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Spencer Lindsay gathers up four popular 20" LCD monitors of different makes and reviews them for your viewing pleasure. Read on and see which one wins out and gives the most bang for your dollar.

spencer lindsay, Blogger

June 15, 2003

7 Min Read


My employer, Rockstar San Diego, is presently switching over to flat-screen displays for a multitude of reasons: Flat-screens use much less power, take up less space, are easier on the eyes, and are less blurry. However, flat-screens have their share of disadvantages too: the resolution is not as high as some CRTs, and the color is not as accurate as a tube monitor, though the latest generations are much better at color accuracy.

For this review, I gathered four popular monitor makes and models and hooked up each one up to a 2.3GHz Intel box with an Nvidia GeForce4 Ti 4800 SE, comparing them side by side based on common criteria: screen size (20 inches), native resolution (1600x1200), price range ($1,000 to $2,000), availability, and expected usage (game art creation). I ran a basic animation exercise through each, creating first some texture maps in Photoshop, bringing these into Maya, sculpting a basic 3D object, and then running it through some animation sequences. As I tested each step, I looked at how the monitors processed and output the data: How did the colors differ on each monitor? What kind of detail did each offer? Was there a lot of gamma correction needed? What kind of software came with it, and did that affect how Photoshop or Maya interacted with the screen? How was customer support? Were the on-screen menus easy to use?

Though a couple of the displays had more bells and whistles than others, overall they were all a much better choice than a CRT.

Planar PL201M

Planar PL201M

We have a few of the 19-inch CT1904M Planar monitors here at work, but the 20-inch for some reason seems huge in comparison. The PL201M has more resolution, more screen space, and a better swivel mechanism. Setup was a snap, and the color quality was excellent once I figured out the menus.

The Good. I pulled the monitor out of the box, plugged it in, and off I went. Once I figured out the confusing menu system, there was little need for fine-tuning. The integrated speakers and headphone jack on this model were a nice touch. As with all the monitors I reviewed, the monitor angle was adjustable to a point; not as moveable as the new Apple iMac, but very adaptable. As with every monitor I tested, there was a slight divergence of colors in the blue/magenta spectrum of the Photoshop color picker, but other than that it performed well in all my tests. The thin form factor left plenty of depth on my desktop once it was installed.

The Bad. Color tuning was a bit difficult due to a confusing menu, and the bezel could be a bit thicker to keep the background off of the screen (what's behind the monitor clashes with the data on-screen).



On first glance, the ultra-thin bezel on this monitor looked really cool, like a flat sheet of graphics perched on my desk. But, after using it for a while, the absence of a bezel became a detriment, as whatever was behind the monitor (say, a Star Wars poster) mixed in with the data on-screen. A frame around the screen helps the eyes not to focus on the background when looking at the edge of the monitor.

The Good. The NEC installed flawlessly with no need for manufacturer's drivers, and color tuning was all set up; I didn't have to tweak it at all to get rich colors and good contrast. When I did fiddle with the menu system, it was easy to understand and navigate. Testing showed this monitor to be a great choice for developers who have big black walls behind their desks.

The Bad. The bezel on this monitor is too thin. This might be a personal taste issue, but I found that it didn't keep the distracting background of my messy desk from interfering with the screen. Also, despite wearing the highest price tag of all four monitors tested ($1,699), this monitor didn't have the bells and whistles I found so appealing in some of the other monitors.

Dell 2000FP

Dell 2000FP

For console developers, a good space-saving feature of a flat-screen monitor is the ability to run component video through it. Getting that big TV off your desk is a definite plus. The only disadvantage of running the console through your main monitor is if you have PC-based tuning widgets that you need to access while viewing the game. Although the Dell was the only monitor that had the component video input feature, this feature is available from Sony at a higher price range. The display was a bit blurry until I installed the correct drivers supplied with the monitor, but once I got the thing set up, it performed well through all the tests.

The Good. Another easy install and a very clear display once the supplied drivers were installed. The S/component video input is a great addition for console developers.

The Bad. Setup was a bit more involved and required special drivers.

Dell 2000FP

Sony SDM-X202

The Sony SDM-X202 has all the bells and whistles and is priced better than many comparable flat-screen monitors. Setup was a breeze, the display clarity and color were amazing, and the form factor was nice and compact. Although I had some troubles getting the Wacom tablet to come up at first, I updated the Wacom drivers and the problem went away. USB, dual audio I/O, and a set of speakers take care of a lot of extra desktop gizmos you would need with a less gadgety monitor. Having two USB input channels allows you to use this monitor as a KVM switch if you use a digital and an analog input.

The Good. The monitor was easy to set up and performed well through all the tests. The speakers and dual audio I/O combined with the switchable USB connections makes this monitor perfect for game development, especially for those of us with two computers. In addition to the bells and whistles, the unit is well-designed, neatly hiding the cables and connectors behind a shield.

The Bad. There is only one extra gizmo I'd like on this monitor, and that's a component video input. Although S/component video input is an option on other monitors, it would make this unit the perfect game development screen. I did have some startup problems with my Wacom tablet, but those were resolved by updating from the Wacom site.

Although all of these monitors were excellent in different ways, the Sony was definitely the superior unit, with its multitude of extra components. Based on all my tests I'd first recommend the Sony SDM-X202, while a good second alternative would be the Dell 2000FP.

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About the Author(s)

spencer lindsay


Spencer is president at Etribe Studio in Santa Cruz, Calif., a real-time 3D and multimedia content provider for the game industry. He spent five years at Atari Games as art director, where his titles included San Francisco Rush, San Francisco Rush: The Rock, Metal Maniax, and the design phase of San Francisco Rush 2049.

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