Another look at the big picture

For most computer users, it's not where the rubber hits the road that matters so much—it's where the pixels hit the retina.

Who cares about another 100 MHz squeezed out of a processor or another 10G added to a hard drive? After all, it seems like the faster and more generous in storage our computers become, the more demanding of those resources our applications become. But a larger, nicer monitor—that's another story.

A large-screen monitor is more than just a status symbol in the office. Especially for those working in page layout, computer-aided design, imaging or other similar applications, a larger display means higher efficiency and greater productivity.

And if you can get that large display in a monitor with a small footprint that doesn't require a team of burly movers to relocate it, so much the better. A traditional 20-inch CRT monitor comes in a console that weighs as much as 50 pounds and dominates the precious space on your desktop. A 20-inch LCD monitor requires a fraction of the desktop space needed by a CRT monitor, and even a child could move it easily.

In the past, there have been two notable knocks on LCD displays. First, the images generated by the displays were not quite as rich and sharp as those on CRT monitors, and simply moving your viewing angle a few degrees to the side would result in light distortion. Secondly, LCD monitors are expensive, costing at least twice as much as a CRT monitor with the same screen dimensions.

In recent years, LCD monitors have improved on both counts. The thin-film transistor (TFT) LCD technology has improved to the point that screen images are of comparable quality to those on CRT monitors, and the viewing angle has broadened significantly. Also, prices have dropped dramatically. What's more, when you consider that these units use only about one-quarter of the power of a comparable CRT display, the actual costs drop noticeably over several years.

Still, there's no getting around the fact that if you want the biggest and the best, you should be prepared to pay a premium. The 20-inch beauties we looked at carry price tags around $3,000. You may also need to change your graphics adapter if you want to get the best performance out of your new monitor. Two of the displays we tested —NEC-Mitsubishi Electronics Display of America Inc.'s MultiSync LCD.2010X and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd.'s SyncMaster 210T—support digital as well as analog input. If you select a monitor that supports the new Digital Video Interactive standard, you can use a DVI graphics adapter that does not have to convert the video signal from digital to analog before sending it on to the monitor. The result is virtually no loss of signal and a clearer, steadier display image.

We'd be proud to have any of the three monitors we tested on our own desktops. In fact, each of the monitors earned identical ratings. To decide between them, you'll need to consider the pros and cons of screen size, form factor and connectivity.

Eizo FlexScan L771

What can we say? Eizo Nanao Technologies Inc.'s monitors have for years been standard-setters. Despite their high price tags, Eizo displays have been in high demand from those with the most challenging work to do, especially in imaging and design.

The FlexScan L771 continues Eizo's tradition in the category of large TFT LCD displays. The 19.6-inch screen is slightly smaller than the others we tested, and the unit lacks support for DVI input, but the display is the richest and steadiest we've seen. With its top resolution of 1,600 x 1,200 at 75 Hz, the L771 offers the highest resolution we've seen at that frequency in an LCD display.

Some users may find the L771's display to be a tad dark, but those who work extensively with images will appreciate the richness of color gradations, in part a result of the unit's .25mm dot pitch, the finest of any of the units we tested. That also results in extra-crisp text and lines.

Although many imaging professionals prefer the warmth of a CRT display for the truest colors, we found the L771 to offer the deepest, richest and truest color displays we've seen in an LCD model. Bear in mind, however, that this is a subjective judgment, and potential buyers will want to take a look for themselves before buying.

The L771's display is also limited in that it has the narrowest viewing angle of the three monitors we tested. As you move to the side from dead center, you'll experience some degradation at just a little over 50 degrees.

Although the L771 doesn't support DVI input, it does offer two ports for D-Sub analog input, which means you can easily connect two PCs to the monitor. All you have to do is press a button on the front of the monitor to switch between the two inputs. The L771's form factor is intelligently designed. The unit does not pivot to a portrait mode like the MultiSync LCD2010X, nor does it adjust height, but it is hinged in back for front-to-back swiveling. And the cables are routed through the base directly to the ports above the hinge so they are neatly out of sight. We also liked the provision of four USB ports on the back of the monitor.

Like the MultiSync LCD.2010X, the L771 can easily be detached from its stand and attached to a wall- or desk-mounted arm. The good news for users is that Eizo has recently lowered the price of the L771 from $5,499 to a General Services Administration price of only $2,928, making it extremely competitive with the other offerings.

NEC MultiSync LCD2010X

The MultiSync LCD2010X is the least expensive of the three units we tested, with a price tag of only $2,702 on GSA schedules. That price—as well as NEC's reputation for quality, reliable monitors —makes the 20.1-inch LCD2010X an especially attractive product. The LCD2010X has a lot in common with Samsung's SyncMaster 210T. The display quality is remarkably similar, with generally crisp images and good color reproduction. Although the LCD2010X—with its .31mm dot pitch and its maximum resolution of 1,280 x 1,024—doesn't quite match the richness or resolution of the Eizo FlexScan, it does offer wider viewing angles.

Like the SyncMaster 210T, the LCD2010X supports DVI digital input as well as analog D-Sub input, a feature that ensures future compatibility when your office upgrades graphics adapters.

There's a lot to like—as well as a few irritations—in the LCD2010X's form factor. On the plus side, we love the way the display can be pivoted, allowing you to view in either landscape or portrait mode. The LCD2010X is also the only unit we tested that offers a height adjustment. What's more, the unit can be detached from its base and mounted on a wall or extendible bracket.

On the other hand, the LCD2010X's display is not hinged for front-to-back adjustments, nor can it be swiveled side to side. And we found the cabling arrangement in the back to be awkward.

The LCD2010X's on-screen menus are easy to follow, and you can pivot the on-screen display with a click of a button to match portrait or landscape orientation as appropriate. The auto adjustment feature works very nicely, and we found no need to use the manual controls that are provided to adjust brightness/ contrast and display size and shape. The unit also provides excellent controls for color display, with five preset temperatures and sliders for fine-tuning.

The device's plug-and-play capability worked fine, and the LCD2010X offers strong power-saving features. The monitor is both TCO '95 and TCO '99 compliant.

If you're looking for a reliable monitor—and especially if you need a device that can swivel between landscape and portrait displays or that can be wall mounted—the MultiSync LCD2010X is a very strong offering.

Samsung SyncMaster 210T

There are a few things—very few—that we didn't like about SyncMaster 210T. Overall, we found the unit to be an extremely strong value.

With a list price of $3,889, the 210T occupies the middle ground pricewise. At the same time, the 210T delivers the largest display—a full 21.3 inches, meas.ured diagonally. The 210T delivers a clear, sharp image—thanks to a dot pitch of only .27mm —and we liked the monitor's color reproduction, though it was slightly less rich than the Eizo FlexScan reproduction. The 210T beats the FlexScan, however, when it comes to viewing angles. Samsung claims the unit has an optimal viewing angle of 80 degrees, which we found to be pretty accurate.

What's more, the 210T offers a maximum digital resolution of 1,600 x 1,200 at 60 Hz, the same top resolution as the standard-setting Eizo FlexScan, though at a somewhat lower vertical scan frequency. We were also impressed that the 210T supports multiple inputs. You can run both PC and video input, displaying them simultaneously in either picture-in-picture (PIP) or picture-by-picture mode. The 210T's design and construction are intelligent, though not as flexible as some users might wish. A relatively wide base gives the 210T's extra-large screen stability. The unit is hinged in back, though you can only tilt the top of the unit back and forth about 15 degrees. The 210T cannot be moved side to side, nor can its height be adjusted.

The monitor's ports are easily accessed in the back. Cables are plugged upward into the bank of ports, so they drop straight down to the desktop instead of protruding behind the monitor. The 210T offers not only the usual D-Sub analog port, but also a DVI port for those who have a DVI graphics adapter. In addition, you'll find RCA and S-Video ports for external devices such as VCRs, DVD players and Camcorders.

The front of the monitor offers well-marked touch buttons along the bottom of the screen, and all it takes is a light touch to activate them. One of the buttons activates the 210T's auto-adjust feature, which we found did an excellent job of configuring the display parameters. If you find that you're using the monitor in conditions where the results of auto adjustment aren't satisfactory, you can call up the On Screen Display menu to make adjustments manually. The menu—which is easy to navigate —offers manual controls for brightness, contrast, sharpness, color values, and display size and shape.

Another unusual feature of the 210T is the remote control, which allows you to access all menu controls, including adjusting the size of PIP windows, from a distance.

If you're looking to build a multi.media system, you can purchase an optional set of speakers that can either be freestanding or attached directly to the sides of the monitor.

Finally, the 210T is Energy Star compliant and meets TCO '95 standards for emissions. The unit consumes 64 watts when in use and 5 watts in power- saving mode.

The 210T's high resolution, generous screen size and DVI compatibility earn it a top score.

REPORT CARD

Eizo FlexScan L771

Score: A-

Eizo Nanao Technologies Inc.
(800) 800-5202
www.eizo.com

The FlexScan costs $2,928 on the General Services Administration schedule.

The L771 is the sleekest monitor we've seen, and it offers the richest, deepest color display we've encountered in an LCD monitor.

NEC MultiSync LCD2010X

Score: A- NEC-Mitsubishi Electronics Display of America Inc.
(888) 632-6487
www.necmitsubishi.com

The MultiSync LCD.2010X costs $2,702 on GSA schedules.

We like the LCD2010X's generous and rich display, and we especially like the unit's ability to pivot to a portrait display mode.

Samsung SyncMaster 210T

Score: A-

Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd.
(800) 726-7864
www.samsungmonitor.com

The SyncMaster costs $3,889.

The SyncMaster 210T offers the largest screen as well as a number of extras, such as DVI support, attachable speakers and a remote control.

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