It has been quite some time since we've done any display reviews at AnandTech. It is a topic that comes up on a regular basis, and the display is definitely an important aspect of any computer system. Quite a bit has changed since our last display review, nearly all of those changes for the better. Many of the concerns we used to have about LCDs have now been addressed - pixel response times, color purity, and pricing have in the past been the major deterrence towards purchasing a large new LCD. While there is always room for improvement, desktop LCDs are now at the point where very few people would prefer anything else. Simply put, the CRT is dead; long live the LCD! That is not to say that LCDs are the only foreseeable display technology for the future, but before we get into the technologies, let's briefly talk about displays in general.

For some applications/scenarios the display is of little importance. Many large corporations will have headless servers - servers that aren't connected to any display - because they don't need to use the system directly. Logging into a server from a remote location is more than sufficient for most administrative tasks. A single KVM switch (Keyboard Video Mouse) can also be connected to a bunch of systems for times when physical interaction with a server is necessary. It's possible to have as many as 24 systems sharing a single KVM setup, which allows you to conserve space in a data center, not to mention cutting back on cable clutter and power requirements. In such usage scenarios, the display is probably the least important component in the system.

The reverse of that is the typical home or office user. Depending on your work and hobbies, you may find yourself staring into a computer display as much as 12 hours a day, and even more in some instances. Hopefully you take periodic breaks, but more likely than not you get too involved and forget such minor considerations. A typical power user will load up a lot of web pages in the course of a day; work on some documents, images, spreadsheets, etc.; maybe play a few games; answer email, and perhaps even watch a video or two.... That's a lot of time looking at your display! While having documents and web pages open faster is always nice, most people agree that the fastest computer in the world connected to a lousy display would be a chore to use.

We have frequently argued that the display should be a primary decision when purchasing a new computer - unless you already have a high quality display that you'll be keeping. Unlike computers where you might upgrade systems every year or two - or at least a few of the components - it is not unusual to use a display for a very long time. Some people will spend as much as 33% of their computer budget at the time of a new system purchase on the display, with the intention of using the display for at least five years. Once you have a good quality display, there are only a few reasons to consider upgrading: either you want a larger display, your old display starts to wear out (i.e. poor colors/contrast/brightness), something breaks, or now we have the new problem of not being able to support HDCP content. As much as that last item can irritate some of us - anyone who purchased an expensive LCD two years ago feel free to raise your hand - HDCP support is now a feature that the majority of users will want to have, if only as a safeguard. If you never intend to watch video content on your display, you can probably manage to live without it, but all other things being equal why not spend a few dollars more for something that might be useful?

Besides the features that go into a display, there are plenty of new technologies in various phases of development that are worth keeping an eye on. CRTs have basically been relegated to the budget sector, and very few manufacturers are interested in that market anymore. LCDs are the most common display right now, generally offering high contrast ratios, clear and bright colors, and an attractive slim profile that so many people like. Looking towards the future, OLEDs show a lot of promise, and different methods of backlighting are being used with LCDs to further improve image quality. Outside of computers, various other technologies are in development/deployment, but most of these aren't likely to move onto the desktop. Rear projection HDTVs have been around awhile, with many projection systems now moving towards DLP, but rear projection/DLP displays require far too much space for most people to want them on a desktop. Plasma displays have also been around for quite some time, but their increased weight relative to LCDs is likely to keep them away from the computer market. SED (Surface-conduction Electron-emitter Display), FED (Field Emission Display), and various other display technologies may steal the spotlight in the future but for now it looks like LCDs and OLEDs will be the primary choices for computer users.

We're going to kick off our return to display reviews with a look at one of Gateway's newest offerings, the FPD2485W. This is a relatively high-end display intended to compete with offerings from other major manufacturers (Dell, Samsung, HP, Viewsonic, Acer, etc.) In contrast to some of the other 24" LCDs currently on the market, it has only been available for a few months and it sports one of the newer LCD panels. Priced at under $700, it's also reasonably affordable though certainly not cheap. Given what we've just said above, however, we would definitely recommend anyone considering the purchase of a midrange or faster computer take a serious look at their display and decide whether or not it's time to upgrade. After seeing what we have to say about the Gateway FPD2485W, you might be willing to make the investment.

Overview of Features and Specifications
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  • strikeback03 - Monday, February 26, 2007 - link

    thanks, that makes sense. I assumed the LUT was applied to everything the video card sent to the monitor. However playing with my calibration settings in the GretagMacbeth software and also with the nVidia controls provided in their settings package did not touch the video image.

    My current desktop monitor absolutely destroys blacks in it's out-of-the-box configuration. Calibration can make most stuff OK (not great) but since it does not affect video, movies such as the Matrix or V for Vendetta are unwatchable.
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, February 22, 2007 - link

    I didn't notice any issues with blacks being "crushed", but there were some other issues I'll address shortly in regards to colors.
  • chizow - Thursday, February 22, 2007 - link

    Crushed blacks are a pretty bad problem with miscalibrated displays. Basically if you use the provided calibration software EzTune and calibrate the display based on what the captions tell you, you'll get an overly dark setting with really high relative contrast. In games and movies, the result is horribly crushed blacks with no detail/difference in blacks and brain-searing light/particle effects. For instance, in Dark Messiah, I felt like I was running around with a blindfold on...except for the blinding light coming off my Lightning Shield, which I avoided using at all costs.
  • Justin Case - Friday, February 23, 2007 - link

    Note that most lossy video compression algorithms will eliminate more detail from very dark (or very bright) colors than from midtones, so if a DVD appears to have crushed blacks, that could be just a poor encode.

    Most 3D games have a local gamma setting, so a wrong value there can also make things look bad.

    Having said that, poor loss of detail and posterization in dark areas is a problem with some LCD panels.
  • Justin Case - Thursday, February 22, 2007 - link

    Laptop panels are typically picked for their low power consumption, not color accuracy, which makes those values a bit odd. What model is your laptop? And have you measured other monitors with the same calibrator?

    Anyway, simple calibrators won't measure things like color variation with angle of view, light bleed, etc. (which aren't issues for CRTs, but are for LCDs), so the deviation alone isn't a complete measure of the overall image quality.
  • strikeback03 - Friday, February 23, 2007 - link

    Thinkpad T43 with the Flexview (IPS) screen. There is some slight contrast change with viewing angle, but it's the best I have seen in a laptop. Other displays I have checked include my desktop LCD (cheap, with predictably bad colors, which is why I'm looking to replace it), a cheap old CRT (not very good), and a few ViewSonic CRTs at work (good results from calibration on all).
  • JarredWalton - Friday, February 23, 2007 - link

    You should see the results from an older laptop I have. Even calibrated, dE is still a whopping 7.8! There are a few colors (blue and yellow I think) where I couldn't get dE to anything lower than 16-20. Heh. If you've got a display on a laptop that can get an average dE of anything less than 2.0, you're doing *VERY* well! My future laptop reviews will take a closer look at the laptop LCD quality....
  • StevenG - Thursday, February 22, 2007 - link

    Some sites have reported extensively on the issue of input lag with LCDs. They have found that if you drive a CRT and an LCD at the same time, the image on the LCD will often lag the CRT by 1 or more frames. So what you are seeing on screen with an LCD is actually up to 50 or so ms behind the image that is being produced by the video card. This is one reason why I still don't use LCDs for gaming (the other reason being low refresh rates, which means a low frames/second limit if you enable vsynch - I refresh at 100 Hz at 1280x1024 on my 21" CRT, and there isn't an LCD on the market that can match that).

    I would like to see Anandtech explore this issue of LCD lag.
  • Justin Case - Thursday, February 22, 2007 - link

    You have a 5:4 aspect ratio CRT? If not, you should be using 1280x960. If you pick 1280x1024, most games will assume you're using a 5:4 monitor (LCD), and the image will be slightly distorted (vertically compressed).
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, February 22, 2007 - link

    Refresh rates are one of the advantages of CRTs that nothing else is currently able to match, unfortunately. I wish we could get 100 Hz refresh rates on LCDs, if only to avoid reduce the appearance of screen tear with vsync disabled, but the digital connection precludes that option for now.

    As for input lag, the pixel response times can make the LCD always appear one frame behind what is supposed to be shown, i.e. the GPU sends frame 1, and then 1/60 of a second later it sends frame 2, etc. The LCD receives frame one and the pixels start to transition, but the transition takes anywhere from 2-20ms (depending on colors and LCD). If we just say it takes ~16ms, that's one screen refresh. I've heard other LCDs may buffer input so that there's an additional lag, but if so I can't say that my eyes are sharp enough to detect it.

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