The LCD-monitor face off
Flashy new digital monitors are all the rage, but how do they really look next to analog models? We compared otherwise-identical ViewSonic models.
October 23, 1998
by Rex Farrance
(IDG) -- I've been generally impressed with the digital flat-panel monitors I've seen so far. But until now I've never had the chance to compare digital and analog LCDs head to head. So when I heard that ViewSonic had two otherwise-identical 15-inch active-matrix models available, I leaped at the chance to review them.
To use a digital LCD, you need the right kind of graphics board. While ViewSonic has no plan to offer a card-monitor bundle, the company did provide an 8MB ATI Expert LCD card for my review of the analog VPA150 and the digital VPD150 displays. The $120 ATI card has the advantage of simultaneously supporting digital and analog monitors, with two ports on the same card. As a bonus, it also handles PC-to-TV output (I didn't test this feature).
I inserted the Expert LCD card into the AGP slot on my test computer (you can also get a PCI version), hooked up both the monitors to the card, and ran the setup software, which established the proper refresh rate and optimal 1024 by 768 resolution. Then I was set to view and compare identical screens on both monitors at once.
Put to the test
For the ongoing Top 10 Monitors reviews, PC World uses a series of test screens designed to show often-subtle differences between displays. This suite of screens served well here, because the differences between the two monitors -- while significant -- weren't pronounced. Generally, I found the digital model just a bit brighter and a tad sharper than the analog. However, both performed admirably on every screen. In fact, when I asked for a second opinion from one of our top monitor testers, he remarked that the analog VPA150's display looked sharper than most similar products he'd seen.
Focus -- as it should be on an LCD -- was impeccable on both units. The quality was most evident on the fonts screen, which uses both white-on-black and black-on-white text in five different sizes from 6.8-point up to 9.8-point type. Even the tiny 6.8-point type was legible on both screens, with no trace of blurring. But on the analog display the 6.8- and 7.5-point sizes were too small for comfortable reading. On the other hand, with the digital unit, I was able to read even the 7.5-point type comfortably at a normal viewing distance.
Text, graphics both look great
The differences weren't as marked when viewing scanned photos and predominantly graphic screens. On our Web site screen I found the two displays to be very comparable, although the digital VPD150 provided slightly more detail in the midsection of one dark-toned fresco. On another screen of a shady park, I noticed that the digital model made the photo look as if it were taken a bit earlier in the afternoon. Also, details were slightly more apparent.
On both displays colors were accurate, but a little pale, on our fresh fruit screen and our photo of Olympic runners. These photos are dominated by lighter hues, and adjusting the brightness down a bit actually made the color tones more vivid.
Controls you need -- and controls you don't
The analog VPA150 has an assortment of on-screen adjustments, navigable using the four control buttons on the monitor base. I didn't need to tweak the size, positioning, tuning, and on-screen display position; although I did adjust the contrast on the VPA150 and the brightness on both units. I particularly liked the ViewMatch Color control, which lets you massage the red, green, and blue settings to give the tones you want.
The VPD150 has a similar control panel with four buttons; but because of the greater accuracy of the digital display, the only screen adjustment you need is brightness. However, unlike the analog VPA150, the VPD150 has no gauge to allow easy matching of previous settings.
The dimensions are identical on both. The 15-inch viewable diagonal screen is nearly comparable to a 17-inch conventional CRT monitor's true display area. Including the base, each ViewSonic model measures less than seven inches in depth, and weighs a mere 15 pounds. These monitor take up only about 25 percent of the desk space needed for a 17-inch CRT unit. Both monitors support up to 16.7 million colors; and ViewSonic provides a three-year parts and labor warranty (the LCD back light is covered for one year).
The main attraction of CRTs is their lower cost: Flat-panel displays are still priced much higher than even high-quality CRTs. But the differential has dropped rapidly. Just five months ago, I reviewed a smaller 13.8-inch analog LCD ViewSonic VPA138. At the time, it was the first LCD from a major vendor priced under $1000. You can now find the same model for less than $800 -- a 20 percent drop.
ViewSonic expects the 15-inch VPD150 digital flat panel to go for a street price of $995 when it's released in November. Analog products cost more because of their more complicated conversion circuits: The VPA150 is currently available at a street price of $1195.
Either of these monitors is a good buy in today's increasingly competitive LCD market. But I prefer the VPD150's slightly sharper, brighter picture and lower cost. Even if you don't have a digital adapter on your computer, you can buy the ATI Expert LCD card and still save about $80 over the analog VPA150.
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