LCD screens have come a long way since they became (relatively) affordable three years ago. The first models were expensive, had a low resolution and could only be viewed straight on. A look at the old screens from even a slight angle would make the images disappear, or at least shift colours into a psychedelic mess. The NEC 1880SX represents the latest generation of LCD screens, and fixes almost all the original problems with the technology.
The first, and most striking, feature is the new thin brushed-aluminium bezel. It adds just 13mm to the edge of the screen, making it possible to use multiple screens without big gaps in between. It might not be the same as having a wide aspect ration Cinema Display, but it works well for extra palettes or toolboxes. You could even stack them if you need to – ideal for the budding day trader that needs to keep track of a lot of stuff at once.
I do have a one quibble: the power and video leads plug in underneath the screen in landscape mode, and the dangling cables mar an otherwise attractive screen. This is particularly true if you have more than one video source connected.
There are three video connections, a DVI-I, a DVI-D and a VGA. To use the DVI-D (digital) connection with the Apple ADC port, you’ll need to buy an adaptor. The DVI-I port allows either a digital or analogue connection, and works fine using the VGA connector on most Macs. However, if you buy the adaptor (around £25 from the Apple Store) you’ll get a much brighter, clearer image.
One of the quirks of LCD screens is that when they use an analogue signal (VGA), the phase of the signal needs to be adjusted. Poorly adjusted screens will show a lot of noise when displaying fine lines or text, but it is easily fixed. Good LCD screens have a single button to auto-adjust the phase and timing. The 1880 goes one step further by doing this adjustment automatically, every thirty 30. So you never need to worry about it again.
Price is always variable with flat-panel displays, though they’ve settled a bit since last year. The 1880SX is priced aggressively at £899. This is a couple of hundred pounds more than the Apple 17-inch LCD, and displays the same resolution (1,280-x-1,024). However, its features compare well with the Apple screen, and despite the lager 18-inch screen, it still makes the Apple model look bulky.
The colour fidelity of this screen is improved over older LCD screens. The image can be viewed from a wide angle without colours shifting significantly. However, there is a slight change in brightness when you change angle. While this is minor, and far better than previous screens, it still precludes this screen being used for on-screen proofing. It is fine for less demanding graphic applications, though.
This is the first in a new generation of LCD screens, and the high quality and low price is appealing. There will still be those who’ll chose the Apple display over any other brand. But, the 1880SX is every bit as good as – and in some ways better than – the Apple Studio Display. The styling might not be a showstopper, but as screens go it’s better looking than most.