Testing the Expensive Monitors

BOSTON (06/05/2000) - Don't worry about the cost. Lie to your boss and the purchasing department. Lose the paperwork. Just go ahead and order one of those 18-in. flat-panel desktop monitors, then sit back and enjoy the view.

Yes, these devices still cost upward of US$2,500. No one ever said life was fair.

I've lived with a changing cast of 18-in. LCD monitors fora while, and I'm thoroughly spoiled. There's nothing like them for everyday work. No flicker, tack-sharp images edge-to-edge and corner-to-corner, and good color. Lots of screen real estate lets me have several windows open at once. My eyes have never felt so good.

I tried four monitors: Compaq Computer Corp.'s TFT8020, Nokia Corp.'s 800Pro+, Princeton Graphic's DPP800 and ViewSonic's VP181. The Princeton is a digital-only monitor; the other three will take either analog or digitalinput.

I wanted a video cardthat could display four monitors simultaneously, but that was a special-order item. So I compared the monitors one by one, using a Hewlett-Packard Co. Vectra VL600 PC running Windows 2000 with an ATI Technologies Inc. video card that has both digital and analog outputs.

I kept coming back to the Compaq, though the Princeton and Nokia ran a close second. I did prefer using digital mode, because the image appeared on-screen faster and looked just ever-so-slightly better.

A caveat: These monitors were designed to run at 1,280 by 960 pixels, so your graphics card better have 8MB of video memory. Don't expect them to look quite as good at any other resolution. You can set them at 1,024 or lower, but at that resolution, images get distorted and text may look terrible.

Compaq TFT8020

Compaq Computer Corp.

$2,995

www.compaq.com

This is Compaq's second-generation 18-in. LCD desktop monitor. It comes with both the regular VGA analog connector and the newer digital video cable. Its view is landscape-only. The Compaq was a good all-around performer, displaying very sharp text, even at a lower-than-native display resolution. And it has a convenientcarrying handle molded into the back of the housing. For graphics, I liked this monitor best.

Princeton DPP800

Princeton Graphic Systems Inc.

$2,899

www.princetongraphics.com

This model produced very sharp screens, and normal desktop and application windows were thebest-looking of all, although the Princeton didn't do quite as wellas the Compaq on photographicimages. Unfortunately, at less than 1,280-by-960-pixel resolution, its text became the ugliest and most deformed of the lot - close to unusable, in fact. But as long as you can handle the high resolution, this is a very nice monitor indeed.

Nokia 800Pro+

Nokia Display Products Inc.

$3,399

www.viewsonic.com

The Nokia looks different from the rest of the monitors I tested. Its face plate is quite shiny, giving more reflections than the others, and the large, round controls at the bottom of the screen make the display look almost square.

The Nokia produced the sharpest type of all and good graphics. It fell down only in that I had to push it to maximum brightness and contrast, and the image was still darker and duller than those of all the other monitors.

But the software driver and control application that came with the Nokia were taxing. After an initial installation, one editor ran into problem after problem, and even getting rid of the software was quite difficult. When we took it out, the computer sulked and didn't want to boot. Eventually, we got the system back to normal, and it ran OK with standard Windows video drivers.

The Nokia seemed to inspireeither love or hate. I didn't care for its somewhat dim, low-contrastimages. But the editor who had all the software problems still preferred the Nokia to all the others.

Finding this monitor may present a problem, since ViewSonic bought Nokia's monitor business this year.

ViewSonic VP181

ViewSonic Inc.

$3,395

www.viewsonic.com

Among the monitors I looked at, only the ViewSonic would accept analog, digital and composite television inputs, and it produced the best-looking text at suboptimalresolutions. It could also displayat 1,600 by 1,200 pixels, though with a slightly degraded image.

ViewSonic produces some of the best monitors I've seen, so I was surprised at how poorly this unit performed. It just wasn't worth its high price. Although the image was bright and contrasty, I could easily detect ghosting of images with analog input - something I've never seen on other desktop flat-panel monitors.

You can rotate the screen 90degrees into portrait mode using supplied software.

This worked, though it seemed to make the system crash more. Compared with previous rotatable ViewSonic flat-panel monitors, this one had a very even image that, when rotated, could be seen easily from either side, not just from directly in front. It has two built-in speakers and a Universal Serial Bus hub, both nice conveniences. But alas, they aren't enough to make this one a winner.

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