-picture window, and having HDTV support out of the box is really slick, but the extras seem better suited for a larger screen.
- Samsung 173T – Don’t let the 173T’s sub-$500 street price fool you. This LCD kept up with and often beat its more expensive competition. Although it isn’t as flashy as some of its competitors, the 173T’s balanced specs yielded consistently impressive performance throughout our side-by-side tests. If I had to complain about anything, it would have to be the 173T’s lack of DVI color control, which is an annoying and apparently unnecessary omission since every other panel we tested lets users manipulate color levels with DVI.
- Sony HX93 – Of all the monitors in our roundup, the Sony HX93 was the most frustrating. While the display’s excellent brightness, vibrant colors, and balanced contrast ratio hint at greatness, prominent banding and a largely impractical form factor taint what could have been a great product. The Sony’s extra VGA input and ability to switch between three audio sources is neat, but the chunky form factor is more limiting than the HX93’s extra features are enabling.
There you have it: seven screens, and seven conclusions. If you put a gun to my head and made me choose between them, I’d probably waffle between Eizo’s FlexScan L795, Philips’ 190B4CS, and Samsung’s 173T depending on my budget, desire for a larger display, and need for rotation and picture-in-picture.