Flat panels take some beating

, posted: 18-Jul-2003 21:42

When I measured how much power my computer set-up drew, the 19in monitor guzzled 110 to 135 watts. It was suggested to me that I should consider a flat-panel display instead.

Panels draw much less power: the 15in ones typically consume 20-25 watts in use, the 17in models a little more at 30-40 watts, and even the large 21in draws less power than my 19in CRT, about 90-100 watts.

But saving on your power bill is only one advantage of panels. Their slim size is appealing, too. Even the most compact CRT (cathode ray tube) looks enormous next to a panel. My 19in Sony monitor measures 451x417x461mm (WxHxD) and weighs a hefty 25kg. A panel looks so much better in every situation.

Most people find they are easier on the eyes as well. There is no electron beam misconvergence as with CRTs, causing fuzziness and colour "bleeding". Correctly set up, a panel has sharp text and images, making it fatigue-free to use over long periods of time. And, of course, the screen has no curvature.

People working with digital imaging tend to prefer CRTs as these can display very dark and very light hues better than panels. This problem is exacerbated by some panels only being 18-bit, displaying 64 hues of red, green and blue respectively, for a total of 262,144 colours.

A 24-bit display can show 256 hues of each basic colour, for a total range of more than 16 million, but even these are not quite as good as CRTs for image editing.

Panels also have a slower response time. This is measured in milliseconds, and usually tells you how long the display takes going from 100 per cent white to black and back to white. The lower the value, the faster the response time. Gamers and people using applications with fast-changing images often complain that panels are prone to "ghosting", with motion-blur on the screen.

I received an 18in panel from Philips, and 19in ones from Sony and Viewsonic. All three cost much more than the CRT - two to 2 1/2 times more.

You can get cheaper 17in panels that give you 1280x1024 pixels native resolution, the same as a 19in CRT.
These are priced more like the Sony G420 but fit a fairly high-resolution display into a smallish area.

The video card for the test was a Gigabyte ATI Radeon 9800 Pro from BDT, with both analogue and DVI (digital video input) outputs. I ran Windows XP and used DisplayMate, a monitor diagnostics program, to gauge the capabilities of the panels.

Philips Brilliance 180P2 18in
Even though the 180P2 concedes a diagonal inch to the other displays, it still manages 1280x1024 resolution.

This panel can be swivelled into portrait mode, a feature that lets you see the whole page of long documents, for instance. Display quality improved noticeably when using the DVI connector instead of the analogue input, but it lacked the crispness of the Sony and Viewsonic panels.

Brightness and colour saturation were very good, but the 350:1 contrast ratio was the lowest of the lot.

Although the screen is height-adjustable, it cannot be tilted. Nor does the 180P2 swivel sideways, making it awkward to place.

A DVI connector is provided, and the 180P2 was unique in having small stereo speakers in the base. It had the best controls for adjusting the display. The buttons are clearly visible in contrasting silver, and easy to use.

Rating: 6/10.
RRP: $1799.

Sony SDM-HS93 19in
With a stylish design, this was the looker of the three panels. The only thing that mars the design is the wide bezel (the plastic edge around the display). The screen tilts backwards and forwards, but does not swivel sideways.

Screen controls are underneath the lower bezel, and fairly easy to use after a bit of experimenting. But there is no DVI connector, a big miss on a panel this expensive.

Image quality was very good, with crisp text and details and a high 600:1 contrast ratio and fast response time. Colours appeared less vibrant than for the other panels.

Rating 7/10.
RRP: $2499.

Viewsonic VP191b 19in
A sharp image and generally good colour reproduction, although whites looked tinged at the default colour
temperature settings.

Apart from the standard VGA resolution of 1280x1024, the Viewsonic screen also supports HDTV images (720 and 480 pixels).

The VP191b can also be set in portrait mode. It tilts, swivels and can be adjusted for height.

The Viewsonic has a thin bezel for multiple monitor set-ups. There are also two analogue video inputs, as well as a single DVI one, making the Viewsonic a winner in versatility. But the image adjustment controls let this panel down - small, fiddly and hard to see.

Rating 8/10.
RRP: $2192.

When buying a flat-panel display, look for: a DVI connector, high contrast ratio (at least 350:1 between the light and dark parts of the image), high brightness (measured in "nits") and fast response time.

To summarise, I liked the slimness of all three panels and their crisp display of text. But for what I do, the CRT is still hard to beat, especially when it comes to value for money and overall flexibility. Shame it's so big,


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