Monitors

(Updated June 5, 2005)

General Comments

Every time I come back to doing an overview of what currently is available in the way of computer monitors, it is clear that we are another step closer to seeing the cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors replaced by liquid crystal display (LCD) monitors.  Quite frankly, there is less and less to look at in the way of CRT monitors, especially if you are interested in a high quality monitor.  For the most part, the CRT monitors that are still being manufactured seem to be offered as a cheaper alternative to buying a LCD.  However, with the cost of LCDs coming down, this means that these inexpensive CRTs are of relatively low quality, especially compared to what use to be available.  In particular, gone are the aperture grill Sony Trinitron and Mitsubishi Diamondtron monitors.  Sony appears to have completely stopped production of their CRTs and the Mitsubishi Diamondtrons typically can be found only in the largest CRT monitors, such as the 22 inch models.

While this trend towards replacing bulky CRT monitors with compact LCDs clearly has its advantages, there is one major drawback - - there is no such thing as a LCD monitor that is equally good for all the purposes that a computer might be used for.  By contrast, if you buy a high quality CRT monitor, you can count on it being a good monitor for whatever computer tasks you engage in, be it text editing, web browsing, image editing, CAD design, watching DVDs, or playing computer games.  Currently, this isn't the case with LCD monitors.  All current LCDs will have their areas of weakness.  This means that while a particular LCD monitor might be very good for some of the tasks that I listed above, it will not be so good for others.

For the consumer, this requires applying a couple of strategies when shopping for a LCD monitor.  If the kinds of tasks that you use your computer for are limited - for example, because you don't ever watch movies on your computer or play computer games - you should be able to find a monitor that excels in the activities that you do use your system for.  This would be one kind of compromise: finding a monitor that best matches your computer uses and interests.  The other strategy would be to find a monitor that comes close to being an all-around monitor.  Although the all-around LCD is an ideal that doesn't really exist, as of yet, some LCDs come closer than others to being good-enough in many areas of use.  If you require a monitor that can be used for many different computing purposes, looking for the best well-rounded LCD monitor might be your best approach.  In practice, you probably want to keep both of these strategies in mind.  

Below, I'll will briefly take a look at CRT monitors of various sizes and then do the same with LCD monitors.  As you'll see, my examination of CRTs is very brief.  These days, I think that more people are interested in LCDs than CRTs, and well, there is little to look at in the way of CRT monitors, anyway.  

Before I get into discussing particular LCD models, I will provide an overview of the different types of panels or technologies that are being used in LCD monitors.  If you can bear with me though this more technical part of the Guide, I think you'll see why knowing something about these different kinds of panels can help you select a monitor that best fits your needs.  Each of these different LCD technologies has its own distinctive pattern of strengths and weaknesses.  By knowing what these different kinds of panels have to offer, you have a good starting point when it comes to narrowing the field of monitors that you are interested in.  While looking at these different LCD technologies, I'll also try to help you understand the significance of the specifications that you will likely see when manufacturers describe their LCDs, such as response time, viewing angle, contrast, and brightness.

I'll also have a little bit to say about DVI (Digital Video Input), native resolution, and dead pixels.

Keep in mind, whether you are looking for a CRT or a LCD monitor, there are a number of good reasons not to compromise on the quality of the monitor that you buy.  The monitor is the primary output for your computer system; so, it is going to be a very big factor in determining what the experience of using your computer will be like.  A rough analogy can be drawn to a HiFi system and its speakers.  Just as a poor set of speakers will have a very detrimental effect on how much you'll enjoy listening to your audio system, no matter how good the other components are, a poor monitor can sour the experience of your computer system.  Furthermore, monitors tend to out live other components of a computer system, because they don't become obsolete as quickly as processors, motherboards, and video cards do.  Therefore, chances are that you will be making a relatively long-term investment when you select your monitor; one that will go a long way towards determining what kind of enjoyment you get out of your system.

 

The CRT's Last Stand

As mentioned above, CRTs seem to have found a couple of last toeholds on the monitor business, at least for now.  They offer a lower cost alternative to the still somewhat expensive LCDs, and they offer a premium display for those who can't compromise on their visual output (for example professionals working with CAD software or doing image processing for eventual publication).  For the more average computer enthusiast, these very large, high end monitors offer a true all-around monitor that doesn't impose any image quality compromises.  Just make sure that you have a large enough desk and the help of a friend, before you try to unpack one of these 70 pound monsters and get it set up.

Since high end CRTs are no longer being manufactured in the numbers that they use to be and many people are ditching their CRT for a LCD monitor, you may want to consider the refurbished and previously owned market when looking for a CRT monitor.  For example, some CRT suppliers sell refurbished models directly to the public, such as NEC and Dell.  There are also retailers that specialize in reselling this sort of stock, such as Azatech.

 

17 inch Cathode Ray Tube Monitors

Someone looking for an inexpensive monitor will likely turn to the 17" CRT models; most of which use the Invar Shadow Mask tubes.  Something like the Samsung 793DF or the NEC FE770 would be examples of these sort of monitors, and they can be found for about $140 to $160.  These monitors have a maximum resolution of  around 1280x768 @ about 66Hz.  I suggest looking for models with a diagonal dot pitch of .25 mm or less; however, many shadow mask tubes show their dot pitch measured horizontally, instead of diagonally.  This can be a bit misleading.  The lowest horizontal dot pitches are typically around .20 or .21 mm, but I think these are roughly equivalent to a diagonal dot pitch of something close to .25.  

It looks like there are still some Viewsonic G71f+ monitors in circulation.  These seem to be the only aperture grill 17 inch CRTs that are readily available.  While at one time Viewsonic had a higher quality P71f+ available, this G71f+ model may be a good alternative to the more typical shadow mask CRT monitors.  Newegg is currently selling this monitor for $154, which is in the same price range as other good quality 17" CRTs.

 

19 inch Cathode Ray Tube Monitors

A good shadow mask monitor in this size will cost around $200, such as the Samsung 997DF , which sells for around $210.  I didn't see any 19 inch aperture grill monitors for sale through either NewEgg or CDW, which have rather extensive online catalogs.

 

21 inch (and up) Cathode Ray Tube Monitors
When it comes to these jumbo monitors, you'll soon discover that their heftiness applies to both their bulk (nearly 70 pounds) and their price ($500 and up).  Even though this is a fairly big price jump from what we saw for the 19" monitors, keep in mind that in going from a 19 inch display to a 22 inch model you are getting 36% more viewable screen area, and many of these monitors still use of the higher quality aperture grill tubes.  There also are some shadow mask modules in this weight class, but I think that you might as well spend your money on a Diamondtron, if you plan on investing in one of these big monitors.  

Unfortunately, it looks like the market is drying up for these big CRTs, as well; many online resellers only carry one or two models.  The NEC FE2111SB seems to be readily available.  It has a .24 mm diagonal dot pitch tube with a maximum resolution of 1920x1440, and NewEgg is selling it for $559.  The next step up would be to the Mitsubishi DP2070SB, which has a maximum resolution of 2048x1536, and CDW is selling it for around $700.  While these monitors are clearly much more expensive than the small CRTs, as we will see, they are competitive with the prices for some of the larger and higher quality LCDs. 

 

Why Not All Liquid Crystal Displays Are Created Equal
There are at least four distinct technologies that are being used in the construction of LCD panels, resulting in at least three groups of monitors with similar distinguishing characteristics.  The most common type of panel is the Twisted Nematic or TN panel.  Their popularity has been driven by the fact that these are the least expensive to manufacture and they are capable of relatively low black to white transition response times.  Another popular display type is the Patterned Vertical Alignment (PVA) panel, which is manufactured solely by Samsung.  These panels offer wider viewing angles and better color production than the TN panels, though they typically cannot keep up with the response times of the TN displays.  There also is a panel technology called Multidomain Vertical Alignment (MVA), which the Samsung technology is a derivative of.  Although these two technologies are different enough to not call them the same, their characteristic strengths and weaknesses are similar enough that I will be group PVA and MVA panels together when discussing what options a person has when shopping for an LCD.  Finally, there are the In-Plane Switching (IPS) panels, which traditionally have been the most expensive panels to manufacture and have been found only in the larger sized LCDs.  At the moment, these panels appear to come closest to offering an all-around performing LCD with a relatively balanced pattern of strengths and weaknesses.

Twisted Nematic (TN) Panels

As noted, the popularity of the TN based monitors has been driven by their relatively low cost to manufacture and the marketing of their low response time specification.  To understand what response times are and why this specification has received so much attention, it is necessary to say a little about how an LCD works.  Each pixel on an LCD panel consists of three different colored subpixels, and each of these subpixels consists of cell that regulates how much light it allows through, depending on an electrical charge that is applied to it and modifies the cell's crystalline orientation or shape.  Response time usually refers to how quickly a pixel can go from one state to another and then back, again (also referred to the rise plus fall time).  This measurement is important, because it determines how well the panel can adapt to and display changing images.  Ideally, we would like the panel to be able to keep up with the rate at which the video card is sending data to it, which usually is at least 60 times per second (a 60Hz refresh rate).  This requires a response time of about 16ms in order for the LCD panel to keep up with the signal.  As you can imagine, when we are dealing with a rapidly changing image that is different with each screen refresh, if the response time is greater than 16ms, the display will not be correctly redrawn and you will notice a kind of motion blur, which is sometimes described as streaking or ghosting of dynamic images.  For people who like to use their computers for playing computer games or watching videos, response time has been latched onto as a critical specification.

When you see the specification for a LCD monitor's response time, usually this is a measurement of how long it takes to go from black to white and back to black, again.  While this seems like a reasonable enough point of comparison, these black to white transitions are often the fastest response times that a given LCD is capable of.  It may seem a bit counter-intuitive, but slight changes from one shade of grey to another, for example, tend to take longer than going from black to white.  This is because a change from black to white requires a large change in voltage, while the voltage changes required in going from one shade to another slightly different shade are quite small.  As a result, the cell's reaction is more sluggish with these smaller transitions in shade.  So, simply knowing a LCD monitor's black to white response time will not necessarily tell you how well it will handle dynamic images that include more subtle changes of color.  

While low response times has been a strong selling point for TN displays, especially among computer users who play computer games, there are some distinct disadvantages to this kind of panel.  Foremost among these is that they give up the capability of producing a wide spectrum of color.  They are only capable of producing a true color spectrum of 18 bits (sometime described as 6 bit color, based on the capability of each the three sub-pixels).  This translates into a total spectrum of 262,144 colors.  While this sounds like a lot, consider that PVA, MVA, and IPS LCD panels are capable of true 24 bit color, which means a spectrum of 16,777,216 colors.  Not surprisingly, LCD manufacturers don't make a point of advertising this limitation of TN panels.  Instead, they emphasize how they can simulate a color spectrum of close to 16 million colors.  You'll see such euphemisms as "more than 16 million colors", 16.2 million colors, or (rarely) a more straightforward 6 bit + 2 bit color capability and an acknowledgement that "frame rate control" or dithering is being used to simulate the missing colors.  In practice, this situation is tolerable to someone who primarily is interested in playing games or doing office applications, but it can become an issue for someone who is working with digital images.

There is another area that TN monitors are particularly weak, when compared to other types of LCDs, and this is their viewing angle.  While all LCDs are prone to losing the quality of their image, if you view them from some angle other than straight-on, TN monitors are particularly prone to this problem.  TN based monitors have the additional characteristic that their useful viewing angle from below straight-on is less than the angles from the side or from above.  Again, LCD manufacturers have tended to fudge this difference between TN and other sorts of monitors by using different criteria for determining at what point the image is degraded enough to say that the limitation of a viewing angle has been reached.  This means it is difficult to compare monitors from different manufacturers based on this specification.  However, you often can recognize a TN panel, when looking at the specifications for a LCD monitor, by the fact that the specifications for the vertical and the horizontal viewing angles will be different (for example, you'll see something like 150/135 listed).  Just be aware that not all manufacturers will acknowledge this difference in the viewing angle specification with their TN monitors.  (Viewsonic, for example, seems to like to gloss this over by listing their TN panel monitors as having 160/160 viewing angles, which seems rather unlikely.)

If you have a LCD monitor in front of you that you think might be based on a TN panel, you can test a couple of things out.  Tilt it up and down and see if the screen doesn't seem to darken more quickly when you are looking at it from a "lower" angle.  Then, tilt it from side to side and look to see if the white and other light colors don't take on a yellowish tinge.  Both of these are characteristics of TN based LCD monitors.

The other two specifications that you will typically see mentioned for LCD monitors are their brightness and their contrast ratio.  The contrast ratio is particularly important, since it gives an indication of how well a LCD can reproduce a true black color.  LCDs that have a low contrast ratio will tend to show a sort of gray, instead of deep black; this will probably be most noticeable if you are using the monitor in an area with low lighting.  Typically, TN monitors are not particularly good at reproducing true blacks, but there is quite a bit of variation from one manufacturer to another when it comes to this capability.  The TN panels from Samsung, for example, seem to do a pretty good job of producing a deep black.

The brightness of the panel has to do with how strong the back lights are that shine though it.  While a LCD with a higher brightness capability may be useful in a room that has a lot of ambient light, how much brightness is actually useful will depend on what sort of work you are doing and what sort of lighting is in your work area.  So, take this number with a grain of salt before concluding that more brightness must mean a better monitor.

Vertical Alignment (PVA and MVA) Panels

As I mentioned earlier, I will be discussing both the Patterned Vertical Alignment  (PVA) panels and the Multidomain Vertical Alignment (MVA) panels together, though their technology is slightly different.  For the purposes of this guide I primarily am interested in the characteristics of different panels, and these are similar enough for both kinds of VA panels that it makes sense to consider them together.  I will mainly be talking about Samsung's PVA panels, however, since they have the more dominant presence in the market.  You should be aware that Samsung also makes some TN panels, but their flagship LCD models typically are based on PVA panels.  

What are the advantages of a PVA panel?  Essentially, they do well in all the areas that the TN panels are weak.  They offer a true 16.7 million colors, a wide viewing angle, and the darkest blacks of any LCD panel.  This means that they can produce very colorful images with a lot of color depth, even when dealing with very dark shades of color.  However, these panels do have some significant weaknesses that prevent them from being a good all-around monitor.

Their primary weakness is how slow their response times are, especially when you look beyond the white to black transition times, which typically are around 25ms.  The more subtle black-to-grey and grey-to-grey transitions are much slower, getting up into the 100ms range, which means that you easily can see streaking when dealing with dynamic images, especially when dark environments are depicted.  I would as a rule avoid PVA (and MVA) based monitors for playing first person computer games.  Watching movies on these sorts of monitors will be a bit of a mixed bag.  Their slow response times may result in some ghosting problems, but their wide viewing angles and deep contrast capability will make them a better choice than most TN based LCDs for this.

Unfortunately, PVA panels have one other quirk that prevents them from being ideal monitors for editing digital images.  When these panels are looked at straight-on, there is a slight loss of the darkest hues, which become visible, again, if you view the screen from a slight angle.  For a professional working with digital images and trying to use a PVA monitor to accurately preview what an image will look like when it is printed, this going to be an issue.  It also makes setting the precise gamma for this monitor difficult, since moving your head slightly can result in subtle changes of color.  For most of us, this problem will hardly be noticeable, unless it is pointed out, but for a photoshop professional, this is something to take into consideration.  

In sum, if you are looking for a monitor for activities such as office applications, web browsing, non-professional image editing, CAD work, and even watching movies and playing third person view strategy games, these monitors deserve your consideration.  Given their areas of strengths, PVA and MVA based LCDs have done well as mainstream monitors, especially for people who aren't that interested in low response times.

In-Plane Switching (IPS) Panels

While at first it might seem that I am damning IPS panels with faint praise, one of the main things that I can say in their favor is that they don't really suffer from any of the weaknesses mentioned for the other types of panels.  While they may not exactly excel in areas that some other types of panels do, they nevertheless come the closest to being what could be considered an all-around LCD monitor.  

Probably the strongest area for the IPS panel, especially when compared to other types of panels, is their color production.  Not only are they capable of true 24-bit color, they don't have the problem of losing dark hues when viewed straight-on, which was noted to be an issue with PVA panels.  

The main drawback to their more widespread adoption has been the fact that they have been the most expensive panels to manufacture.  Therefore, they typically have only found their way into large and expensive LCDs.  Early on, they also tended to have relatively slow response times.  This is no longer the case; LG Philips has developed a very popular 20 inch IPS panel with an advertised 16ms response time.  While this may not sound as impressive as the 8ms and 12ms response times of some of the TN panels, it should be noted that IPS panels do not suffer, to the same degree as other types of panels, from the tendency for the response times involving subtle color changes to be much higher than the specified black-white response time.  Therefore, as a rough rule of thumb, you can expect a 16ms IPS panel to handle fast moving games about as well as a 12ms TN panel, after you take into account the full range of color transitions that need to be dealt with in actual usage.  

The viewing angles on IPS panels are very good, equivalent to what PVA panels offer.  However, they do not seem to have quite the very high contrast capability of Samsung's PVA panels.  Nevertheless, they seem to be at least equal to what the better TN panels are capable of, when it comes to handling the darkest black colors.

While this is not what I would consider a real defect, one way to recognize whether an LCD monitor is using an IPS panel is to view the screen from an extreme side angle and see whether the black colors start to take on a violet hue.  Doing so is characteristic of IPS panels.

Digital Video Input (DVI) Connectors

CRT monitors use an analog video signal; so, video cards convert their digital video signal into an analog one for CRTs to use.  LCD monitors, on the other hand, can make direct use of a digital signal; so, there is no need for the conversion of the digital video signal into this analog format.  In fact, if you do plug your LCD into a regular VGA video connector, the monitor will have to take this analog signal and convert it back into a digital signal in order to use of it.  As you can imagine, having to put your video signal through two unnecessary conversion processes (from digital to analog and from analog back to digital) isn't going to help the quality of the video signal.  This is why I suggest that you buy a LCD monitor that has a Digital Video Interface (DVI) and use it with a video card that also has a DVI connection on it.  Hooking up your LCD through a DVI connection will make a positve difference in the quality of your video display, compared to using an analog VGA connection.

You should be aware that not all LCD monitor that have a DVI connector actually include this cable.  You should try to find out what is the case with any monitor that you are interested in, since you might need to purchase this cable separately.  (I guess that if printer manufacturers figure that they can get away with not including any cables, monitor manufacturers figure that they should be able to get away with including no more than one cable.)

Native Resolutions

The native resolution (which is the same as the maximum resolution for a LCD) is what the display was designed to work at.  Given that the location of the pixels is determined by the physical layout of the LCD cells, you can imagine how an LCD's resolution is rather fixed.  You can run your LCD monitor at resolutions lower than the maximum, but in almost all cases the pixels and the location of the LCD cells no longer lines up exactly as they should; so, the image quality is compromised to some extent.  (The exception to this would be if you can run a resolution that is an even fraction of the full resolution.  For example, on a LCD with a 1600x1200 native resolution, 800x600 is an option that will also work well.)   

Pixel Defects

Finally, a LCD buyer should be be aware of the "Dead Pixels" problem with LCDs.  Dead pixels are defects caused by either an unlit pixel (or sub-pixel) or an always lit pixel or (sub-pixel), sometimes called a "Stuck Pixel".  (Each pixel is made up of a cluster of three sub-pixels of different colors.)  Although the quality of LCD monitors is improving, they are not completely free of these faults.  What can you do if you buy an LCD monitor and find that it has one of these defects?  Unfortunately, this may depend on where you bought it and who manufactured the screen.  Many online sellers are reluctant to exchange a monitor with this kind of defect and have rather high minimums to be met (Newegg, for example, requires 8 dead pixels for refund or replacement.)  You may find that local stores are more generous when it comes to this problem, and this might be one reason to shop for a LCD at a brick and mortar store.  You'll have to check and see what the policy of any merchant you might be buying from is on this, though.  

The problem ultimately comes down to the standards that are being followed by the manufactures of these screens.  As this Toms Hardware article makes clear, the manufacturers are not yet willing to take a stand for guaranteeing the highest quality LCD products; so, the vendors will have a hard time doing so on their own.  

One or two pixel defects on a large LCD is something that you might have to tolerate, and depending on where these pixels are located, they may not really be noticeable, unless you are looking for them.  A screen with a resolution of 1280x1024 has over 3 million subpixels and 1600x1200 resolution panel has nearly 6 million subpixels.  Given the complexity of these panels, the manufacturers are just not ready to guarantee zero defects.  

The good news is that the actual number of pixel defects showing up in large LCD monitors, these days,  tends to be rather small.

LCD Online References

Most of the material that I used on the characteristics of different kinds of LCD panels was taken from Oleg Artamonov's excellent "X-bitís Guide: Contemporary LCD Monitor Parameters and Characteristics" (10/26/04).  His article might provide a bit too much detail for many readers, in which case, Anandtech's LCD - For the Novice and the Expert (9/04/03) might be a better place to start.  I've also found this Table of LCD Monitors to be helpful in trying to sort out which monitors use what panels.

 

15 inch Liquid Crystal Display Monitors
I don't really have that much to say about 15 inch LCDs, as these seem to have been overtaken by the increased affordability of larger models.  It would appear that the niche for these smaller LCDs is to provide something inexpensive to someone who doesn't want to spend a lot on a monitor but still prefers to have a LCD, instead of a CRT, perhaps because the space that they have available for their system is limited.  These 15 inch LCDs have a native resolution of 1024x768, and their viewable screen area is only a little less than what you would get from a 17 inch CRT monitor.  This makes them a reasonable choice for someone who is looking for a monitor to use for basic computer tasks such as web-browsing, email, and word processing.

Most of these 15 inch displays will use TN panels, and they will only come with an analog connection; so, they are not suitable for a more demanding computer user.  On the other hand, their prices start at around $160, and there are a lot of models to choose from in the $200 range, which is not very much more than what a good 17 inch CRT monitor would cost. 

 

17 inch Liquid Crystal Display Monitors

17 inches appears to have become the new standard size for LCD monitors.  You get some idea of this when you notice that NewEgg currently only has 24 15-inch LCDs in their online catalog, but they  have 103 17-inch models listed.  While you can find some PVA and MVA monitors, the large majority of these 17 inch LCDs will be using TN panels.  This suggests that LCDs in this size category are going to be most satisfactory for those who play a lot of computer games, or perhaps those who are looking for something slightly bigger than a 15 inch display, but still want something inexpensive.  These 17 inch LCDs use a native resolution of 1280x1024.

One of the most popular TN panel LCDs for computer gamers has been the Viewsonic VP171B-2.  This is a second generation version of this model, and it's highlight is a 8ms response time panel.  You should be able to find it for sale for around $330.

There also are a large number of 12ms response time TN panels in the 17 inch LCD category.  Although this sounds significantly slower than a 8ms response time, keep in mind that these are just for black to white transitions, and the slower gray to gray transition times will tend to stay more similar when comparing these monitors to each other.

Samsung, for example, has a 172X model, which currently has a mail-in rebate that brings it's price down to around $300.  The NEC 1770NX and the LG L1780U are other 12ms TN panel monitors.    

If you are not very much interested in computer games, you probably would prefer a PVA or MVA panel monitor.  (Unfortunately, there are virtually no IPS panels in this size.)  The Samsung 711T uses a PVA panel, for example.  While its response times will be too slow for most computer gamers, the high degree of contrast and the true 16.7 million colors will please other users.  This monitor is currently available for around $330.  

 

19 Inch and Larger Liquid Crystal Display Monitors
19 inch LCDs are quickly becoming the sweet-spot for someone looking to buy an LCD.  This is largely due to the drop in prices for these monitors, which makes them not much more expensive than many 17 inch models.  The lack of a big price difference between the 17 inch and the 19 inch LCDs is partly attributable to the fact that they both have the same 1280x1024 native resolution; so, the actual number of LCD cells is the same for these two panel sizes.  While some will complain about the lack of a bump up in resolution with the 19 inch models, others may find that the 1280x1024 resolution is more comfortable for them to work with on a larger screen.  In any case, there also appears to be a wider range of choices, when it comes to the types of panels to be found in 19 inch LCDs, as compared to the 17 inch displays, which are almost all TN panels.

Many folks will be looking for a 19 inch monitor that they can use for playing computer games on, and the low response time TN panels remain a good choice for this purpose.  One of the more popular models of this sort has been the Hyundai L90D+, which uses a 8ms response time TN panel made by Samsung.  This monitor is selling for around $350, which you will notice is not that much more expensive than the 17 inch monitors that we've been talking about.  

Samsung uses this same panel in their own 915N model, but this monitor only has a VGA connector; it does not include a DVI option.  Recently, Samsung introduced a 930 model, which appears to be the same as the 915N, but it does have DVI.  This would be an alternative to the Hyundai mentioned above.  An advantage in looking for the Samsung 930 is that you are more likely to find it available in a local computer store, though it currently tends to be more expensive than the Hyundai.

An interesting development, which is just now becoming available, is the use of something called "overdrive" circuitry in PVA or MVA based monitors in order to achieve lower response times in transitions from gray to gray tones.  Handling these subtle grey to grey transitions quickly has always been an area where VA based monitors have had trouble.  Basically, what these overdrive monitors do is take an indirect route when changing from one shade to a nearly similar one.  Since it takes so long for them to make these slight changes in shade, they get the job done more quickly by first making a more extreme change of shade and then going back from there to the desired color.  

The monitor that currently is popularizing this approach is the latest version of the Viewsonic VP191.  This is the third iteration of this model number from Viewsonic; so, some will refer to this as the VP191-3, to distinguish from the earlier versions.  Otherwise, it is distinguished by its prominently advertised 8ms grey to grey response time.  A word of caution about how this response time is measured, though.  Normally, the black to white response times have included both the rise and the fall time (ie, going from black to white and back to black).  This is considered a full cycle.  However, these grey to grey response times are measurements of only the time it takes to get to the new shade of grey; they do not include the time required to change back to the original shade.  This means that their response times are artificially low compared to numbers that cover a full cycle.  In the case of the VP191, its 8ms grey to grey response time probably would better be considered a 16ms response time, since the fall time is about equal to the rise time.  

Although 16ms may not sound that low compared to the 8ms and 12ms response times that many TN monitors can boast of, keep in mind that we are focusing on how LCD monitors handle the more difficult to achieve subtle color changes.  In fact, a 16ms grey to grey response time is excellent for a PVA or a MVA monitor, which ordinarily would be struggling with grey to grey response time pushing up towards 100ms.  Even a 8ms or 12ms TN panel is unlikely to have grey to grey response times that are any faster than 16ms, themselves.  So, in actual usage, one of these 16ms grey to grey MVA panels probably will be close to a fast TN panel in performance when playing fast paced computer games.  Additionally, they will have the VA panel's advantages of true 16.7 million colors, deeper contrast for darker blacks, and wider viewing angles, compared to TN monitors.

As seems to be the rule with LCDs, nothing is without its drawbacks, and there are some negative consequences to this technique of overshooting the desired color in order to speed up response times.  Sometimes a sort of artifact referred to as "sparkles" can be seen during the viewing of a video.  So, if you intend to use your monitor to watch a lot of movies, this is something to be aware of.  Apparently, this problem is exacerbated by certain kinds of video compression and dithering.  Nevertheless,  these new monitors seem to offer something much closer to an all-purpose LCD monitor than either a TN panel or a regular VA panel previously made possible.  These overdrive VA panels seem to be the first real alternative to a TN based panel for the computer gamer, at least in a LCD monitor smaller than 20 inches in size.  I think that we can expect to see similar, overdrive monitors from other manufacturers in the near future.  Eizo already has it's L778 monitor available, which uses overdrive, and Samsung lists a low response time, 8ms, 193P plus monitor, which might be using this overdrive circuitry, as well.

The VP191B currently is selling for about $430, which does make it more expensive than many low response time TN based monitors of the same size.  Tom's Hardware has a good review of this monitor, and it goes into detail about how this overdrive technology works and what its pros and cons are.

For the non-computer gamer, the regular PVA panels are still a very good choice.  The Samsung 910T, for example, is available for around $420.

There also are a few IPS panels available in the 19 inch size category.  These are 25ms response time monitors; so, they probably won't be satisfactory to someone who primarily is looking for a gaming monitor, but they do offer some well rounded characteristics, and these might be a better choice for someone who occasionally uses their computer for playing games (as compared to the Samsung PVA monitors mentioned above), and they should be a very good choice for someone who is primarily interested in doing digital image editing.  Currently, the LG L1930B is selling for around $280 after a mail-in rebate, which is an excellent price for a general purpose, 19 inch LCD.

 

20 inch (and larger) Liquid Crystal Display Monitors

The main reason that I am introducing these larger LCD monitors into the discussion is that you can find the higher quality IPS panels in this size.  LG Philips has been producing a 16ms response time IPS panel for some time, and Dell has popularized it in their Ultra Sharp 2001FP monitor.

At the moment, this panel appears to be about as close as you can get to an all-purpose LCD monitor.  It's 16 ms response time (and the fact that IPS panels don't show a steep increase in response times for the more subtle grey to grey transitions, as compared to the response times for black to white transitions) means that many people will find it it suitable for playing computer games.  However, its native resolution of 1600x1200 requires a pretty powerful game rig to be able to maintain a decent frame rate at such a high resolution.  (You do have the option of dropping the resolution down to 800x600 without having to deal with a compromised display image, though.)  Its excellent color production should satisfy all but the most demanding Photoshop professionals.  

Unfortunately, these big monitors are not inexpensive.  Dell currently is selling their 2001FP for around $750.  This same 16ms panel can also be found in the Viewsonic VP201, which is selling for around $660.  LG Electronics appears to be the manufacturer behind the Dell 2001FP, and they offer their own version of this monitor, the LG L2010P, which is selling for around $730.

There is a wide-aspect version of this 16ms IPS panel, which is used in the Dell Ultra Sharp 2005FPW.  Its native resolution is 1680x1050, which you may want to take these account when considering whether this monitor will suit your needs or not.  It's pricing is similar to the 2001FP, around $750.

 

 

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