The big monitors used by graphics designers are great if you can afford them, but most of us need a more cost-effective way to get the job done. For most tasksespecially Web surfing, gaming, and general business applicationsa 17-inch display fills the bill.
Macworld Lab put six 17-inch CRT monitorsIiyama’s Vision Master Pro 410, MGC Technologies’ MGC-790, NEC Technologies’ MultiSync E750, Optiquest’s Optiquest V75, Philips Consumer Electronics’ Philips 107MB, and ViewSonic’s ViewSonic GF775through their paces. The monitors, all priced under $500, are designed for use at 1,024-by-768-pixel resolution, but they support higher resolutions as well.
We tested each monitor against our reference model, Apple’s $499 Studio Display (
Reviews, May 1999), paying particular attention to sharpness; color accuracy; and image quality at high resolution. Although most of the monitors offer acceptable quality, none matched the reference model.
Shadows and Slots
The Iiyama and Apple displays use aperture-grille technology, in which thin vertical wires direct electrons to the screen. The Philips, Optiquest, and MGC monitors use shadow-mask technology, in which closely grouped holes align the electrons. The ViewSonic and NEC displays employ a new technology called
, in which electrons pass through rectangular or elliptical openings.
NEC claims that its ChromaClear slot-mask design, which uses elliptical holes, increases the range of colors a monitor can display. However, in our testing, the two aperture-grille monitors surpassed the slot- and shadow-mask tubes.
The Iiyama and ViewSonic monitors feature flat screens, which tend to reduce glare and eliminate distortion at the display’s edge. However, flat screens are not necessarily better than the curved ones found on most CRTs: the Iiyama display scored high marks for display quality, but the ViewSonic monitor failed to stand out from the pack.
A Sharper Image
If you plan to spend much of your time staring at words and/or numbers on screen, you’ll want a monitor that’s capable of displaying sharp text. To test sharpness, we opened a large Microsoft Excel spreadsheet with each display set to 1,024-by-768-pixel resolution. We viewed long columns of numbers, plus white text on a black background; the latter often reveals sharpness problems you won’t notice with black text. To ensure consistency, we set each monitor’s contrast to maximum and adjusted the brightness on a test image to create a dense black without loss of gray detail.
Of the six monitors we tested, only Iiyama’s Vision Master Pro 410 scored a high sharpness rating. Thanks in part to the flat CRT, the numbers appeared extremely crisp all over the screen, including the corners, where you would expect any blurriness to be most evident.
Although none of the other displays exhibited outstanding sharpness, all of them were acceptable. However, the MGC-790 blurred reverse text and deformed numbers at the edge of the screen. Reverse text on the Philips monitor was also hard to read, mostly because the display was too bright.
These displays are best used at 1,024-by-768-pixel resolution, which assures that text and images are shown at their actual size. There may be occasions, however, when you’ll want a higher resolutioneven if it reduces 12-point type to the size of classified-ad copy.
To see how the monitors held up, we cranked the resolution of each to 1,600 by 1,200 pixels and viewed an image in Adobe Photoshop, paying particular attention to the program’s palettes. Predictably, on-screen text at the higher resolution was difficult to read on all six displays. However, reading the palette names was especially tough on the MGC and Philips monitors. The other four monitors’ sharpness was acceptablewe had to squint a little, but we were able to navigate through the palettes.
Get the Color Right
Although none of these monitors are meant for color proofing or other high-end graphics work, you don’t want to view a vacation photo and wonder why the Black Sea looks so red. To evaluate color accuracy, we viewed a Photoshop test image on each display at 1,024-by-768 resolution.
None of the monitors matched the color-reproduction capabilities of Apple’s Studio Display. The MGC-790 was the most disappointing: a white background displayed as light blue, and blacks and browns were faded. The Optiquest and ViewSonic displays rendered reds with a bluish cast, and the ViewSonic also suffered from faded colors. Even the Iiyama monitor, which otherwise scored well in our tests, could not quite match the deep red hues of the Apple display.
The Philips and NEC monitors scored low marks on color reproduction, primarily because they’re too bright. Generally, you want a monitor capable of high brightness levels to compensate for direct sunlight. However, both displays go too far in this respect. Even when we lowered the brightness setting, colors appeared washed-out. The other monitors have acceptable brightness levels.
All of the monitors we tested offer controlsbuttons, wheels, or some combination thereofthat let you navigate through the on-screen menu system. You can use these controls to adjust brightness, contrast, scaling, horizontal and vertical positioning, and other settings.
The MGC display uses a notched wheel, which we found works better than the ViewSonic and Philips monitors’ smooth wheels. The notched wheel makes it easier to adjust settings in fixed increments; the smooth wheels tend to cause large jumps in values. The other displays use button controls.
When you’re adjusting brightness or other settings, all the monitors display a bar that shows how much you’ve changed the value. However, the Optiquest, Philips, and MGC monitors also show numeric values, allowing for more-precise adjustments.
Being Macintosh-display workhorses, these 17-inch monitors don’t offer many frills. None include USB hubs, and only the Philips monitor has built-in speakers. And because these monitors are sold to PC as well as Mac users, none feature a truly cutting-edge industrial design: it’s boxiness and opaque beige all around.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
Among the 17-inch monitors in this roundup, only Iiyama’s $469 Vision Master Pro 410 stands out as a top-notch display. It’s reasonably priced and offers excellent sharpness and decent color reproduction. If price is your main concern, check out the Optiquest V75, which offers acceptable color and sharpness for less than $400. However, your best bet remains our reference model, Apple’s $499 Studio Display; it offers the best sharpness and color reproduction, not to mention an iMac-inspired industrial design that will look right at home next to your blue-and-white Power Mac G3.