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Focus Shifting to the Bigger Picture

March 22, 2001|JUBE SHIVER Jr. |

With the personal computer industry's obsessive focus on microprocessor speed, the PC device that dominates most consumers' desks--the monitor--has gotten comparatively little attention.

But with the rise of the Net and falling computer equipment prices, consumers have begun putting more emphasis on bigger PC screens to get a better view of the colorful, multimedia content on the Internet.

Worldwide, shipments of 15-inch monitors surpassed 14-inch units shipped in 1997, according to Stanford Resources, a San Jose market research firm. Last year, 17-inch models became the most popular size, with nearly 50,000 units shipped. Demand is also growing for 19-inch monitors, which are eclipsing out-of-favor 14-inch models.

Given the interest in big computer screens, we decided to test the Rolls Royces of PC monitors. The three models we looked at are among the biggest and most expensive PC displays available: a 21.3-inch NEC liquid crystal display flat panel, a traditional 24-inch Sony cathode ray tube monitor and a gigantic 42-inch Fujitsu plasma gas display flat panel.

Fujitsu Plasmavision

Measuring about 4-inches deep, the stunning Fujitsu Plasmavision monitor is designed primarily for high-definition television viewing rather than computer use. Still, it sports two standard computer RGB inputs in addition to three other video connections for VCRs, DVD players or television tuners. And its wide-aspect screen is flat and bright from all viewing angles. The Plasmavision costs $8,000 to $10,000 depending on the model.

Connecting to a streaming video Internet site such as produced large, movie-like images that were much more detailed than a standard PC monitor or high-end television set. Even more impressive, this level of clarity and detail was achieved with a pedestrian PC video card with a paltry 4 megabytes of memory.

Unfortunately, computer graphics and text were not as sharp on the Fujitsu as on the Sony or the NEC, although the colors remained uniform and bright across the Fujitsu screen. What's more, the maximum resolution on the Fujitsu is just 1,024 by 768 pixels. In addition, the front of the monitor can get warm enough to make it uncomfortable to the touch.

Given its price tag, the Fujitsu is shockingly short on creature comforts. Although it has three kinds of power cables, the Fujitsu has no video display calibration equipment or software. It comes with a remote control but doesn't have cables to connect to a computer, television or other video source, which have to be purchased separately. But for teleconferencing, boardroom presentations or surfing the Net with a group of onlookers, the Fujitsu can't be beat.

Because it is a plasma model that, in effect, burns gas to produce images, its useful product life is only four to seven years, experts say.

NEC MultiSync LCD2110

The second flat-screen monitor we looked at was the NEC MultiSync LCD2110. With a 21.3-inch screen size, it was the largest liquid crystal display, or LCD, on the market until Samsung introduced a 24-inch behemoth this winter.

At $6,000, the NEC is a less expensive flat-screen alternative for those who hunger for the big view. That's largely because the NEC is smaller than the Fujitsu and uses liquid crystals instead of plasma to display images.

Like other LCD monitors, the NEC runs much cooler and quieter than either plasma or CRT monitors and takes up much less desk space.

Image quality of the NEC is very good, although the screen had a slight, but noticeable, concave appearance at the top and bottom edges. The NEC is also not as bright from an angle as either a plasma or CRT display. Still, it is plenty bright when viewed head on.

A bigger drawback is that the NEC and other LCD displays don't accurately show video motion. The pixels on an LCD screen can't react quickly enough to display fast motions, such as a baseball pitch. As a result, watching sports or DVD movies is unsatisfying.

Even so, the NEC is an attractive computer monitor. It supports resolutions up to 1,600 by 1,200 pixels--enough real estate to comfortably view an open browser window, a spreadsheet and a couple of other documents at one time. The NEC's screen can also pivot to show either the standard "landscape" view or a vertical "portrait" perspective.

Sony GDM-FW900

The Sony GDM-FW900 shares the Fujitsu's wide-screen looks as well as the NEC's comparatively compact size.

The Sony, with a price of about $2,000, is billed as a 24-inch monitor, although only 21.3 inches are viewable because the rest of the screen is covered by the picture tube frame.

Still, this traditional cathode-ray-tube monitor is monstrous. It tips the scales at more than 70 pounds and requires a sturdy and spacious desk to accommodate its considerable girth.

The Sony has the flattest screen and is one of the brightest CRT monitors we have ever seen, although it is not as bright as the Fujitsu.

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