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The last time I bought a monitor, I'm not sure that LCD was even an option. That was back in 1999, when I picked up a 17" Medion CRT. It has done me proud, but for some time it has been flickering, and was beginning to get a little blurred. Still though, I was convinced that a CRT gave a more true rendition of images across the whole of the screen.
I know people who bought LCD monitors some 4 or 5 years ago, and, although the green eyes of envy liked the look of these monitors back then, it has taken until now for me to be convinced that these screens really could replace the trusty old CRT.
My suspicions have not been unfounded. I first noticed that some LCD displays have great difficulty in providing much contrast. On an Excel spreadsheet, on my old work laptop, for instance, it was nigh-on impossible to tell the difference between the pastel green and blue colours without continually tilting the screen.
Although things have improved somewhat with laptops, I still find that my high-end Acer struggles to show images with enough contrast to make mobile photo editing a viable option. The problem seems to occur even with some desktop LCD screens. It became apparent that if I didn't spend enough money, and didn't do my homework, I was going to be stuck with a screen that left me feeling very bitter.
I do play some games, so a reasonably fast response time was important. But for a few years now, I have been interested in photography, and so one of the main tasks that I perform on my machine is digital photo editing. I had already suffered some poor results from using my laptop to edit photos, and I didn't want to go through that again.
I went for this monitor, against the advice of a major PC magazine, which recommended against this monitor. It recommended getting an Acer screen instead "because it has inbuilt speakers, and was better value for money".
I shan't go into any more details of *their* review, as I'm afraid I disagree with them in many areas. I didn't want speakers, and the 'better' value is only any good if it's 'enough' value! So I did some digging around on the Internet to attempt to find out exactly what makes a monitor ideal for photo editing.
After some searching, I discovered that the poor contrast and colour differentiation problem was most likely being caused by what is known as a 'narrow viewing angle'. This is the same effect that made the first LCD TVs only viewable from virtually head-on. A CRT doesn't suffer as much in this respect, and is therefore viewable from an enormously wide angle.
The second thing I learnt is that there are four main types of LCD panel:
- TN + Film - IPS (superceded by Super IPS, or S-IPS) - MVA - PVA
I shan't go into the details - suffice to say that if you wish to read more about them, then a quick Google for "Types of LCD panel" will return most of the information you could require. To cut a long story short though, S-IPS is the preferred type of display for photo editing because of it's wide viewing angle.
Before I finally get onto the device itself, it's worth mentioning the last piece of advice that I found, which settled me upon this monitor. Apparently, the best monitors are Eizo. If you can't afford that, go for NEC, Lacie or Apple. (http://www.anands.net/faq/lcd.html)
I wanted to spend enough, but not a small fortune, so the fact that the NEC was an S-IPS screen settled me upon this monitor, despite the fact that I could have had a 22" screen for about the same price. I placed my order for about £340.
The screen arrived a couple of days later. The first thing I had to do was get rid of the old CRT from the desk, and give the area the best vacuuming it's had for a long time. Finally, the desk was looking like wood again, following a good dusting and polishing.
Upon opening, the first thing I noticed was a bold instruction of exactly how to remove it from the box. It said to ensure that the screen was only removed by holding the sides. Makes sense really, but I can just imagine the problems without such warnings, with kids diving into boxes and squeezing this lovely lump of LCD panel with their mitts.
The monitor was extremely well packaged. All connectors and manuals were neatly packed into the top of the box, meaning that all accessories were already out by the time it came to removing the panel itself.
It came with:
- Euro power cable - UK power cable - analogue (15-pin MINI D-SUB) signal cable - digital (DVI-D) signal cable - a USB cable (for 4 high-level USB ports) - a user manual - cable cover - CD-ROM.
I didn't use the analogue cable. My PC is fairly new, and so has two DVI-D ports on the graphics card. I put everything together, threading all cables through the tidy in the swivel arm - USB, DVI-D and power). Once the cables are all threaded into place, there is a cover which encloses them within the body of the arm - a nice touch. Another cover also clips over the connectors at the back of the monitor, meaning that the only open access to them is from underneath - no dust trap here!
It's worth noting at this point that two of the high-level USB ports are around the back, alongside the DVI-D connector, and are therefore not that easy to connect. They are ideal though, for small devices (USB wifi, or bluetooth etc) or permanently wired accessories like printers. There are another two easy-to-reach USB ports at the left of the screen.
OK...the monitor is connected, sitting on my desk and raring to go. So I switch on both sockets, and the first thing I [don't] notice is the old clonk of my CRT powering up. That was a strange omission!
I switched on the PC...and nothing happened. So I pressed the button which has the power symbol on it. And nothing happens. And I press it again and again, and nothing happens. PANIC...
Turns out there is a vacation switch on the back, which enables the monitor to be 'properly' turned off when not in use. Mine is always switched off at the wall when not in use anyway, so not really a problem.
So I switch the monitor on again, and suddenly Windows appears, looking very gorgeous and bright, albeit at the wrong resolution. One trip into display settings later and Windows was now running at 1680x1050 pixels.
I had worried that this was going to make my desktop seem rather small, coming from a 1280x1024 resolution, but actually, it seems like the 20" widescreen is virtually the same size as the 17" standard screen for text and graphics, with extra screen real-estate at the side...ideal for the Vista Sidebar!!
I loaded the CD that came with the monitor on to the computer. It contains a program called NaViSet that installs itself onto the Advanced Display Properties window. It effectively allows you to control ALL settings that can be selected from the monitor front panel from the computer desktop. These are the same settings - not duplicated ones...so if you set the brightness to 75% on the front panel, when you go into the display properties, it will be 75% there too!
Your suite of adjustments for the monitor are as follows:
- Brightness - Contrast - DV Mode (Standard/Text/Movie/Gaming/Video) - Independent RGB Colour Gain Controls - Sharpness Control (0-100%) - 27 different testcards with adjustment tips for each - Current monitor info (frequency, serial no etc)
Unfortunately this program does not seem compatible with Windows Vista yet, though as it is shown as copyright 1993-2005, it is likely that NEC will take it through another incarnation, or provide something better for Vista. The monitor itself though, IS fully compatible with Vista.
The front panel of the monitor has four decent sized buttons, and a small stick control. I find the stick control quite fiddly myself, though it may just be a case of getting used to it. The other four buttons control the menu, the input source, the DV mode and the power.
The DV mode, as indicated above, allows access to quick settings suited for text editing, movies, gaming and video. That said, once I had calibrated my monitor, I have felt happiest leaving it well alone, and sticking with the standard setting.
I calibrated the monitor using a free downloadable tool. The brightness and contrast of the monitor adjust across a wide range, which was reassuring. Once done, I began exploring the web and looking at pictures and getting my first proper impressions.
Graduating from a CRT monitor which was getting a little fuzzy, an LCD monitor can look a little too sharp at times. When Cleartype seemed so smooth on a CRT, it actually looks a little blockier on an LCD, even using the Cleartype Tuner tool. This is not an issue though, as you soon get used to it.
Editing photos on this widescreen monitor is wonderful. You get so much more space to actualy work on them. And the colour reproduction is fantastic. My photos feel like they have come back to life again. The monitor really is incredibly bright, and more importantly, is as bright across the whole display.
As I said, I do play games a little, and the one that I really wanted to see again was Tomb Raider: Legend, with the Next Generation Graphics. I can honestly say that it looks fantastic. There was no perceivable lag on any of the areas that I played.
Something that is often mentioned about this monitor is it's glossy screen. I do not have any issues with it whatsoever - it has a wide range of adjustment, and in a home environment, it should be possible to easily position it away from any reflections from light sources.
Finally, a quick mention about features which I have not yet used.
- For analogue monitor input, the screen supports auto-adjust and auto-contrast, detecting the timing being generated by the video card. - It is possible to remove the supplied bracket, and mount the monitor in another fashion. Full instructions are provided in the manual.
Overall I am extremely happy with this monitor. It was a little more expensive than I envisaged paying, but with that increased price has come the reward that all of my worries about LCD screens have been proven wrong. True, I may have been just as happy with a cheaper screen, but the homework that I did said that this was the one for me...and I'm not disappointed!
I thoroughly recommend this if you edit a lot of photos and demand an excellent image quality!
My "Master-slave" extention cord has a fail-safe mechanism in case of power-cut, where only the "Master" comes back on if there has been a powercut. I panicked the first time i couldn't get my crt monitor to come back on, thinking it had been ruined by the power cut; however, I discovered by trial and error that by pressing the "sleep" button (which I have already pre-programmed to hybernate the machine), and then re-starting the machine when it is silent, the monitor regains consciousness . . . ~ ! ♥♥ ! ~ ........................................................... ~ jes ~ ! ♥♥ !
Julieshobs 03.03.2007 12:55
great review. Jules.
jose.madeira 02.03.2007 01:22
Exactly what I was looking for on a user review monitor.
Very very good and informative.