LCD Monitors
Putting four 17- and 18-inch models through their paces

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If youíre anything like me, your computer desk is under a pile of garbage that surrounds your CRT screens. I have a dual display on my workstation, and I like it that way. Trouble is, it takes up a whole lot of room, and Iím sure the radiation spray isnít too healthy either. At least Iím cooking on both sides of my face evenly.

Well, even though I donít want to plunk down the green for a new display, I figure whatís the harm in checking out a few LCD displays? The technology has really advanced lately and prices, though still high compared to CRTs, are much better than before. The main trouble that has always prevented me from getting one of these aside from price is their color depth and resolution. Since I work in graphics for a living, Iíve been quite a snob about how good my displays are.

Aside from pro-snobbery, it really comes down to the fact that the display is the part of your computer you look at the most, and seeing as screens can be very fatiguing on eyes, I say they are the most important attribute of your system. No room to skimp here, I say.
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So, wanna hear what I did? I called up a few high-end LCD makers and a couple of more afforable LCD makers and got them to send me one of their 17-inch or 18-inch LCD displays to play with for a while. And you know what? They fell for it! [Insert maniacal laughter here].

On the higher professional end, I contacted Hitachi for their CML181SXW 18-inch LCD and Viewsonic for their VG181 18-inch LCD. The budget models were KDSí Rad7c 17-inch LCD and Envision's EN7100e 17-inch LCD.

Now why LCDs on two ends of the price spectrum you may ask? Simple, is it worth shelling out the extra dough for a high-end model? Read on, youíll find out. Or maybe you wonít find out. Live a little. Itís like playing Vegas.

Viewsonic's 18-inch VG181
I began with the Viewsonic. Having an A90 Viewsonic CRT and before that a Viewsonic 17-inch CRT, Iím always impressed with their quality and pricing. Iíve always felt I had a professional caliber monitor at an affordable price with Viewsonic. So after a couple weeks of phone calls, a bunch of redirection and a few unreturned messages, I finally got in touch with the right department. Once I was in their hands, everything went smoothly from then.

Within a few days I had FedEx-ed out to me the VG181. I unpacked it to find an elegantly designed screen. I couldnít wait to plug it in and see it run. The VG181 (street price about $950) comes with both a digital DVI connector and analog VGA connector (and both cables) for use on pretty much any video card you may have. Its packaging and contents were impressive.

Since my workstation sports a dual display card, I left my analog display (the Viewsonic A90 CRT, which is beginning to grow old) as my primary display, and put the VG181 on the digital connector as the secondary display. I placed it right beside my CRT on my Ikea desk and noticed they both sported the same screen space, 18-inch viewable area. This was definitely a bonus for me since it replaced my smaller 17-inch CRT secondary display with a perfectly matched screen size to my primary CRT.

The Viewsonic has a fairly wide (and stable) base, and its footprint matched my 17-inch CRTís, though the thinness of the VG181 in comparison was a great improvement in open space around my desk regardless. The VG181 had absolutely superb flexibility. I was able to easily tilt it and turn it, to almost any angle I needed, up down, side to side. The screenís visibility was sharp even at extreme viewing angles. And because of the wide base, it didnít even teeter once. Weebles wobble, the VG181 does not.

I powered it up to find myself surprised at just how vibrant and crisp the display was. I had always believed that in a dual display solution an LCD monitor would only be good as a secondary display to a CRT, but I never thought one could be good enough to replace the primary display altogether. The VG181 comes very close in my snobbed-up opinion.

Over the course of the next couple weeks of using it, I found myself more and more moving my text-based windows over to the VG181; email, browsers, Word, etc. The display proved to be bright, with high contrast and crisp images, perfect for reading and writing. I noticed, however, that the color banded very slightly in the RGB color gradient tests using the Passmark MonitorTest 2.0 benchmark, whereas my CRT did not band at all.

In running a few more tests, I saw that the ghosting of fast moving images made it relatively prohibitive in running wireframe animations in Maya, as the wireframe objects blurred just a bit too much for comfort, while my CRTís fidelity in displaying each line of the wireframe was rock solid. So, I ended up using only web windows and text-based apps on the VG181 in addition to graphics programs' palettes, with the main working windows (Maya especially) on the CRT. And thatís perfectly fine with me; I was expecting that much.

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