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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  • strikeback03 - Tuesday, May 22, 2007 - link

    The first page mentions that you don't know of any laptops which use an LCD that isn't a TN panel. The Flexview Thinkpads use IPS panels, and they are nice. Any chance of getting one of those in the comparison? Reply
  • n7 - Wednesday, May 23, 2007 - link

    And Macbook Pros use IPS.

    Sadly, i'd say 99% of notebooks have garbage for displays.

    Only good thing to come from notebook displays is glossy finishes, as now that's finally spreading nicely into the desktop segment.
    Reply
  • bldckstark - Wednesday, May 23, 2007 - link

    Apple is currently being sued for poor display quality. Word is they are using TN panels in both Pro and regular versions. I guess we will find out more soon, since this is another high profile (if unwarranted) case against Apple. Reply
  • n7 - Wednesday, May 23, 2007 - link

    They aren't using TNs in the Macbook Pros, at least not all the ones i've seen.

    In the regular Macbooks, yes, they use TNs, like everyone else.
    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Wednesday, May 23, 2007 - link

    Personally I hate glossy finishes, thankfully neither my laptop or desktop have one.

    I thought I had read somewhere that some Macbooks used IPS as well. They are certainly popular amongst traveling photographers.
    Reply
  • drwho9437 - Tuesday, May 22, 2007 - link

    While Flexview is IPS, it is not offered at the moment (CTO though perhaps in prebuilt T60 models still).

    It is unknown if Lenovo will bring it back, but it was one of the few panels out there that had good color by most accounts. There were objective measurements done at the Thinkpads.com forum once upon a time...

    I myself didn't get flexview due to the size and cost. I'm quite happy with my T60, but i a 14" wide or standard IPS display is marketed in a Lenovo package, I will certainly be tempted. I don't think I can go back to 'regular' laptops after using my Thinkpad.
    Reply
  • Pirks - Tuesday, May 22, 2007 - link

    ditto here, I saw IPS screen on a Thinkpad and it was gorgeous compared to other shitty apple and dell notebooks I saw. so I was seriously surprised to find out that Anand guys don't know about it. guys, your credibility has plummeted down in my eyes. to not know anything about IPS displays in Thinkpads - what kind of techies are you anyway? sheesh... overclocking, overclocking... blah blah... while not knowing about such an OBVIOUS thing as IPS based Thinkpad... sigh :-( Reply
  • DigitalFreak - Tuesday, May 22, 2007 - link

    Dude, STFU. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, May 22, 2007 - link

    Not everyone knows everything about every computer part. I'm glad someone makes a laptop with a non-TN panel, and I have updated the article text. As it said, we were "as yet unaware" of such laptops, and we are now aware. Hopefully Lenovo will be good enough to get us a unit for testing. The point stands that only one manufacturer so far (I think?) makes such a laptop, no one makes a major point about advertising the laptop panel specs or type, and as far as I can tell it's only in the 12.1" X series. We definitely need more such notebooks. Reply
  • strikeback03 - Wednesday, May 23, 2007 - link

    Suppose it might now be available on the X series (I haven't kept up with laptop specs much recently). Previously Flexview was only available in 15" 4:3 ratio panels in SXGA and UXGA resolution, on some T and R series models. Whoever was making the panels might have folded up shop though if a few Thinkpads were the only laptops using that panel. Reply

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