LCD Buying Tips

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This article is to help all the poor saps trying to figure out what LCD screen they should buy and what connection to use – DVI or analogue – but receiving nigh on no replies whatsoever. Hopefully, now at least some people will have answers to their questions. I posted something similar on a video newsgroup but I tidied this article up a bit for the web.

I was looking for an 18.1 inch LCD monitor and I had short listed the Eizo L671 and the Compaq 8020TFT. Both are good monitors, both have dual input for DVI-I (digital) and D-SUB (analogue). There is a review of the Compaq on
pcworld.com and winmag.com and a review of the Eizo on winmag.com. There are also few other good reviews of other Eizo LCDs on winmag.

I was sort of in a hurry to get an LCD since my 21 inch had conked out and I was using a 15 inch Samsung CRT. I held out for the Eizo or the Compaq because there is a huge difference in performance for LCD screens and the majority of them are bad.

I went to a couple of shops and had a look at some Samsung, Sony and NEC ones. There was one Samsung 17 inch which was wholeheartedly at computers.com but it turned out to be nothing phenomenal. It is cheap, though, and represents good value for an LCD monitor. A lot of the Samsung screens were a bit washed out in terms of colour and neither the Sony nor the NEC were particularly inspiring. Keep in mind though, fluorescent lighting apparently makes a huge difference.

I can’t vouch for it myself but apparently, under those conditions, colours appear more washed out – as if they weren’t washed out enough already. I decided against all the Samsung, Sony and NEC screens in the end and held out for the Eizo or the Compaq, which were not available in stores.

One thing I could not find out was what difference DVI makes to an LCD screen. I bought a DDR-DVI GeForce just so I could try DVI on a LCD, and believe me it is worth it. Everything does sharpen up once you use the DVI, so try to get a LCD that uses it! The difference is not night and day but it is certainly noticeable. Plus, it is the “connection of the future”. Marketing crap perhaps, but more and more graphics cards are using the DVI connection like the GeForce series and the All-In-Wonder Radeon.

The downside of DVI, on the GeForce at least, is that when you first get the screen you need to startup in analogue mode and then switch to the DVI connection later, once you get into Windows. You need to set it on DVI through the display panel. I had a lot of problems with my graphics card – the GeForce DDR-DVI – and my screen.

At first, I could only get picture in Windows on the DVI connection, once Windows had initialised it. I called tech support and they falsely told me “the DVI is new technology” and so it “cannot display information at boot”. Fortunately, a kind soul on the newsgroup enlightened me to the truth.

Basically, if you do not have the latest BIOS for your GeForce or at least a fairly recent one, you will not be able to have a visible POST (the startup information readout). I’m not sure if the same applies for the GeForce 2 or the Radeon. Now that I have the latest BIOS, I can see all the POST information rather than sit in the dark for a minute or two before Windows loads up. The beauty of having two inputs (one DVI, one analogue) is being able to hook up two machines to one screen. Now, I have my laptop running on the analogue input and the DVI running my desktop machine.

A few miscellaneous things to be aware of:

Dead pixels are virtually unavoidable. I have one on my LCD and I have one on my laptop. They are annoying but I’ve managed to ignore it so far. Who knows? You might get lucky and have no dead pixels at all. If you are really, really unlucky, and you have several dead pixels, you should return it and get a new one. One pixel is bad but eight is unbearable. Don’t be complacent and just stare at it like a cretin, do something about it.

A lot of manufacturers will exchange monitors with eight or up dead pixels but I believe this is wrong. If you have more than two, especially in obvious places, then complain! Take it back to the store and get yourself a new one. These things are expensive and I expect to use my displays for at least two to four years. I’m not gong to stare at a little smiley face pattern of dead pixels stuck on bright yellow in the middle of my desktop for four years!

At the end of the day, the screen is great. Everything is crisp and clear and the colours, though a bit less vivid than my previous CRT, are very acceptable. Toying with brightness and contrast may yield better results too. The GeForce colour correction panel will help ease the image and making it more suitable for you. The clarity at the corners and the flatness of the screen are the greatest benefits. Plus, the nature of the construction of the screen makes it completely glare proof.

The screen is actually more comfortable to look at with some natural light in the room. My advice? Shortlist the LCD’s you want and try and see as many of them as possible to rule out the duds. Make sure it has DVI input, it is worth the effort. If you end up buying a dud, you’ll be kicking yourself. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

This article is a fairly general pointer on LCD screens written from personal experience. In case you didn’t figure it out from the article, I now have a Hercules GeForce DDR-DVI and an Eizo L671. The menu system of the monitor is quite intuitive though the buttons are a bit too spaced out.

The input select button is a godsend if you have two computers, as you can have one computer hooked up with a word document or a spreadsheet constantly loaded and the other computer hooked up and playing Quake 3. So very cunning. The screen also has a four port USB hub which has made hook-ups to my mouse, network adapter and Artpad a lot simpler. In general, the construction is sound. The swivel/tilt stand does what it is meant to do and is stable, a greater achievement than one might think.

A little plug for the guy who helped me out with my LCD. If you are interested in getting a LCD in the UK, call up PDS, the distributor of Eizo’s in the UK and get an ex-demo model. The L661s ex-demo are going for £1300 which is about 700 pounds off its new price. The difference between the L661 and L671 is basically lack of a DVI connection. Although I champion DVI and image quality, I also champion not having to trade my treasured items to pay for my screens. Ask for Adam and say Mark sent you.

Mark Cho


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