Monitors Offer Premium Quality, Low Price

SAN FRANCISCO (07/05/2000) - Tempted by the high resolution of Apple Computer Inc.'s 21-inch Studio Display but lack the cash or desk space? Consider a more affordable and compact 19-inch monitor. The de facto standard for Windows PCs, the 19-inch display is equally at home on a Mac system. But the ten models we evaluated are no garden-variety displays; with their flat CRTs, they offer accurate color and reduced glare. The best news: you can have one for less than the price of Apple's 16-inch Studio Display.

It's about Control

What do you give up when you don't buy an Apple-branded display? Besides stylish plastics, you lose the ability to adjust the display via the Monitors control panel. And although all the models we reviewed have built-in controls that offer every imaginable adjustment, some of them are less than intuitive.

With the Hitachi Ltd. and Viewsonic models, for example, you have to pay close attention to whether you're selecting a control or changing a setting for a selected control, and we found Sony Corp.'s novel DisplayMouse confusing to use. The other displays had more intuitive controls; those on the Hewlett-Packard Co., Samsung, and NEC Corp. models were the easiest for us to navigate and use.

To Our Readers: Macworld will no longer be using MacBench, as it does not adequately represent current applications or the way our readers use their Macs. We will be using Speedmark 2.0, a suite of common, everyday tasks. For more information about Speedmark 2.0, visit http://www.macworld.com/speedmark.

One advantage of these displays is full compatibility with Windows computers.

If you use a Mac and a PC and need a single monitor for both, consider the Mitsubishi Diamond Pro 900u, which offers dual upstream USB ports -- a unique feature that earned this display a Macworld Editors' Choice Award in 1998.

The True Test

To assess overall image quality, Macworld Lab assembled a jury of typical Mac users and asked them to rate each monitor's performance with both color and gray-scale Adobe Photoshop images and a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. We set all displays to 1,152 by 870 pixels and millions of colors (24 bits).

With the color scan, the jury scrutinized each monitor's sharpness, brightness, contrast, detail, overall color cast, color saturation, and color accuracy. Our testers found that all the displays produced excellent results, with the exception of the Hitachi CM771, NEC FE950, and Sony Multiscan G400. The NEC and Sony models exhibited a noticeable color cast, while the Hitachi had pronounced moir distortion in the corners. Princeton's AGF900 was the leader, with the sharpest and most natural-looking image overall.

The Hewlett-Packard P910 did an excellent job of displaying our gray-scale images. The other monitors also performed well, although slight color casts on the NEC and the Sony Multiscan E400 earned them only fair scores, and the Hitachi scored poorly due to its moir distortion.

In all cases, you can make adjustments to fix the color cast -- and even the Hitachi's moir problems -- if you're willing to invest the time it takes to coax every ounce of performance from your display. However, adjustments can't help a monitor that inherently lacks sharpness. In our final and most telling test, we looked at a typical spreadsheet document and assessed each monitor's overall sharpness and text readability. The Diamond Pro 900u performed a tad better than the other displays that had excellent sharpness: the Hewlett-Packard P910, the Viewsonic PF795, and the Diamond Plus 91. The others received fair ratings, except for the Hitachi CM771, whose grainy phosphor pattern was readily apparent.

The Sony and Mitsubishi models have manuals with extensive Mac setup information. Mitsubishi includes a universal Mac adapter with the Diamond Pro 900u (it's optional with the Diamond Plus 91). Sony includes a Mac adapter with both models we tested, and NEC will provide a Mac cable when you call a special toll-free number. The other manufacturers leave it up to you and your dealer to source the correct adapter for your model.

Macworld's Buying Advice

If you spend most of your time editing images, consider the Hewlett-Packard P910 or Princeton AGF900 -- these models performed best with gray-scale and color images, respectively. If you work with a mixture of images and text, the Hewlett-Packard, both of the Mitsubishi models, and the Viewsonic PF795 are all worthy candidates. If you're price-sensitive but still want a strong performer that's easy to configure, take a look at Samsung's SyncMaster 900 IFT. And although the Mitsubishi Diamond Pro 900u is expensive, you just can't beat its performance, features, and out-of-the-box Mac compatibility.

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