Originally Published: Monday, 1 January 2001 Author: Matt Michie
Published to: enhance_articles_hardware/Hardware Reviews Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

LCD Monitors Different; Cost Is Factor, Too

LCD monitors can be costly, but the flat-screeners also have some important differences from a conventional CRT monitor. Matt Michie explains why LCD monitors won't be predominant for awhile.

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One day, we'll all be using LCD flat-screen monitors. Unfortunately, LCD technology has not advanced significantly enough to make it affordable for the average Linux user. Even if one can afford the hefty $1,000 average minimum entry fee, there are still some differences in the output image between a LCD and a conventional CRT monitor.

I recently had the opportunity to give the Samsung SyncMaster 150MP a try with Red Hat Linux 7 and a NVidia GeForce 256. The 150MP accepts a standard analog input, unlike other LCD monitors which require a special video card with digital output. The main feature which Samsung touts as distinguishing this product from its competitors is the ability to accept input from external sources such as a DVD player or cable TV. It has the ability to overlay this signal picture-in-picture, independent of the underlying operating system, making this monitor ideal for playing DVD's under Linux.

Upon installation of Red Hat 7. both the monitor and video card were correctly identified and X was properly configured without any intervention on the reviewer's part. An initial disadvantage this monitor had was the limitation of a 1024x768 resolution. This is a serious downside to current LCD technology. As is implied in the monitor's moniker, it is 15 inches. However, this is actual 15 inches of screen real estate, not doctored up numbers as is the case with most CRT monitors.

Even with all the modelines auto-detected by Red Hat and Xfree4, I couldn't help but wonder if they were all optimal. Occasionally, I could see some flickering and some very small distortions, though after using the monitor for several days, I no longer noticed them. The colors, though bright and easy to see even from oblique angles, seemed slightly off compared to what I was used to on a CRT. Again with use, this "problem" seemed to disappear. Text was crisp and easy to read even with small fonts. I used the standard fixed font with gnome-terminal with no trouble.

I also much preferred to use this monitor while under X, much of its full potential is hard to exploit using the console. In fact, after awhile I booted straight into GDM, bypassing the console completely. There is a well designed on-screen menu system which allows for all the standard adjustments such as contrast, brightness, positioning, color pallets and such, but I kept most of it default. Too much tweaking tended to make the picture look worse to my eyes.

Though I was initially worried about refresh, games seemed to play fine, though once again the full power of the video card in the test machine wasn't tapped at 1024x768 resolution. After some tweaking, I ended up turning off all the animations under Helix Gnome, they tended to look a bit "odd" on the LCD.

Would I recommend this monitor to others? Perhaps. There is no doubt this setup would impress your geek friends. There is almost an aura about the desk with this silver monitor placed atop. It is hard to look at the thin profile and not double take, and after lugging my bulky 19-inch monitor up and down flights of stairs for LAN gaming sessions, there is no doubt if I could afford an LCD monitor I'd get one.

If I was going to get an LCD monitor that worked well under Linux, this one sure fits the bill. The SyncMaster 150MP has many little features such as the picture-in-picture, carrying handle, and stereo speakers that make it stand out from other LCDs. Knowing that it accepts any standard VGA out is a plus for Linux as you have a wider range of video cards which are Linux compatible. There is no need for any special drivers or kernel mods.

However given the choice between spending a grand on a new monitor or other hardware, I would spend the money on a nice CRT and use the remaining money to upgrade the rest of my computer. I'll happily ring bells the day CRTs finally die, but that day hasn't come.

Verdict: Wait until LCD technology improves and the price comes down.

Samsung's 150MP Website is at http://www.samsungelectronics.com/products/monitor/150mp_2.html, list price is $1,409.00.

Matt Michie lives in New Mexico. Contact him at mmichie@linux.com, and visit his Web site at daimyo.org.

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