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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  • Xenoterranos - Thursday, February 22, 2007 - link

    I've been waiting for a site I trust to do some monitor reviews, as I'm getting ready to purchase a new LCD (my first LCD) in a few months. Would it be possible to do some reviews of different-sized lcd's (i'm thinking 20" 24" 30" etc) as most of them are based on the same/similar panels (for their respective sizes).

    Or just a price range (sub 200 3-400, 5-700 etc...)
    Reply
  • Avalon - Thursday, February 22, 2007 - link

    What's with the "long live LCD!" cry? Why would you want such a pitiful technology to have a long life? Most LCDs only eclipse CRTs in weight, power, and size (some might include eye comfort). Picture quality and video performance is at best, equal, and at worst, not as good. I say bring on OLED/SED ASAP so we can get the best of both CRT and LCD.

    All ranting aside...it's good to see some display reviews on the site again. Keep up the good work!
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Thursday, February 22, 2007 - link

    You, obviously, never used a LCD, or at least a good one, I have a 21" professional Grade CRT, sitting next to a non professional ViewSonic 19" LCD, and all I can say, is I'll never use that CRT again, if I can help it . . . Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, February 23, 2007 - link

    I would have a bit of difficulty deciding between a 21" CRT and a 19" LCD, at least in terms of resolution, refresh rate, etc. When I ditched my 21" CRT and got a Dell 24", however, it was love (lust?) at first sight and I've never regretted the move. And now I have a 30" Dell sitting on my desk, although even I will admit that can be overkill. :) Reply
  • yyrkoon - Friday, February 23, 2007 - link

    Yeah, that CRT is good, crisp (for a CRT), but it does not come close to my ViewSonic VA1912wb. Gaming, it could be a toss up between the two, because: 1) the CRT supports higher resolutions, 2) the refresh rate is higher on the CRT (important if you enable double/triple buffering). That being said, even in non native resolutions (I only do this for games, when the games do not support the monitors native resolution), it still looks great, and for pictures / text, the CRT is terrible by comparrison (especially with ClearType fonts, for text).

    If there were a complaint, I'd have to say that cleaning said monitors can be 'scary' at times. Pressure marks can completely ruin, an otherwise awesome LCD monitor, but, I for one, try to use a light touch, with antistatic alcohol soaked wipes, you can buy from wal mart for $5(anti static helps keep the dust build up to a minimum).
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, February 22, 2007 - link

    More a tongue-in-cheek comment than anything serious. I guess I've been reading too many high fantasy books lately or something (currently reading the King's Blade books). Reply
  • dukerobillard - Thursday, February 22, 2007 - link

    Nice review; one request, though:

    A big concern about widescreen monitors in the gaming world is how
    they work with games that can't handle widescreen aspect ratios. What
    you want is to be able to tell the monitor to behave as a 4:3 display,
    and put black bars on the side, so the game still works (albeit at
    1600x1200 for a 24" or 1280x1024 for a 20"). I've read that the
    24" Dell Widescreen has some issues about this; apparently it doesn't
    work with some inputs.

    It would be great to hear how the Gateway handles this situation. There's
    a paragraph in the "Subjective Evaluation" section that sounds like it
    does it right, but I'm not 100% sure.
    Reply
  • neogodless - Thursday, February 22, 2007 - link

    Just wanted to point out/remind you that 1280x1024 is actually 5:4. It is, however, pretty widely supported, and when done on an LCD there should be no distortion... but perhaps that is something that could be investigated in these monitor reviews. I used to use 1280x960 on my CRT because I wanted to avoid the skew (however imperceptible it may have been) and I had to read the specs and do the math about ten times before buying my 1280x1024 19" LCDs to make sure it was being done right. Reply
  • Aquila76 - Thursday, February 22, 2007 - link

    It will do sidebars (true 1:1 pixel mapping) thru the OSD. This was great when I didn't have enough graphics power to run at the native 19x12. Reply
  • Phlargo - Thursday, February 22, 2007 - link

    I trust Anandtech's reviews a lot and LCD monitors are one of the weakest set of reviews available across the internet hardware review gamut. I really like sites like BeHardware, Toms, and even our own xtknight's (props! Check out his site - www.lcdresource.com) exploration into monitors, but it'll be great to have good ole' Anandtech adding more reviews to the mix.

    Buying such an important component shouldn't be the mystery it is right now!! As I always say, there's only one part of the computer you look at: the monitor. Never skimp for price on it - get something that makes you feel warm and fuzzy every time you look at it :)

    Thanks Jared! Can't wait for more reviews!!!
    Reply

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