A few years ago I bought my 21-inch monitor, costing about $900 for what was then top of the line. It's a big, bulky monster that I still use today; weighing about 70 pounds, it is not the easiest thing to move. LCD monitors have emerged as a possible alternative to CRTs. Today I am reviewing an LCD product from a company that has been in the display business for quite some time, CTX.I've been evaluating LCD monitors as a possible alternative to the old, cumbersome technology of traditional CRT-based monitors for quite some time, waiting for LCDs to reach a sweet spot of both performance and price. While I don't believe that sweet spot has been reached yet -- I personally am waiting for at least 1600 by 1200 resolution and an retail price well under $2,000 -- it is clear that many people are eager to switch to LCD technology.
One of the biggest difference between LCDs and CRT-based monitors is the difference in the form factor. Fitting a 19- or 20-inch monitor on some desks can be impossible, and yet for those who spend their work days in front of a PC, having the larger size monitors is crucial. This is one of the reasons why LCDs are rapidly becoming more popular in business environments, because their smaller form factor allows for more useable room on a desk. Also handy is the weight; the display I'm reviewing today, the 18.1-inch CTX PV810MDV, weighs only 21.2 pounds, compared to 56 pounds for an 18-inch viewable monitor from CTX. This makes for a significant reduction in shipping costs, as well as making LCDs easy to deploy. Lugging around heavy CRTs takes time and effort, and can even result in injury if carried the wrong way. The PV810MDV and other displays like it reduce these problems.
I have heard many people argue over whether they prefer the display of a CRT or an LCD. Most people seem to prefer LCDs, and I can see why. The PV810MDV comes with a digital (DVI) connection for connecting to video boars that support video out, which many newer cards do. The digital connection controls everything: It tells the machine what resolutions are supported, the refresh rates, and even resizes the screen so that the maximum room is used for the screen. Not only does it do all these things, but a digital connection is not affected by signal degredation in the way analog ones are. The image on the PV810 was crisp, bright and clear right out of the box when using the digital connection. Also present are SVideo connections, for use with DVD or other products that have an SVideo out, as well as a standard 15-pin VGA connection. When using the VGA connection, you still need to use the on-screen controls to get the picture to display properly. The on-screen controls of the PV810 were easy to use, and once properly adjusted the image quality was fine, though not as vibrant as the digital connection. I almost want to use the word "perfect" to describe the display when using the digital connection, it was simply astounding compared to the CRTs I'm used to.
One problem with LCDs is that they have a "native" resolution. This resolution is the highest the LCD can do, and is the "true" resolution of the screen, meaning that there are physically that many pixels on the screen. In order to display lower resolutions, the images must be scaled to the native resolution, which can cause some severe degredation in image quality. Mostly this becomes an issue for games that must run in a lower resolution. Quake 3 for Linux looked noticeably bad when running at 640 x 480, but because it supports 1280 x 1024, this monitor's native resolution, I didn't see that as much of a problem. Sure, some people don't have power enough video cards to run Quake 3 at that resolution, but it stands to reason if you can afford a $1,200-plus LCD, you can pick up a GeForce3 while you're at it. So I went to find games that required that resolution. The game I finally used to test image quality in low resolutions was Blizzard's Starcraft, still quite a popular game, and even though it is Windows based I know plenty of Linux gamers who enjoy it, either on a Windows machine or through WINE. Running Starcraft at its native 640 x 480 resolution, the image was somewhat blurry, but perfectly playable, and the text was readable as well. I got used to it rather quickly, although once I switched back to my CRT, the difference was clear. If you are big on image quality and play a lot of low resolution games, an LCD may not be the right answer for you, although I think most people will find this problem minor.
One problem that also involves gaming, as well as functions such as DVD playback, is ghosting. Ghosting occurs when the pixel refresh rate of the LCD is not fast enough to keep up with the action on the screen. This causes a moving object to leave a trail behind it. In both movies and games this becomes distracting, though it is not something you will notice while, for example, typing a document. I did not notice any real ghosting on the PV810MDV while playing Quake 3 or Starcraft. Quake 3 played amazingly smooth; in fact, I was completely surprised by this because I assumed the PV810MDV would have the same ghosting problems as other LCDs I've seen.
LCD technology is far from mainstream for desktop PCs. It has been standard on notebooks for a long time, but only now is it breaking into the PC market. The only thing really standing in the way of LCDs now is their price. This 18.1-inch P810MDV has a suggested retail price of $1,999.99, a few hundred dollars more than I paid for a laptop with a 14-inch LCD display. However, this LCD can be found on Pricewatch for much less, coming in at around $1,200, or about $300 more than I paid for a 21-inch monitor a few years back, and about $1,000 more than you will spend on a CRT of equal size.
However, if you prefer the look of LCD monitors, have limited desk space, or frequently must move your monitor, then an LCD may just be the thing for you. You get what you pay for LCDs -- they are cleary superior to CRTs -- but for some the cost might just be too high. If I can save $1,000, I can definately settle for less. I expect LCD prices to drop significantly in the next year, allowing them to become more mainstream. If you have the cash, I wholeheartidly recommend the PV810MDV. I am returning to my 21-inch monitor now, but should prices drop to more affordable levels, I will definitely move to an LCD.