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MEAN SCREENS

 

STANDFIRST

If you’re serious about DTV you need a seriously large monitor. Rick Maybury has been staring long and hard at four models with 17 to 21 inches screens

 

COPY

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again. If you’re at all interested in DTV or use any sort of graphics or video-based applications, most standard 14 and 15-inch PC monitors are simply not up to the job. Apart from the increase in the display area -- the screens on some 17-inch monitors can be up to 50% larger than 15-inch models -- bigger screens are much less tiring to use, they reduce eyestrain, especially at higher resolution settings, moreover, models with faster refresh rates have reduced screen flicker.

 

However, all is not as it seems when it comes to screen size measurement. Manufacturers continue to quote the misleading diagonal tube size first, and if they mention it at all, bury the more meaningful visible screen area figure in the small print. This can result in some quite significant anomalies, especially in the 14 to 17 inch size range. Bear that in mind when shopping for monitors, and if you’re auditioning them in the flesh, be sure to take a tape measure with you.

 

There are other points to consider. The size and spacing of the phosphor dots or stripes on the screen has a direct bearing on the sharpness of the display. Dot pitches of 0.31 to 0.28mm are typical but you should aim for 0.26mm or less as it will give a noticeably crisper image. A moment ago we touched briefly on screen refresh rate or vertical scan frequency. This can be a critical factor for some users, who are sensitive to screen flicker. Check the specs, the facility to manually alter the refresh rate is well worth having. Standard settings of 70 to 75Hz are fine for most people, but there are those who are still aware of flicker at  85Hz and higher, and it becomes even more noticeable when sitting close to a large screen.

 

The majority of monitors now use the industry standard VESA DPMS (display power management signalling) system. This can reduce power consumption by a factor of ten or more, when the monitor is not being used. However, it’s normally a function of the PC’s operating system or video board/controller and some older models may not be able to make use of the feature. Most PC monitors are MAC compatible, but double check, just in case, as some models do not support all the screen resolutions, and you may need to buy an adaptor.

 

TESTING TIMES

To give you some idea of what to look out for we’ve been having a close look at four DTV-friendly monitors with tube sizes of 17, 19 and 21-inches, costing between £450 and £950.  Monitor testing is a reasonably straightforward business. Following a 30-minute warm-up we use a combination of software test utilities (CheckScreen and Ntest 1.0) plus moving video sourced from disc and tape, to really push the displays to their limits. The areas we’re most interested are resolution, convergence, geometry, focus, colour purity and power supply stability, across the most commonly used resolution settings (800 x 600, 1024 x 768 and 1280 x 1024). We also take into account the range and ease of use of display adjustments, the design and construction of the case and stand, the cosmetics, and not forgetting the all important value for money factor.

 

BELNEA 10 70 50

The 10 70 50 is well-equipped, with 13 preset and 19 user-defined graphics modes, covering virtually all eventualities, including basic MAC compatibility. It has a full set of energy saving functions and a comprehensive set of user adjustments, accessed via a 5-page on-screen display. In addition to all of the standard picture setting and geometry adjustments, it’s possible to store five preferred colour settings and there’s a moiré function, for cancelling annoying cross-colour effects in areas of the display containing a lot of fine detail.

 

The CRT is a Mitsubishi Diamondtron, it is a similar design to Sony’s Trintron picture tubes, and like some Trintrons, shadows cast by two damping wires, behind the aperture grille, can sometimes be seen on the screen. In this instance they’re quite pronounced and we suspect they will prove irritating on a plain white or coloured desktop. The only small crumb of comfort is they’re less intrusive on moving video.

 

Apart from that on-screen performance is fine, the faceplate is very flat so it picks up few reflections from lights and windows, and that’s helped by an efficient anti-reflective coating. Picture geometry and convergence on our sample were both spot-on. The on-screen display is fairly easy to navigate and intuitive to use. Static picture tests produced a clean set of results, in fact the only operational niggle turned out to be the swivel-tilt stand, which kept falling off every time the monitor was moved.  Worth considering if you can live with the lines.

 

How Much?                   £457  (inc VAT)

Tube size                      17-inches

Visible display area      328 x 244mm

Dot Pitch                       0.25mm

Max Resolution            1600 x 1200 pixels

Max refresh rate            auto scan to 160Hz

Dimensions                   536 x 522 x 565mm

Weight              23kg

 

CV RATINGS

Features                       8

Performance                  7

Ease of use                   8

Value for money            8

Overall Rating  80%

 

BELNEA 10 60 90

In spite of the family connection with the 10 70 50, the 10 60 90 has an entirely different character. All standard graphics and colour display formats are supported and automatically selected up to a resolution of 1280 x 1024 pixels; it is compatible with VESA power management systems.  The on-screen menu is well laid out, easy to use and informative. In addition to all of the usual picture and geometry adjustments there’s a couple of bonus features. One of them is picture zoom, which proportionally expands (or shrinks) the display, (it has separate vertical and horizontal size controls as well). Another function, called recall, temporarily returns all settings to the factory default, for comparison with current settings, and the on-screen display has a variable time-out, from 10 to 50 seconds.

 

The only notable omission is any convergence controls. They’re rarely needed when new, but may come in useful to compensate for ageing effects when the tube has got some time under its belt. Our sample had a very minor imperfection in the glass faceplate, towards the bottom centre of the screen. We don’t count it as serious but it might be enough to annoy picky users, and puts a question mark over the manufacturers quality control procedures.  

 

Otherwise it’s all good news. Colour purity, convergence and geometry all checked out. A pulsed black and white partial raster test indicated some very slight power supply instability, though it’s unlikely to give most users any problems during normal use. Image quality is very good indeed, resolution is above average across all display modes. Recommended, but check the glass.

 

How Much?                   £621  (inc VAT)

Tube size                      19-inches

Visible display area      360 x 270mm

Dot Pitch                       0.26mm

Max Resolution            1280  x 1024 pixels

Max refresh rate            auto scan to 150Hz

Dimensions                   450 x 450 x 460mm

Weight              22kg

 

CV RATINGS

Features                       8

Performance                  8

Ease of use                   9

Value for money            8

Overall Rating  90%

 

VIEWSONIC GT775

The GT775 gets off to a good start. This well-specified 17-incher comes with Plug and Play installation software plus diagnostic utilities, a MAC adaptor and an unusually comprehensive instruction book. It has a full set of power management functions, 13 preset and 8 user-adjustable resolution modes -- up to 1600 x 1200 pixels  -- and eight preset video modes, covering image size and position.

 

The on-screen graphics have been well thought out, with all of the picture and geometry options neatly presented on a one page display. The colour controls are a notch up on the norm, with manual RGB level, 3 preset and 1 user colour temperature preset. Video timings cover a very wide range and can be set manually or automatically; the instructions containing dire warnings of what can happen if used with some fast graphics cards. 

 

If it wasn’t for two distinct lines, caused by aperture grille damper wires across the top and bottom quarters of the display, the GT775 would have earned top marks for video performance. Unfortunately they can be seen clearly on plain coloured desktops and static displays, fortunately they’re masked by graphics or moving video. All other picture parameters are on the nail; the picture wobbles very slightly during the PSU stability test, but it’s not enough to cause concern. The flat screen and anti-reflective coating work very well indeed, the image is clean, colours are on the money and there’s plenty of depth to the image. Shame about those lines.

 

How Much?                   £515 (inc VAT)

Tube size                      17-inches

Visible display area      328 x  246mm

Dot Pitch                       0.25mm

Max Resolution            1600 x 1200 pixels

Max refresh rate            auto/manual to 160Hz

Dimensions                   410 x 416 x 444mm

Weight              20.5kg

 

CV RATINGS

Features                       8

Performance                  7

Ease of use                   8

Value for money            7

Overall Rating 79%

 

OPTIQUEST V115

If, like most PC users you’ve grown up with 14 and 15-inch screens, the vast acreage of the V115 display will be a revelation. It shares most of the features of its stablemate the Viewsonic (Optiquest are one of their sub-brands). It has the same commendably wide range of display, resolution and timing  modes, user preferences, power management facilities, easy to use on-screen displays, and it’s MAC compatible but there’s a sting in the tail.

 

Our sample had a very rare fault; two phosphor dots on the screen were blacked out. One, close to the centre of the screen was obvious at switch-on, the other one only showed up five minutes after switch on. One or two pixels in several hundred thousand might not sound much, but it can be incredibly irritating and in our opinion it’s enough to render the tube useless. Viewsonic tell us they have a zero defect policy, and were genuinely surprised that this one managed to slip though the quality control net. They assured us that any monitor with a similar defect will be replaced without question.

 

That was the only blot on an otherwise spotless copybook. Image depth and clarity are superb, colour purity and convergence were faultless, as were geometry and power supply stability. The big screen delivers a bright, crisp image, capable of resolving really fine detail, particularly in the higher resolution modes. We hope the duff pixels were an unfortunate one-off, if so the V115 is well worth shortlisting if you’re in the market (and have the room) for a proper industrial-strength display.

 

How Much?                   £940 (inc VAT)

Tube size                      21-inches

Visible display area      410 x 305mm

Dot Pitch                       0.26mm

Max Resolution            1600 x 1200 pixels

Max refresh rate            auto/manual 160Hz

Dimensions                   505 x 487 x 508 mm

Weight              28.5kg

 

CV RATINGS

Features                       8

Performance                  7

Ease of use                   8

Value for money            7

Overall Rating 79%

 

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Ó R. Maybury 1997 2011

 


 

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