23-inch LCD displays

Introduction

If you use a small display, you know that switching between multiple applications and documents can turn into a sport that combines juggling with hide-and-seek. You bring your browser window to the front, search for a spreadsheet beneath three layers of Word documents, and keep other windows minimized in the Dock. Panther’s Exposé utility is helpful in sifting through your many windows, but there’s nothing like a little more room to help you get things done.

Luckily, the prices of large LCDs have come down considerably since Apple introduced its first 23-inch Cinema Display, at a whopping £2,599, back in March 2002. When we put five new large digital LCDs to the test, we found that the HP L2335 had the best mix of features, performance, and the price is reasonable. And in some displays, we found colour problems that could prompt picky professionals to inquire about their resellers’ return policies.

A big display
All but the 24-inch Samsung display have a diagonal measurement of 23 inches, and each of the displays has a native resolution of 1,920-x-1,200 pixels – enough to watch wide-screen, high-definition video at full size.

The HP and Samsung displays have the ability to pivot from a standard landscape mode into portrait mode, but you’ll need a compatible ATI graphics card, such as the Radeon 9200 or 9800 Pro, if you want to use this feature in OS X. The only displays that let you adjust their height are the HP and the BenQ. It’s too bad that more of the displays don’t have this feature. It’s a shame to place a stylish monitor on top of an ugly riser to have it positioned at a comfortable level.

All these LCD displays use standard digital (DVI) connectors, and all but the Apple also offer an analogue (VGA) connector, which lets you easily share the display between two computers and makes the display compatible with older computers.

Like Apple’s monitors that have the discontinued, proprietary display connector (ADC), the company’s latest displays have just one cable coming out of their backs. his cable now branches off into several different cables that connect to the DVI, USB, and FireWire ports on a Mac, as well as to an external power brick.

The Apple display itself has two USB 2.0 and two FireWire 400 ports on its back. The only other monitor that features a way to connect peripheral devices is the BenQ, which has four USB 2.0 ports. Only the BenQ and HP displays include S-Video and composite video ports for connecting DV camcorders, still cameras, DVD players, or video-game consoles directly to the monitors – a nice feature for displays of this size.

Performance
To test these displays, we connected each one to a Power Mac G5 equipped with an ATI Radeon graphics card. First, we used a GretagMacbeth Eye-One to colour-calibrate each monitor to a medium-range colour temperature of 6,500K (Kelvin) and the Mac’s standard gamma of 1.8. Then we looked at a variety of documents on screen to see how well the displays were able to reproduce accurate colour and legible text.

Our jury of Macworld editors rated each display on several criteria. In many ways, the performance of these displays was similar. A minority of jurors rated the Samsung’s text quality as Excellent, possibly because its extra inch of diagonal screen space gives the pixels a little more elbowroom, making text appear a little bit larger. But the jury’s consensus was that the text quality of all the displays deserved a rating of Very Good; they fell short of an Excellent rating due to slight fuzziness in fonts at very small point sizes.

We saw colour casts in the BenQ and Apple displays when we first set them up (the BenQ’s was greenish; the Apple’s was pinkish), but once they were calibrated, the jury – using standard Macworld test files including colour charts, greyscale photos, and a variety of elements – gave both displays Very Good colour ratings. All the displays benefited from calibration, and all but the Samsung earned the same Very Good score. The Samsung display’s colours were less saturated than those of the other displays. The colours were also a touch on the blue side and slightly washed out.

The viewing-angle tests were the most interesting of all our tests; results were very different from those of viewing-angle tests on other LCDs. The jury looked at a screen that showed a variety of test images (solid colours, photographs, and a light-grey background) and rated each LCD based on its ability to display consistent colour from different angles. All but the Apple received a score of Very Good, and the HP exhibited the most-consistent colour and lost the least amount of contrast when we moved to the left and right while looking at the screen. The greys on the Apple and BenQ displays had a pronounced green cast when we moved to the left or the right of centre. The Apple display also showed problems with screen uniformity – even when sitting directly in front of the display, we noticed that the edges showed slightly different colours than the centre of the display. At Macworld, we own several of these monitors, and we found the same problem on two other 23-inch Cinema HD Displays that had different graphics cards and were connected to different Macs.

After reporting these issues, Apple sent us a second unit that didn’t have the original pink colour cast, but the colours in the edges of the display were still a bit darker than the colours in the centre.

If you plan to buy one of these monitors for general use, then you may not be concerned with the problems we found. In fact, you may not even notice them: the users of our own Apple displays were surprised when we changed their desktop patterns to a medium grey and showed them what we’d seen. However, if you plan to use an Apple display for colour correction, be aware of these colour-consistency problems. If it isn’t such a great concern for you, then the Cinema HD
is a bargain at £160 less than the other screens on test.

30-inch Apple Cinema Display
With a native resolution of 2,560 by 1,600 pixels, Apple’s 30-inch Cinema HD Display provides plenty of space to view wide-screen, HD video while keeping application windows and palettes open. But it will set you back £2,099 (£850 more than the 23-inch model), and you’ll need a high-powered graphics card with dual-link DVI ports to run it. At press time, three dual-link cards were available: the ATI Radeon X800 XT Mac Edition £320), the Nvidia GeForce 6800 Ultra DDL (£349), and the Nvidia GeForce 6800 GT DDL (£399); the 15-inch and 17-inch 1.67GHz G4 PowerBooks can be fitted with a supporting 128MB ATI Mobility Radeon 9700.

When our panel of Macworld editors evaluated this display, they saw none of the colour and viewing-angle problems that were present in Apple’s 23-inch display. Text was clear and legible even at small point sizes. Colour accuracy was very good across the display. And they noticed only normal viewing-angle changes.

Macworld’s buying advice
Apple’s 30-inch Cinema HD backs up its awe-inspiring size and design with good, clear, and consistent performance.

COMPANYPRODUCTPRICE CONTACT SIZERESOLUTION CONNECTIONS
Apple23-inch Cinema HD Display£1,2490800 039 101023 inches1,920-x-1,200 pixelsDVI
BenQFP231W£1,44901442 301 00023 inches1,920-x-1,200 pixelsDVI, VGA, composite, S-Video
HPL2335 EDITOR’S CHOICE£1,52608705 474 74723inches1,920-x-1,200 pixelsDVI, VGA, composite, S-Video
SamsungSyncMaster 243T £1,9990870 242 030324 inches 1,920-x-1,200 pixelsDVI, VGA
Sony SDM-P234£1,41008705 111 999 23 inches1,920-x-1,200 pixelsDVI, 2 VGA connection
Prices include VAT. * Size of screen measured diagonally.
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