Buying a flat screen monitor for the PC
April 6, 2005 5:49 AM   Subscribe

Non-gaming designer and illustrator wants to switch from a 17" Belinea CRT to a TFT screen. Has read a bewildering array of conflicting advice online, is turning to Metafilter for hard answers. GSOH. No pets.

I have a budget of around 350 GBP ($650) for replacement of this enormous, hulking great 17" CRT. Either a 17" or 19" TFT would be great. I'm not a gamer, so I don't really care about getting refresh rates of <2 ps or whatever. what i i>do care about is image quality and colour management, as this monitor will be used for design, illustration and photo manipulation. I've heard that EIZO screens are good, but they're expensive.

Can anyone recommend anything? Specific models, what to avoid, things to look for etc. etc.
posted by nylon to Computers & Internet (18 answers total)
LCDs and CRTs are different. They look different. It makes unbiased technical comparison very difficult... So, you are going to get a lot of conflicting advice here too, and I think the only answer is that you have to try a few for yourself.

The only LCD I have owned is a cheap Dell that I just got. The colour depth is only 6bit per pixel, and you can see it. There is a secondary colour problem which we (my gf and I) haven't figured out quite yet. On the other hand the stability, clarity, brightness, and contrast all seem to be better than trinitron tubes.

I have two pieces of advice If CRT quality colour accuracy is important to you. Your 350 GBP budget will probably only get you a 17" LCD. Also, there is a design trade off between response time and colour accuracy. So, don't look for the fastest displays, they are inherently not the best at colour.
posted by Chuckles at 6:29 AM on April 6, 2005

£350 will easily get you a very respectable 19" LCD - just have a quick look at Dabs. I'm personally very partial to Iiyama's 17" Prolite E435S - only £192 and it has 10 milliseconds response time and DVI input (important for future-proofing).
posted by adrianhon at 6:53 AM on April 6, 2005

Yes, I would recommend the Dell UltraSharp 1905FP (which trharlan recommends above) if you can get it. I watch for deals on things like this (not just for macs).
posted by theFlyingSquirrel at 6:56 AM on April 6, 2005

Pound for pound, you can get a whacking great big CRT for the same or less money than the nearest TFT equivalent. In my travails, I've found that TFT's have a slightly more washed out look in comparison to CRT's. I have been through a few, from the screen on my powerbook (3 revisions now), to Samsung screens, Sony Screens and Iiyama screens. I haven't done any design on them but if correct colour is really important to you, you're either going to have to spend a lot of money on a very expensive TFT, or stick with a CRT.

On the other hand, quite good results can be obtained if you calibrate your monitor correctly. I know that OS X has a nice built in colour calibration utility that does quite a good job.

Go down to PC world and have a look at the wall of TFT's that they have setup. At my local store they have about 30 all on a few shelves, all hooked up to the same video feed. The difference between panels can be quite noticable, so pick something that looks good to you.

Resolution is the next hurdle for TFT screens. Value models 17", 18" and 19" screens generally won't go above 1280x1024. Despite the larger screens, the resolutions generally don't go up as high as CRT's. When you want to get into the 1600x1200 bracket, you're looking at quite expensive monitors.

DVI/VGA used to be a price point, where if you wanted a DVI adaptor for your monitor, it would cost an extra £50. Thankfully this is no longer the case, there's not much in it these days. If your video card has a DVI output, then I would recommend getting a monitor with DVI input. If you have several computers on your desk, you might want to get a monitor with multiple inputs, one for each computer. This makes switching between them easy, and removes the faffing about with cables behind the desk.

Most TFT panels are manufactured by either LG or Samsung these days, and then sold on down the manufacturing chain to other suppliers, so whatever you buy, chances are it's a Samsung or LG panel. Dead pixels is the most common problem that I've seen. I had a single stuck pixel on a Samsung display that was stuck on bright red, right in the middle of the screen. The manufacturers won't take it back unless there's 5 or more dead pixels, so if you can, try it out before you purchase at the shop.

Every Sony panel that I've seen has been really good quality, as have most of the Samsung panels. Get a panel with a thin bezel (the plastic that surrounds the screen), as they look a hell of a lot tidier and bigger than large-bezeled ones.

In summary, go and look in PC World at their displays, find something you like then get it online. If colour correctness is really your bag, think long and hard before buying a TFT, and do your homework.
posted by gaby at 7:06 AM on April 6, 2005

Also, specification points to look at:

Contrast Ratio (the higher the ratio, the better)
Response time (the fewer ms the better)
Dot Pitch (the smaller the better)
Brightness (the higher the candle power the better)

I know that eBuyer usually has these specs on their product listings, but this information can be found on most manufacturers websites. They also have some good customer reviews. I usually ignore the reviews where people said 5* and read the ones where people didn't like the product, which I find more informative.
posted by gaby at 7:10 AM on April 6, 2005

The Dell 2001FP is also beautiful, and about $600. The main drawback for you with LCDs is the colour reproduction may not be as good / simple as a CRT. But I think that's not such a big issue anymore, and once you go to a fully digital image path with DVI you'll never go back.

And while pound sterling for pound sterling you may bet a better deal on a CRT, pound for pound an LCD performs much better. Har har.
posted by Nelson at 9:01 AM on April 6, 2005

For design work, you really don't care about response time... and the contrast and brightness numbers are often so thoroughly manipulated that a direct comparison is meaningless.

I hate to rain on other people's advice without adding anything constructive, but the only color-accurate LCD which I have any experience with is the LaCie 321, which is out of your price range. Dell LCD panels tend to be very good for the price (and coupons are usually available at sites like fatwallet), but I don't honestly know if they'd meet the needs of a serious designer/illustrator.
posted by mosch at 10:05 AM on April 6, 2005

The Eizo's you've heard of are likely the ColorEdge series; these are the absolute state of the art in colour accurate LCD displays, but you pay heavily for the privilege - around £1000 for the entry level CG-19.

Among more affordable monitors the Samsung SM193P has attracted some favorable comments for its colour accuracy.
posted by arc at 11:03 AM on April 6, 2005

American prices for this type of thing are universally lower than the Canadian prices, and Canadian prices are normally lower than british prices...

That said, I just checked prices on the 2001FP and there is a big special on in britain...

USA: $599 USD --> $599 USD
CAN: $899 CAD --> $736 USD
GBR: 328.30 GBP excl. VAT --> $618 USD
posted by Chuckles at 11:03 AM on April 6, 2005

The universal weakness of LCDs compared to CRTs lies in their color fidelity. All LCDs shift the color shown to the user depending on the viewer's angle to the surface of the screen. This has been reduced, but not eliminated, in more modern monitors, to the point that it should not be a deciding factor, unless the user is, say, a designer or illustrator.
posted by NortonDC at 3:15 PM on April 6, 2005

FWIW, I've noticed that with my laptop (lower-end Toshiba), the colours change dependent on the viewing angle.

This makes it damn near impossible to use for anything requiring colour control.

Given the physics of LCD, I don't see how this problem would be avoided.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:17 PM on April 6, 2005

Oooh. Jinx!
posted by five fresh fish at 3:18 PM on April 6, 2005

I sometimes work as a graphic designer, and my experience is, put simply, you can't ditch CRT entirely if LCD is going to be the replacement.

For example, no matter how good/expensive a TFT screen is, the brightness and contrast that you see is partially dependant on the viewing angle. This isn't a big deal when using word on your laptop, but if you want to have a fair idea what the image will look like on paper based on looking at the image onscreen, the screen needs to be locked down and your head clamped to the wall behind you for consistant colour, and then you'll obviously need a few weeks to learn to anticipate the (significant) colour difference even in those ideal cirsumstance.

It's been over a year since I started using an LCD. For the first six months, everything I printed that wasn't text, or even just stuff destined for the web, I had to first copy to a machine with a CRT, adjust the colours, and then print - and this was for non-professional stuff that I wasn't particularly concerned about the colour. Now, I've gotten so sick of doing that that and a bit more confident about predicting results based on the LCD colours (and I'm more used to the sloppier colour tolerance) that I sometimes bypass that step unless colour is important.

So my advice if you want to move to LCD would be to seriously consider either getting a small CRT and putting it somewhere out of the way (connecting it either with a switchbox or dual monitor GFX card) so you can work on the LCD on an uncluttered desk but switch to the CRT for quick colour reference, or do something similar with your 19" if you can find anywhere for it sufficiently out of the way but still within view.

But because you care about colour management, I think it's a bad idea to switch cold turkey. There is no way any LCD can compete with your CRT in this respect. You are talking about a serious downgrade. It may be worth that price, you're the judge of that, just be aware that the downgrade is significant.
I've also worked in a place where several people had $2000+ LCD screens, but from memory they were either programmers, or artists with a CRT screen and a switchbox - and their work was not destined for print.

Lastly, I'm not a colour nazi. I'm happy to not tune my CRT and just learn stuff by feel, I don't get around to setting up gamma correctly, or doing the colour-management basics. I'm perfectly happy with very sloppy colour management, and LCD was beyond MY laid-back tolerance. LCDs always looked good to me, it never hit me until I actually owned an LCD and had to work from it that the lack of accurate colour was signficiantly scary.
posted by -harlequin- at 3:32 PM on April 6, 2005

Dell 2001 FP if you're never ever going to game, Hyundai L90D+ if you are.

I have a beautiful, 36kg (80lb) dual-input 21" CRT from IBM (the P260), and after seeing the quality of a relative's Hyundai L90D+ LCD, I'm making the switch and will be putting the P260 off to the side for color checking, as Harlequin notes.
posted by Ryvar at 3:44 PM on April 6, 2005

Really, the color-shift thing is very overrated with a modern LCD. There is some VERY MILD change in overall brightness if you move your head out of the "sweet spot," which, admittedly, is smaller than with a CRT, given that on a CRT it's basically anywhere on the front of the tube, but it's not more than a minor annoyance. You have to look at a panel WAY off-axis before you see anything really major. Your brain is good at compensating for varying lighting combinations and it is fully compatible with LCDs. I profiled my panels with SuperCal (a Mac OS X program) and they look great with normal head movements; I regularly edit photos in Photoshop. And my panels are over a year old; new ones are even better.
posted by kindall at 4:00 PM on April 6, 2005

Thanks all - some things to think about here, for sure. It's possible once all this info has sunk in that I'll end up sticking with the CRT - it just occupies so much desk space though, which was the impetus for change.

As a completely pointless aside, if anyone's still reading this, I used to work in an R&D lab trying to develop ultra thin diamond cold cathodes, which we thought at the time were going to revolutionise the display industry by allowing CRT quality images on flat, thin LCD sized screens. Turned out not to be viable though, which is a shame...
posted by nylon at 4:46 PM on April 6, 2005

nylon, my experience, in several professional and a few personal computer environments, is that flat screens save very little desktop real estate.

The problem is twofold. First of all, the monitor is a big, top-heavy, fragile and expensive object, so it gets put on a big base to stabilize it and keep it from harm, and the base ends up taking over a substantial amount of the desktop that you're supposed to be reclaiming with your flat screen.

Secondly, desks are still designed with the assumption of a deep monitor, meaning that whatever space you do save is usually wasted by an inappropriate design. Any newly unoccupied desk area may end up as a nothing more than an out-of-reach ranch for free-range dustbunnies.

There are real opportunities for desk enhancements resulting from the adoption of flat screen monitors, but I'm convinced that won't happen until desk manufacturers start building desks with integrated flat screen mounts. The monitors have industry standards (VESA) for the mating with their stands, it's just up to a forward thinking desk manufacturer to seize the opportunity to make something that's a real advance instead of the wasted half measures we see now. Maybe this is already happening and I just haven't heard about it yet.
posted by NortonDC at 5:06 PM on April 6, 2005

Perhaps try borrowing an LCD and try using for a month. That way, you'll know whether it works for you. Or just buy one after paying careful attention to how long you can have before your option to return it expires, with every intention of returning it if it's not worth it.
posted by -harlequin- at 8:23 AM on April 10, 2005

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