Low-cost monitors reviewed

Introduction

Money may not be too tight to mention, but compared to this time last year, there’s more interest in making every peripheral purchase last longer and go further. Prices have been edging down over the past 12 months and monitors that would have cost £250 to £300 a year ago are now appearing with a street price of under £200. Heavy discounting from some sellers is balanced by more traditional pricing from more traditional stores, so while there are bargains to be had it definitely pays to shop around.

So what will £200 get you today? The new budget standard size seems to be 22in with a resolution of 1,680 x 1,050. A couple of manufacturers sent us 19in models with special features, but most of our test models cluster around the 22in form factor. Given the similarities, there’s still a surprising amount of variation in both quality and design here, so it’s never been less true that products are more or less interchangeable.

On the downside, it’s frustrating to see that manufacturers are still having problems designing simple and intuitive OSDs (on-screen display). Some OSDs offer extra features, which seem designed to tempt users into making more of OSD access, but it would be better to see some form of remote set-up from a Mac that doesn’t force you through an unintuitive button-pushing maze. Being able to link OSD colour, brightness and contrast presets to specific applications would be better still, but so far this doesn’t seem to be a likely direction.

It’s also worth taking notice of the fact that last year’s crop of HDMI products seems to have all but disappeared. None of the monitors we tested include a direct video input – possibly because of the cost, but perhaps also because HDMI hasn’t proven itself in the market. To compensate for this, though, video playback speeds have been increased. All of these monitors will play video with little or no visible smearing, for a much more cinematic experience.

The lack of direct video support means we wouldn’t suggest using any of these monitors as the centrepiece of a home-cinema system – unless perhaps it’s a very small one. But you can, of course, persuade a Mac to play HD video and also receive TV channels, and then use the monitor for more casual Mac-attached viewing. For everyday browsing and gaming use, you’ll find there’s plenty on offer.

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