Overview of Features and Specifications

Before we get to the specifics of the Gateway FPD2485W, it's important to have some understanding of what makes for a good display. There are many factors to consider, and intended use will play a role. Here's a brief overview of the commonly quoted specifications and what they actually mean.

Brightness: This is generally a well understood measurement. Brightness is typically measured in candelas per square meter (cd/m 2 ) or "nits". Having a brighter display is usually preferable to most people, but there is definitely such thing as a display that is too bright. LCDs have really caused some confusion in this area, as brightness levels have shot up in order to compensate for poor black levels. 100 nits is pretty typical of most CRTs, give or take, and 400 nits is probably as bright as you would really want for prolonged computer use. Staring into an ultra-bright display for hours a day can be uncomfortable, so unless your computer environment tends to be brightly lit you'll almost certainly be reducing the maximum brightness. Depending on the technology in use, it's also worth mentioning that running a display at maximum brightness levels can cause the backlights to burn out quicker.

Contrast Ratio: Contrast ratio is often grossly misunderstood due to misleading marketing. Getting a good contrast setting from displays is further complicated by the lack of proper adjustment options on many devices, and personal preference plays a part. The contrast ratio is simply the brightness level of pure white divided by the brightness level of pure black. In the real world, contrast ratio is always infinity - black is 0 and dividing by 0 is equal to infinity. Contrast ratios became meaningful with displays like LCDs where pure black (0 cd/m 2 ) was not possible, and higher ratios are generally better. The problem with such a generalization is that a display with 1000 nit whites and 1 nit blacks has a 1000:1 contrast ratio, while a 100 nit white and 0.1 nit black produces the same contrast ratio of 1000:1. It is usually better to get a high contrast ratio by having very dark blacks than by having overly bright whites, but the brightness and contrast ratio should be viewed as a combined unit where you want to keep the brightness somewhere in the range of 200-400 nits depending on environment while still achieving a high contrast ratio.

Response Time: Pixel response time gained popularity after problems with early LCD displays. Maybe it was discussed in the early days of computers, but most CRTs were simply fast enough that no one thought about pixel response times. The response time is the time required to change from one color to another color; most companies rate it as the time to stabilize to within 5% of the target color. The problem with response times is that you also have to know whether you're changing from black to white/white to black (TrTf), or whether you're looking at gray-to-gray (GTG) times. GTG transitions are more common than black/white transitions, but both are important - consider how often you see black text on a white background, for example. Unfortunately, response times are another widely abused specification, with many companies only reporting the best case scenario rather than an average response time. Also note that TrTf would be roughly twice the GTG time for any given panel, since GTG only involves one transition while TrTf requires two. It is important to know whether a display will bother you with "smearing" - i.e. slow pixel response times - but that ends up being mostly a personal preference with modern LCDs.

Viewing Angle: Viewing angle is the angle at which you can still see the image "properly". This is doubled, since viewing angle actually describes the arc in which you can still see the proper output, and horizontal and vertical components are often listed separately. For computers, viewing angle isn't very important at all, as you're almost always sitting in front of the display. TVs where you may be watching with a group of people can use a larger viewing angle, but even then anything more than a 90 degree viewing angle should be sufficient - after all, it's not fun to watch TV from an oblique angle even if you still see the proper colors. Unfortunately, as with many of the other specifications, what qualifies as a "properly viewable" image is up for debate. In some cases, companies have been known to rate viewing angle as being able to see 10% of the requested brightness. Our display reviews will list the manufacturers' stated viewing angles, but we will only bring it up as a cause for concern if we find the viewing angle to be extremely narrow.

Color Depth: Depending on the sort of work you're doing, the need for high precision color depths varies. Most displays have a set number of intensities that they can display for red, green, and blue, and this is almost always a power of 2. (Technically LCDs function by passing varying light intensities through a color filter, but the net result is the same.) A 6-bit display can show 26 (64) different intensities while an 8-bit display can do 28 (256) intensities. With separate RGB values, you can then cube that number to get the total color space. 643 = 262,144, 2563 = 16,777,216, etc. While most people will agree that 6-bit is insufficient - even with dithering to approximate a larger color space - anything more than 8-bit per channel output starts to become more hype than substance. Lower color depths can also result in banding, where the transitions between various colors become visible even when they're not supposed to be.

Color Accuracy: Out of all of the factors to consider when looking at a display, this is going to be one of the most important. Unfortunately, accuracy is rarely a reported specification, in part because it is far more difficult to measure but also because it can vary from display to display. Getting accurate colors from a display can be achieved in several ways. The first is to basically just go with whatever defaults an LCD comes with, which usually means that the colors will be wildly inaccurate. A slightly more sophisticated approach is to use software to try and help you calibrate the contrast and brightness, and you can take it a step further by adjusting color intensities as well. This is what is known as "calibrating by eye" and is what most people end up doing. The best way to calibrate your display is to get a hardware colorimeter and appropriate software to help you adjust the various display settings, but unfortunately this costs money and most people don't care enough about color accuracy to go that far. Image professionals, on the other hand, would be well served by purchasing some form of color matching/calibration hardware/software.

Other Factors: Arguably the most important factors for a lot of people when looking at a new display are going to be the size and the price. All of the specifications may look great, but if a display costs several thousand dollars the target market is greatly reduced. Likewise, a decent display sold at a very competitive price is going to be far more attractive to a lot of people. That said, it's not too surprising that lower-cost displays tend to vary much more in terms of overall quality - one unit might produce great colors and the next could be highly inaccurate. Part of the reason for this is that quality control isn't as much of a concern. Build quality is also often affected by lower costs, with some cheap displays coming with very flimsy stands and/or enclosures. LCDs in particular can also develop pixel defects - individual pixels or sub-pixels that are stuck in a single position, resulting in either black dots or bright dots - and manufacturer warranty and replacement policies are something else to we will evaluate. We will also look at the ability of the LCDs to function in non-native resolutions, although most people will want to run at native resolution so this isn't a huge concern. On-Screen Displays (OSDs) and any other noteworthy features will also be mentioned.

Now let's take a look at the features and performance of the Gateway FPD2485W to see how it fares.

Index Specifications
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  • Justin Case - Thursday, February 22, 2007 - link

    As you say, the problem isn't so much the LCDs themselves (with reaction times of 10ms and below, they can do 100 fps), it's the DVI interface. Not because it's digital, just because it's (relatively) slow.

    The "reaction time" of a CRT isn't zero (unlike what some LCD vendors and tons of clueless retailers claim); in fact, a white-to-black transition takes longer on CRTs than it does on most LCDs. So all this obsession with reaction times ends up hurting consumers, that treat that number as a magical definition of a panel's quality, and completely ignore other (far more relevant) aspects, such as the actual number of displayable colors (without dithering or flipping), color variation with viewing angle, luminance uniformity, etc.

    To quote an engineer working for a major (high-end) LCD manufacturer: LCDs are still 2-3 years away from catching up with top CRTs in terms of color reproduction. But when 90% of people can't even tell the difference between a 6-bit panel and an 8-bit one, I wonder what incentive the manufacturers have to improve that...
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Friday, February 23, 2007 - link

    If we're talking about ghosting / screen lag, I use a 8ms 19" widescreen LCD, and see none. The only real problem I have, is when I'm playing a graphics intensive game, at the monitors native resolution, and my video card ( 7600GT) can not keep up.

    This is not to say, that some 'lag' does not exist, but in my case, it is not percievable.
    Reply
  • Justin Case - Friday, February 23, 2007 - link

    Lag is not the same as ghosting. Lag refers to the fact that the frame you are seeing on screen is not the last frame your graphics card rendered. Some flat panels display the image with a delay of 1 or even 2 frames. This is fine for LCD TV sets (as long as the audio is also delayed, by the same amount), but in interactive applications like games it can be a killer. Reply
  • yyrkoon - Friday, February 23, 2007 - link

    As I said above, I see none, and seriously, I play Oblivion, F.E.A.R., not to mention a multitude of other games ;) Reply
  • StevenG - Thursday, February 22, 2007 - link

    The game I play doesn't support 1280x960 so I play at 1280x1024. Sure there's some distortion, but it doesn't bother me. And the higher res looks much better than 1024x768 (the next lowest supported resolution in the game). Reply
  • Aquila76 - Thursday, February 22, 2007 - link

    This is by far one of the worst LCD's for color accuracy, IMO. I bought one at Best Buy a couple weeks ago, and no matter what settings I used, gradients did not look fully smooth. It is what is refered to as a 'gradation' not a banding.

    Check here for more info: http://lcdresource.com/index.php?option=com_conten...">Gradation v. Banding

    Check here for a test: http://lcdresource.com/index.php?option=com_conten...">Gradient Downloads

    What's really sad is that the HP L1706 I use at work (came bundled with the PC) does the gradients flawlessly. A $150 display outperforms this $650 one. I noticed this in games and movies a lot, especially when in a dark place, looking at the sky, etc. I ended up returning mine and am waiting for the NEC 24WMGX3 to come out. I loved the size/resolution for my desktop workspace, but the rest was too much for me to stand.
    Reply
  • demani - Monday, April 16, 2007 - link

    I wish I had seen this review and comments before I bought mine- The gradient thing is horrible. I am trying to see if I can return mine it is so bad. I haven't seen a panel have that much of an issue with gradients in years-and it ruins what would otherwise be a great panel.

    If only the Dell could dimmed to regular brightness...
    Bastiches.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, February 22, 2007 - link

    Yikes! Glad someone pointed this out. Some things slip through the cracks when you're trying to come up with a good set of display evaluation tools. I had intended to check color gradients but forgot to actually do it. Ummmm... wow. The Gateway FPD2485W is definitely inferior to competing LCDs in this respect. I will try to get a good picture of the result, but have been unable to do so at present. Regardless, there is definitely a lot of banding visible, something that I didn't see at all in a quick test of a Dell 2407WFP. My 2405FPW shows a slight amount of banding, but not as much as the Gateway.

    To be honest, this isn't something that was really a problem for me during actual use, but that's likely because I don't do a whole lot of gradient work on a day to day basis. I have updated the text accordingly on pages 8 and 9. Thanks, and I will definitely remember to run this sort of test future display reviews!
    Reply
  • mcfraggel - Thursday, February 22, 2007 - link

    Input lag is a concern for 24" displays and larger. Some displays have more than 50ms delay. Google for it and you'll find quite a lot about it. Shouldn't this be adressed in this review somewhere? Reply
  • Aquila76 - Thursday, February 22, 2007 - link

    I didn't notice any input lag. I had my old CRT side by side for a bit to test this and didn't perceive any difference. Note my post below for the deal killer, though. Reply

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