Eight Flat-Panel Monitors
Apple's first LCD monitor, introduced in July 2000, had a 15-inch screen and cost $1,299. Apple still offers an LCD for $1,299, but it's a full 5 inches larger. Other companies are also offering larger flat-panel displays at reasonable prices. Macworld Lab rounded up eight digital LCDs; each had at least a 20-inch screen and a native horizontal resolution of at least 1,600 pixels. Be sure to shop around -- we found one of these monitors online for a little more than half the manufacturer's suggested retail price.
After we put them through their paces, two of the displays stood out as the best. The wide viewing angle and commendable color fidelity of the 20-inch Apple Cinema Display made this screen come in ahead of the pack. And the NEC MultiSync LCD2080UX offered very similar screen performance with greater compatibility and flexibility, for people whose computers don't have the proprietary Apple Display Connector.
In addition to the Apple and NEC monitors, we looked at the Formac Gallery 2010 Oxygen, Hitachi CML200B, Samsung SyncMaster 213T, Sharp LL-T2020B, Sony SDM-X202, and ViewSonic VX2000.
To judge the performance of each monitor, we connected it to a PCI ATI Radeon graphics card installed in a dual-1GHz G4 system running OS X 10.2.5, and we ran compatibility tests. Next, a jury of experts examined the monitors displaying Adobe Photoshop images, Microsoft Office documents, and test patterns from the DisplayMate suite (www.displaymate.com).
Compatibility We checked each monitor at each mode (resolution and refresh-rate setting) that appeared in the Mac's display controls (we used digital connections in both OS 9 and OS X, and analog connections in OS X). The Sharp and the ViewSonic recognized and successfully displayed all modes when connected to an AGP Radeon 7000 card, but they had trouble when connected to a PCI Radeon card, telling us that the card's signal, with a refresh rate of 59Hz, was out of range -- even though the supported mode is supposed to be 60Hz.
Legibility To judge text legibility, our jury looked at documents that contained a variety of fonts in different sizes, but the jurors had a hard time picking a clear winner. One juror thought the Apple monitor's text was clearest; others thought they all earned a rating of Good.
Viewing Angle LCDs look best when viewed from straight on, but some do a much better job than others of retaining consistent color when viewed from an angle. The jury gave both the Apple and the NEC an Excellent rating in this test; these LCDs had only slight shifts in the darkest areas of the screen. The Hitachi and Samsung monitors had the most-prominent shifts, with dramatic color differences apparent when jurors moved from left to right. The rest of the displays fell in the middle of these extremes.
Accurate Color To rate the monitors' ability to display accurate color, we viewed our standard Photoshop test document, which features many varied elements and familiar colors, such as those of fruits and vegetables. Again, the Apple and the NEC were neck-and-neck, followed by the Formac, Sharp, and ViewSonic. The Hitachi and Samsung trailed the group, with oversaturated reds and blown-out highlights.
Video When the LCDs displayed video, we didn't notice any significant difference between the monitors with faster reported pixel response times and those with slower times. But we did notice that the LCD with the slowest reported pixel response time, the Sony, had the least amount of motion flicker when we dragged windows or pages of text around the screen. Unless you're an avid Pong player, you shouldn't worry too much about motion flicker.
The Looks That Kill
The most important thing about an LCD is its screen, but what wraps around the screen also matters.
The thin bezels, or outside cases, of the NEC and Sharp models, and the more traditional picture-frame style of the Hitachi and Sony, are all dressed in a slimming black. The ViewSonic throws in some touches of silver. The Samsung sports an attractive, thin, metallic bezel, while the Formac follows Apple's lead, with a translucent picture-frame design complete with a one-legged leaning stand.
Flexibility While the Apple, Formac, and Samsung cases look good, they -- like the Hitachi and ViewSonic designs -- don't offer much in terms of flexibility. The most customizable were the NEC and Sharp displays, which could move up and down, tilt forward and back, swing left to right, and pivot. The Samsung could do all those tricks except move up and down.
The ability to rotate 90 degrees clockwise into a portrait mode is meant to let you adjust your screen to resemble a typical paper document. Unfortunately, Portrait Displays' MacPivot software (925/227-2700, www.portraitdisplays.com) -- required to rotate the on-screen image -- doesn't work in OS X, and the company has no plans to update the program. When we installed MacPivot in OS 9, we found that the software supported only resolutions as high as 1,024 by 1,280, not as high as the native resolution of the displays. If a pivoting monitor is crucial to you, buy a monitor with a native resolution that matches one of MacPivot's supported modes, and don't plan on working in OS X.
Easy Access Some of the displays' controls were easier to use than others', but only the Hitachi gets dinged for hiding the control buttons under the bottom of the display bezel, which made navigating the user menus very difficult.
The Sony and ViewSonic models ship with built-in speakers. The Hitachi's speakers are 2.5-inch-wide black bars that connect to the side of the display. The ViewSonic's speakers sounded tinny; in fact, we preferred our G4's internal speaker. The speakers on the Sony are a bit better, but the Hitachi speakers were the only ones good enough to consider using for frequent audio playback.
The Apple, Formac, and Sharp displays each have two USB ports on the back, convenient for hooking up keyboards or other peripherals. The Sharp requires a separate USB cable from the computer to the back of the display; the Apple and Formac don't because they both use Apple's proprietary ADC technology. That's a plus -- as long as your Mac can take advantage of it.
Keep Your Receipt
On the surface, the warranties on all these displays appear straightforward. Six of the monitors come with a standard three-year limited warranty. The Apple and Formac models include a standard one-year limited warranty. But dig a little deeper, and you'll find quite a difference in the conditions under which each company will replace your display. Sharp will replace your display if it has more than five dead subpixels and no two are within an inch of each other. Hitachi will replace your display if it has more than five dead subpixels. ViewSonic draws the line at ten subpixels. Apple says that if you think your monitor should be replaced, you can send it in. If the company doesn't agree, you'll be charged for shipping.
Sony and NEC use the ISO 13406-2 standard (for details, go to www.nec-mitsubishi.com/specials/online_englisch/iso/). The Formac Galley 2010 Oxygen allows a maximum of seven dead pixels.
Macworld's Buying Advice
If your Mac has an Apple Display Connector, you'll be happy with the 20-inch Apple Cinema Display. If you're looking for something a little more flexible, the NEC MultiSync LCD2080UX offers comparable performance with greater compatibility and adjustment options.
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