Choosing an LCD Monitor

Ron Stanley

For quite a while I had been considering replacing my 19" Dell Trinitron CRT monitor. Although CRT monitors have been the gold standard as far as computer graphics and digital photography are concerned, my Dell had been developing a nasty diagonal banding issue and a general fading problem, as the darkest blacks were no longer black but merely a dark grey. The monitor had done its job well but it was now ten years old and due for replacement. The question was should I replace it with another CRT monitor or go with an LCD?

I have a couple other computers in the house belonging to my wife and son that use an LCD display and when I tried to display my astrophotos on those computers I was never happy with what I saw. Generally the LCD displays lacked the ability to display the dim details that are what we are trying to capture in astrophotos. Dim details were either displayed as pure black or a muddy grey that bore little resemblance to what I had been used to seeing on the CRT monitor. Colors although vivid on an LCD screen were not always accurate as well.

So if CRT monitors have been the "gold standard" in computer graphics then why not just go out and get another CRT? Well there are a few reasons, the first is size. My 19" Dell ate up at least half my desktop! By comparison most LCD displays take up about 20% of the desktop footprint of a CRT monitor with a comparable viewing area. The second is energy savings. An LCD monitor will require about 60% less energy than a CRT monitor of comparable size. A third reason is that CRT monitors are rapidly disappearing. A trip to the local Best Buy or Circuit City will probably not reveal even one CRT monitor for sale.

It appeared to me that the writing was on the wall for CRT monitors and so I decided to investigate LCD monitors for graphics and photography applications. There are three basic types of LCD display panels:

TN+film - This is the display type found in most consumer displays. It has a rapid response time so it is good for video and game play, but its true color fidelity is poor. Cost is inexpensive.

IPS and S-IPS - This is the LCD technology that best approaches CRT monitors in color fidelity, and in fact is used in many monitors designed for graphics applications. The downside is slow response times, not good for video or game play and they tend to be expensive. PVA and MVA - These panels are a compromise between TN film and the IPS panels. They have good response times and the more expensive versions have good color fidelity. Cost tends to be expensive.

Since gaming and video are not high on my computing agenda, I decided to look into monitors that use the IPS or S-IPS panels. In order to find out what type of panel is used in a particular model, I did a little web searching and came up with this site:

By entering a panel type or a brand name into the search field you can learn the type of panel for just about any brand and model of monitor on the market. And what did it show me? Just about every monitor available at the large retail outlets has a TN film panel, which seemed to agree with the results I had seen on the two LCD monitors available in my own house.

So how does this end? Well I purchased an NEC 2070NX, which is a 20" 4x3 format LCD monitor, from CDW in Vernon Hills. It has the S-IPS panel and I am quite happy with it. Downsides are that it has a little ghosting when going from a high contrast screen to a darker screen and it was more expensive than the typical 20" monitor, but for image processing in Photoshop it is superb.

Published in the August 2008 issue of the NightTimes