How to Pick a Good LCD

Picking an LCD goes well beyond brand recognition. Below, we have a small introduction to a few different facets of shopping for an LCD - in our order of importance. Generally, we find a price point and then choose an LCD based on the properties detailed below. For example, if we only have $500 to spend, we consider all of the monitors for $500 or less and go through the following checklist.

Input Type: DVI, DVI, DVI. We insist that when you buy a new LCD monitor, you buy a model with DVI capability. Even if you don't want to buy a DVI-capable video card right now, it is still a wise decision to get a DVI-compatible LCD. When DVI first appeared in the industry, there were a few issues with the quality of the connectors and thus, sometimes viewing a signal over a DVI connector would give you a worse signal than over a 15-pin D-Sub connector. However, in the last 3 or 4 years, most of those problems have been fixed, and virtually every new video card is more than capable of producing a clean digital signal. None of the LCDs that we review today (except the Samsung 910V) are limited to only analog connectors, but be aware that they exist.

Resolution, Aspect Ratio: If you buy a 4:3 LCD, the resolution had better be 4:3 as well. That is, a 19" LCD should have an aspect ratio of 1600x1200, 1280x960, or some derivative thereof. Most 19" and 17" LCDs have an aspect ratio of 5:4 (1280x1024). This is OK, but you're looking at a 5:4 signal crammed in a 4:3 box. Our Dell 2001FP, on the other hand, measures exactly 16" by 12" and runs at a resolution of 1600x1200. Generally, a skew aspect ratio is not enough to notice, but if you do any sort of graphic work, all of your circles will look like ovals. This goes the same for widescreen LCDs - buy a widescreen LCD with a widescreen resolution; a 30" wide format LCD with a resolution of 1024x768 will not look correct no matter what you do to the signal.

Response Time: Response time is an unusual preference and always a trade off. Typical response time (TrTf - Time rising, Time falling) refers to the time that it takes the LCD subpixel to twist from the fully "on" position to the fully "off" position and then back again. Response time has absolutely nothing to do with framerate. Pixel response times are independent of each other, and it does not take the entire screen 25ms to refresh if a monitor is labeled as a 25ms response time LCD. The time that it takes the LCD to go from black to white may be 15ms while the time that it takes the LCD to go from black back to white may be 10ms. Furthermore, your monitor is generally rendering a color that is not on end of the color spectrum. The time that it takes your LCD subpixel to twist from one half of a tone to another may be more or less than 15ms. The TrTf response time is normally a pretty useless measurement - but it makes for an easy specification in which to market LCDs.

The second method in measuring response time is "gray-to-gray" (GTG) response time. The measurement of GTG response time is actually more useful to LCD buyers, but it is harder to convey and is usually just conveyed as one number (which is incorrect). Gray to Gray response time refers to the time that it takes for a pixel to twist from some arbitrary position to another. On a 6-bit LCD, that's the time it takes the subpixel to twist from 1 of 64 different positions to one of the other 63 positions. GTG response times are useful if the manufacturer expresses the average of all the GTG response times, but that is rarely the case.

Everyone's preferences on response time are different. If you play a lot of games and feel that the few ms difference between a 6-bit LCD and an 8-bit LCD are worthwhile, then it's a worthy investment. Most people can't tell the difference - and that's not just most people who aren't gamers, but most people in general have to be shown the differences between two displays that differ by single digit transient response times.

Index How to Pick a Good LCD (continued)
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  • nullpointerus - Friday, December 03, 2004 - link

    So you mean that only _some_ LCD's with that resolution are physically 5:4? LOL, I just couldn't resist it. Sorry I missed your previous post! Reply
  • GOSHARKS - Thursday, December 02, 2004 - link

    As I had previously stated (#61,62) - ALL computer LCD's with a resolution of 1280x1024 are PHYSCIALLY 5:4. You will not find a 1280x1024 LCD on the market that is physically 4:3. Kristopher Kubicki really needs to address this in an amendment to his article. Reply
  • nullpointerus - Thursday, December 02, 2004 - link

    Keep in mind now that most cards are dual-capable, you could keep your CRT for games and get the LCD for word processing - to decrease eye strain. Not only that, but you could watch TV on the CRT while you're working, or keep two documents visible at the same time, etc. Reply
  • archcommus87 - Thursday, December 02, 2004 - link

    Thanks for the info.

    That's a major turn off for any LCD for me, then. I wouldn't mind running my desktop in 1280x1024 if the monitor itself had a 5:4 ratio, but having to scale my games or run them in a smaller screen would annoy me. Right now I run HL2 in 1280x960 plenty smoothly, but I won't necessarily ALWAYS be able to run the newest games in that high of a resolution.
    Reply
  • nullpointerus - Thursday, December 02, 2004 - link

    Oh, I might also have mentioned why LCD's are different than CRTs.

    A LCD produces its image via millions of fixed-size, fixed-position cells that are manipulated with some kind of electrical charge to produce colors which collectively form an image. When the image size isn't exactly the same size as the number of cells, some algorithm has to be applied to scale the image up/down before it can be displayed. There's no physical distortion, but you may get stuck pixels, gamma problems, and streaking.

    A CRT produces its image via an electron gun which continually blasts the screen with lines of colors (basically) y*r times per second, where y is the vertical resolution and r is the vertical refresh rate. The size, shape, etc. of these lines are configurable so they can be very easily stretched and manipulated without by changing the focus and interval of the beams. So there's no scaling algorithm per se, but then again you get convergence problems (i.e. where the RGB beams go out of sync with one another), physical distortions (i.e. rounded/skewed/pincushioned image).

    That's why LCDs have a "native" resolution while CRTs just have a kind of a maximum firing rate which is usually referred to in terms of a "pixel clock." So in a sense you could say that all of a CRT's supported resolutions are "native."
    Reply
  • nullpointerus - Thursday, December 02, 2004 - link

    archcommus87:

    1. It depends on the LCD in question, methinks. Some searching for specifications by the model number of the LCD that you are searching for will usually turn up its aspect ratio. Try to corroborate information from several sources (especially the manufacturer's website if possible) since the stores can get the specs wrong.

    2. LCDs run in their native resolution. If that's 1280x1024, it will always "run in" 1280x1024 no matter what resolution your video card is feeding it the video data. There are several ways that lower-than-native resolutions can be handled, depending on your video card's drivers.

    AFAIK, the default way is to simply use monitor scaling. For example, if you run a game at 800x600, your flat panel will extrapolate this up into an 1280x1024 image, which makes it look rather blurry. Scaled graphics will probably just look "different," but scaled text will appear fuzzy.

    There's also cropping, which will just use the center 800x600 pixels for example and set the others to black. So you get a smaller picture than if you had let the monitor scale it up, but on the other hand it will also be clearer. This might also be called "centering."

    IIRC, nVidia has more options in this respect than ATI, but that might depend on the model of your card as well. Maybe look in your video driver help files or ask around to see what your video card supports.
    Reply
  • archcommus87 - Thursday, December 02, 2004 - link

    No one has provided a clear answer on this, can someone please do so?

    We know 1280x1024 is 5:4. So are the LCDs actually 5:4 in physical size or are they 4:3 like a CRT? I keep hear differeing opinions. Or is each brand different?

    Second, how do LCDs respond when you change the resolution to something other than native? Does everything look garbled and crappy or is it okay as long as you keep your ratio? The reason I ask is because if I had a 19" LCD running at 1280x1024 resolution, I don't think I'd *always* want to run my games at that high of a res.
    Reply
  • comomolo - Thursday, December 02, 2004 - link

    Hey, Anandtech, I usually trust your reviews, but should I read further when you state that 17 and 19 inches monitors put 5:4 aspect ratios into 4:3 boxes? Or when you compare CRTs capable of much higher resolution than that of the 17 and 19 inches LCDs. An apples to apples comparison would show you LCDs are still much more expensive than comparable CRTs. Reply
  • Toadster - Wednesday, December 01, 2004 - link

    why no review of the DELL 1905? i mean, DELL reigned in the 20+ review why not the 19? Reply
  • deathwalker - Wednesday, December 01, 2004 - link

    The Dell 2001FP is only $799 for those that don't shop smart..I bought mine several weeks ago and only paid $639 for it. I love it and have no regrets even after this article. Im runnin a 1600x1200 desktop..something none of these other monitors can do. Reply

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