Introduction

Two of the areas where we've seen the most growth in the last few years are notebooks and flat-panel displays. The reasons for the tremendous growth differ, of course. Notebooks are a hot item because people are becoming enamored with wireless networks and portability, while LCDs have become popular because few manufacturers are making CRTs anymore and the small footprint of LCDs is desired by many people. We're working on increasing our coverage of both of these sectors, but up until now we haven't actually taken a close look at where they intersect.

Since the first laptops began shipping, LCDs have been the de facto display standard. Years before most people were using LCDs on their desktop, laptops were sporting these thin, sleek, attractive displays. As anyone who used one of the earlier laptops can tell you, however, the actual quality of the LCD panels was often severely lacking. With the ramp up in production of both LCD panels and notebook computers, you might be tempted to assume that the quality of laptop displays has improved dramatically over the years. That may be true to a certain degree, but with power considerations being a primary factor in the design of most notebooks, compromises continue to be made.

Without even running any objective tests, most people could pretty easily tell you that the latest and greatest desktop LCDs are far superior to any of the laptop LCDs currently available. While desktop LCDs have moved beyond TN panels to such technologies as S-IPS, S-PVA, and S-MVA we are aware of only a few laptop brands that use something other than a TN panel. (Unfortunately, we have not yet been able to get any of those laptops for review.) We have also complained about desktop LCDs that have reached the point where they are actually becoming too bright, in an apparent attempt to win the marketing war for maximum brightness. The same can't be said of laptops, as very few can even break the 200 cd/m2 mark. Individual preferences definitely play a role, but outside of photography and print work most people prefer a brightness setting of somewhere between 200 and 300 cd/m2.

Luckily, there are plenty of new technologies being worked on that aim to improve the current situation. Not only should we get brighter laptop panels in the near future, but color accuracy may improve and power requirements may actually be reduced relative to current models. LED backlighting is one technology that holds a lot of promise, and it has only just begun to show up on desktop LCDs. Dynamic backlighting - were the brightness of some LEDs can be increased or decreased in zones depending on what content is currently being shown - is another technology that we may see sooner rather than later. Then there are completely new display technologies like OLED.

With the current laptop landscape in mind, we have decided that it's time for us to put a bigger focus on the quality of laptop LCDs. To accomplish this we have put together a roundup of the current notebooks that we have in-house. Future laptop reviews will continue this trend by including a section covering display analysis and quality, but we wanted to build a repertoire of past notebook displays in the meantime. While we only have four laptops at present, it is also important to remember that there are only a few companies that actually manufacture LCD panels. We would also expect any companies that release notebooks with higher-quality LCDs to make a bullet point out of the fact, which means that if you don't see any particular emphasis placed on the display panel in a notebook's specifications it probably has a panel similar to one of the laptops we're looking at today.

Test Setup
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  • Myrandex - Tuesday, May 22, 2007 - link

    I am not all that opposed to lower resolution screens when it comes to a laptop. Laptop video chipsets are often times slow enough as it is, and when my 7200 G0 64MB (256MB TC) is attempted to be used for gaming, 1280x800 gives a much better experience then some 1980x1600 breatly resolution. Reply
  • MrPickins - Tuesday, May 22, 2007 - link

    4 screens, and not a single one a 15" model? How does that constitute a "roundup"?
    This article needs far more models tested to be worthwhile.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, May 22, 2007 - link

    It's a roundup of what we have right now. I have some 15" laptops coming for review, and if this wasn't made clear we will be performing these same tests on all future laptop reviews. This was just a way to jump start things before the laptops we currently have are sent back. Reply
  • MrPickins - Tuesday, May 22, 2007 - link

    Don't get me wrong, I like the article's intent, and the tests run. I just feel it would have been better to wait and give a large comparison all at one time, rather than piecemeal. Reply
  • EarthsDM - Tuesday, May 22, 2007 - link

    Great article. If you guys wouldn't mind, could you do these tests to the MacBook and MacBook Pro? In light of this new lawsuit (see below) I'd like to know how good my MacBook Pro's display is, i.e. 6-bit or 8-bit. Thanks!

    http://arstechnica.com/journals/apple.ars/2007/05/...">http://arstechnica.com/journals/apple.a...it-over-...
    http://www.appledefects.com/?p=282">http://www.appledefects.com/?p=282
    Reply
  • heulenwolf - Tuesday, May 22, 2007 - link

    Great job on the article. I had no idea the G2P's display was so demonstrably superior to the competition. I'd be interested to see these tests performed with two more variables:
    1) How do screen options within a single laptop model score? For example, if you get a Dell Inspiron with the default screen vs the upsell for the "Ultrasharp" model. Such a comparison could also give you two systems that are alike in every other way so you could discern the impact of the "better" screen on battery life
    2) I always hear about how Macs are better for multimedia applications. Does the colorimeter and software work with Macs, as well? If so, I'd be interested to see whether their color accuracy is truly better than those of competing laptops.
    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Tuesday, May 22, 2007 - link

    I'd assume you could test the colorimeter on a Mac running Windows, shouldn't affect the screen quality. Reply
  • bldckstark - Wednesday, May 23, 2007 - link

    Apparently recent testing on the Mac's have shown that the display performs better under Windows than OSx. This is one of the reasons they are being sued right now for claiming better visual representation than "regular" notebooks, when they appear to be the same as all the rest.

    I don't know anyone who has a Macbook, Pro or not so I have not seen this.

    I have been on the edge of buying a Macbook for some time, but when push came to shove, I bought a Lenovo. It is hard to find someone (now I am sure millions will reply since I said this) that thinks the other manufacturers are even in the same league as IBM was. So far Lenovo has been doing a good job of keeping the Thinkpad up to snuff, so I couldn't reasonably spend my money on something I had never seen before and had no consistency in manufacturing from one model to the other. Besides, there is that keyboard 8^)
    Reply
  • jelifah - Tuesday, May 22, 2007 - link

    This article was TREMENDOUSLY helpful. As most laptops are bought online it is impossible to be able to determine what an LCD looks like, short of going to a company's kiosk.

    Please continue to do reviews like this.
    Reply
  • mostlyprudent - Tuesday, May 22, 2007 - link

    Agreed. It's about time someone included one of the most important part of a laptop in the review process. I also appreciated the comparison to desktop LCDs. I have been sticking with my CRT, in part, because of the stark difference in viewing quality between my laptop and desktop PCs. Reply

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