Midsize Flat-Panel Displays
Where did all the CRT monitors go? Slowly but steadily, those big, heavy displays that used to swallow up almost everyone’s desk are going the way of the dodo, giving way to slim, trim LCDs. The reasons for choosing an LCD over a CRT monitor are clear: they take up less space, use less energy, and look great.
Recently, Macworld Lab put seven of these thin displays to the test. Five were 19-inch displays: the AG Neovo X-19AV, the Eizo FlexScan L795, the NEC MultiSync LCD1960NXi, the Princeton SENergy 914, and the ViewSonic VP191b. The Apple 17-inch Studio Display and the Samsung SyncMaster 172X are 17-inch models. All can be connected to your Mac digitally and all have a native SXGA (Super Extended Graphics Array) resolution of 1,280 by 1,024 pixels. This means that although their physical sizes differ, all the monitors show the same information. For example, the same Photoshop document, toolbars, and palettes are visible on both monitor sizes. The difference is the amount of space the monitor stuffs those pixels into.
The 17-inch displays generally cost less than the 19-inch displays and, obviously, take up less desk space. There were no clinkers in the group, but the NEC LCD1960NXi edged ahead of the competition by producing gorgeous, rich colors viewable at just about any angle. While most of these monitors have a standard three-year warranty, the Eizo guarantees its display for five years, and Apple guarantees its model for only one year.
Most of the LCDs we’ve reviewed in the past were physically capable of pivoting. The problem was that there was no pivoting software for OS X. With the release of its Radeon 9800 Pro Mac Edition cards, ATI gives OS X users the ability to pivot their displays using its VersaVision feature. Of the displays in this review, only the Eizo and the ViewSonic can pivot.
The Apple display uses a picture frame- style stand that allows you to lean it back a few inches. The NEC has a hinge at the end of a telescoping arm that gives it plenty of mobility—up, down, backward, and forward—in addition to a swivel base. The Eizo and the ViewSonic share many of the NEC’s moves, and they add pivoting to the list. The Princeton and the Samsung use a hinge mechanism much like the one you’ll find in the recently announced Apple Cinema Displays. The Samsung can fold nearly flat on its hinge, while the Princeton has a fairly limited range of motion. The AG Neovo’s hinge is located directly below the display, giving it about the same range of motion as the Princeton.
Most manufacturers tried to make their displays as small as possible by placing a thin frame around the screen. These range in size from 3/8 of an inch for the Samsung to 1 inch for the AG Neovo. The Apple is in a class by itself, as its frame extends a full 2 inches past the screen, making its 17-inch LCD larger than all of the 19-inch displays in this group.
The only other significant design difference belongs to the AG Neovo, which uses a NeoV Optical Filter (patent pending). This pane of hardened, scratch-resistant, antiglare optical glass protects the screen against damage—a feature that pleased our panel of experts.
Each of these displays can connect digitally to your Mac. A digital connection is preferable to analog because LCDs use an internal digital signal; an analog connection requires signal conversions that can cause on-screen noise and focus anomalies. Some older Macs support only analog connections, so each display (except the Apple) also includes at least one analog, VGA (Video Graphics Array) port. This second connector also lets you share the display between two local computers. Eizo takes the sharing concept a step further by offering a picture-in-picture mode that lets you view two desktops simultaneously on its monitor.
The Apple display uses Apple’s proprietary Apple Display Connector (ADC), which provides the video signal, power, and USB connection through a single cable. This is great if you have a graphics card that supports ADC, but not all do (adapters that translate VGA and Digital Visual Interface [DVI] signals to ADC are available). This incompatibility is probably what led Apple to drop ADC in favor of DVI for its newest LCD displays.
Another feature that has become less popular with LCD manufacturers is the integration of USB hubs into the display. USBhubs can be handy because they let you connect keyboards and other peripherals without having to reach around to the back of your computer. Aside from the Apple, only the Eizo provides this type of connection. The AG Neovo also provides connectors for both S-Video and composite video, allowing you to connect a DVD player, a VCR, or a camcorder directly to the display.
Are there people looking over your shoulder? If so, or if you work in an environment where multiple people might crowd around a display, you should consider an LCD’s viewing angle. The viewing-angle measurement describes the range of positions (from directly in front of the display to 180 degrees to the side) from which you can view the screen and see an acceptable picture. Many of these displays promise acceptable performance at nearly every angle, and although you don’t lose too much in the way of detail as you move from left to right in front of the displays, only three maintained their color fidelity at extreme angles: the Apple, the NEC, and the Eizo. The rest had pronounced color shifts at extreme angles. For instance, the AG Neovo promises a viewing angle of 170 degrees, but the red tablecloth in our picnic test image turned bright magenta at about 45 degrees.
All but the Samsung provide some way of changing the color temperature, or white point, of the display while it’s connected digitally to your Mac. Samsung offers color controls only in analog mode, claiming this is necessary to correct color-consistency problems caused by the digital-to-analog conversions. Changing the color of white from warm to cool or vice versa alters the midtones as well, so knowing and being able to set the white point across different displays can aid in achieving consistent representations of a file’s colors throughout a workflow. While this was once the exclusive province of CRTs, newer LCDs give users the same flexibility.
When Macworld’ s experts looked at our standard color-display test files, they found that all the displays did a good job of representing the file’s colors, though some images were more saturated than others. The AG Neovo looked a little washed out, while the NEC and, to a lesser degree, the Apple were deep, rich, and beautiful.
Next, the panel looked at a Word document containing several fonts and point sizes, to judge text legibility on each display. While the panel gave all at least a Good rating, the Samsung and the Eizo both earned Excellent ratings for clean, readable text, even at very small point sizes.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
Although the competition was stiff, the NEC LCD1960NXi is our Editors’ Choice for its excellent color, wide viewing angle, competitive price, and flexibility of movement. The Apple Studio Display performed well, but even with its smaller screen size, it’s almost as expensive as the NEC and actually takes up more desk space. The Eizo also performed well, and we liked the picture-in-picture feature—but it costs almost 50 percent more than the NEC. If space is at a premium in your office, you might prefer the compact, 17-inch Samsung SyncMaster 172X—it’s smaller than the rest and an excellent value.AG Neovo X-19AVEizo FlexScan L795NEC MultiSync LCD1960NXiPrinceton SENergy 914ViewSonic VP191bApple 17-inch Studio DisplaySamsung SyncMaster 172X