One of the key points of increasing productivity with computers is to increase the number of screens you have at your disposal. By having multiple monitors, you can avoid needing to excessively scroll within a resized window that squeezes everything into the one monitor, or avoid the time consuming action of switching between windows and “losing” your train of thought.
It wasn’t that long ago (about 10 years ago) that monitors were too expensive, and computers featuring graphics cards with multiple heads were uncommon. Now, even new rigs utilizing integrated Intel graphics are capable of supporting three or even four monitors out of the box and most modern discrete cards will do three or more.
Just a year or two ago, very basic full high definition 1920 x 1080 monitors began to be available around the AU$130 mark. This put a very respectable resolution within the reach of even the most basic systems, providing ample workspace and an incentive to get several monitors.
These were of the Twisted Nematic (TN) variety, which are cheap and have fast response times, but suffer the drawbacks of limited viewing angle, colour shift and limited colour depth (6-bit). This is especially evident in large multi-monitor set-ups where you may not be optimally positioned to view the screen. In-plane switching (IPS) type monitors were, however, still commanding significant premiums of about twice the price of TN monitors.
However, it seems the increasing awareness of the differences between TN and IPS monitors have driven vendors to start competing with more varieties of IPS monitors. As a result, you can pick up a 22″ (20.5″ visible) Viewsonic VA2249S Widescreen Full High Definition IPS LED Monitor for just AU$135 (spotted as low as AU$129 at one point). But is it any good? Lets take a quick peek at it!
Let it be said that I have never seen an IPS monitor of this resolution and size on offer at this price. As it is a “budget” monitor, you can’t expect the same level of connectivity, stand configurability or build quality as the more expensive monitors. I think given the similarity of the price to TN screens, the more appropriate gauge of judgement is to ask – is it any better than the TN screens?
The monitor itself isn’t very heavy, the box feels like it weighs under 5kg. The box is a regular cardboard construction with two-tone printing and a handle which makes it convenient to carry home on all the buses and trains you have to catch to get home.
The monitor features the use of an 16:9 1920 x 1080 IPS panel, marketed as SuperClear, as well as dynamic contrast LED backlight which improves contrast ratio. It claims to be Energy Star certified with an Eco mode to reduce energy usage.
Inside the box, you will find:
- The monitor
- A tube
- The base
- An IEC power cord
- A HD15M to HD15M VGA cable
- CD-ROM and quick start guide
It’s clear that the low cost of the monitor means that they cut the inclusion of any form of DVI cable. As the monitor is DVI capable, you should probably purchase one as it will improve the image clarity by avoiding analog signal effects.
The monitor itself is packed in a styrofoam bag inside styrofoam ends. The monitor is packed securely and tightly, and the plastic bezel is covered with a protective plastic. After carefully removing the monitor from the styrofoam and removing the plastic, you have to attach the tube to the monitor, then the whole assembly to the base – it clicks in with no screws to turn.
The monitor is mostly glossy black, with a matte offset on the centre section of the base. The branding is printed with a subtle grey tone, with the trademark ViewSonic birds resting in the top left corner of the bezel.
The monitor features a single status LED that shines blue or orange, as well as buttons to nagivate the on-screen display, all of which are situated underneath the the bottom edge making it less distracting for night-time use.
The rear of the monitor is fully plastic, with no visible screwheads. A VESA mount is provided, and the rear is vented to keep the internals cool. The branding is printed on the rear in grey. The base stand allows for a level of pivoting, however, is not height adjustable and is a bit short. For the best ergonomic experience, you might need to prop it up on your desk with a few phonebooks or equivalent. The base itself is completely plastic, but is sufficient to hold everything up as the monitor itself is very light. It’s ecologically sensible – small package, small shipping weight, less parts, less waste when it comes to disposing it.
The connectivity provided for the monitor is an IEC inlet for power, a DVI input and a VGA input. There is no “fancy” DisplayPort or HDMI, but you can use an HDMI to DVI cable to connect the monitor to an HDMI source. I did not verify whether it was capable of HDCP, but another thing to be aware of is the lack of speakers on the monitor in case of using it with HDMI sources.
It’s the most basic types of connectivity available, but it’s sufficient for a basic monitor, and will be sufficient for most users. The monitor even comes with an energy consumption rating label for Australia and it claims to be a 3.5 star monitor consuming 98kWh/year. At a power cost of AU$0.28/kWh, that’s $27.44 per year.
As a user who has spent most of their time sitting behind an array of four TN monitors, all of different brands and sizes, the difference of sitting in front of the ViewSonic IPS monitor was immediately apparent. Even the Windows desktop’s blue looked deeper and smoother. Moving my head around, the colour shifts were absent, however there was still a slight change in brightness at off-angles. It’s not in any way worse than what you experience with TN monitors.
In fact, I misused this colour vision test to check my colour vision. As it turns out, I scored 15 on my TN monitors, where 0 is perfect, which implies I have some deficiencies in my hue perception, however switching to the IPS monitor allowed me to achieve a score of 0 consistently. The difference between the TN and IPS was measurable.
The use of the LED backlight allows for a more bluish white, as compared to my traditional CCFL based LCDs, and it seems to be enjoyable for everything from video to productivity work. Initially, the default brightness settings were retina-burningly high but that’s a common trend with most monitors. Adjusting it down to comfortable seemed to reveal a slight flickering likely due to PWM modulation of the LEDs. I am a little more sensitive to flicker than most, but it’s not as bad as some of my laptop LED screens. It didn’t take long for me to adjust to it.
No obvious ghosting occurred during high motion scenes in videos, and the black level was okay however there was a slight horizontal and vertical patterning to the black level as is exhibited by some other systems with dynamic contrast ratio or low-cost panels due to manufacturing variations. They were pretty minor and didn’t become visible during normal use. There were no noticeable levels of backlight bleeding.
By pressing several button combinations, I could not find a service menu, however, I did find a burn-in mode which is activated by pressing 1 + Power so the power LED lights up orange and then releasing. It cycles through a set of colours for LCD conditioning or dead pixel testing.
The dead pixel warranty on Viewsonic LCDs guarantees zero dead pixels for the first 30 days, and thereafter, up to two depending on where the pixels are. The panel I received had zero dead pixels, so I’m happy. Unfortunately, I don’t have any colour calibrator to actually measure the absolute performance of the panel.
In general, I have no complaints. However, this isn’t enough to convince some naysayers, so I went one step further.
This is probably the largest product I’ve teared down so far.The monitor itself is built using a completely screwless design. Instead, the front and back plastic surrounds clip together. By using a fingernail and a flat-head screwdriver, and running carefully around the edges, the rear can be completely removed.
The measure of the quality of an LCD monitor often comes down to the panel used to make the monitor. While one expects to find a cheap panel from Chi Mei Optoelectronics or AU Optoelectronics in low-end monitors, I opened this up to a surprise:
This monitor is based around an LG Display LM215WF3 (SL) (K1) display panel. From a quick Google, this is the exact same model of screen as used in an Apple iMac 2009 – if it’s good enough for Apple, it’s good enough for me.
While this exact panel isn’t in TFT Central’s database, it appears that its relatives are, and they are specified as an e-IPS panel, likely to be a 6-bit panel with a form of dithering to improve colour depth and 97% sRGB coverage. It’s not quite as good as the real 8-bit IPS with >99% sRGB coverage, but would you pay twice as much for that? Maybe if you were a professional, you might, but this is still better than TN for much the same price.
The next part that determines how well a monitor will work is the display driver IC. This required removing a few pieces of tape, the screw sockets for the connectors and unplugging cables.
It seems that the board is based around a Novatek NT68660BUFG scaler IC. There doesn’t seem to be much information about it, although some other inexpensive monitors and boards have been based around it. It has a MX 25L20260 EEPROM for configuration data. It seems there are two ST 24C02RP EEPROMs for I2C data on the DVI and VGA ports.
We can also take a peek at the power supply board to get an idea of what the quality is like.
From the rear, it’s clear that appropriate requirements for isolating the primary from the secondary have been followed.
From the front, it seems that it’s a pretty bare board – there really aren’t many components at all. A quick survey of the capacitors shows they have used Matshushita, Elite, Lelon, Aishi and Hermei, most of which are considered questionable brands.
It shows that the monitor itself is built to a price, and it seems that some corners were cut in terms of the components. Despite this, the ViewSonic monitor is warranted for three years, and the capacitor plague happened long ago enough that the really bad stuff should have been flushed out by now. With any luck, they’ll last long enough until you decide to buy your next monitor.
It’s an interesting time we live in. It seems that monitors built around decently high quality panels can be had at a price never seen before. It’s so cheap that even the most basic system deserves this sort of monitor. You should probably ask yourself – how much is your productivity worth? Maybe you should invest in two monitors, or maybe even three.
In fact, after I did the teardown, I ended up buying another two panels to bring the total up to three. It seemed great value for the price, and the visual difference in terms of colour reproduction to TN was more obvious than I had expected. Of the three, all were functional, and there was no dead pixels on any of them, but curiously all three had different makes of power cord (which is sort of perplexing). The build quality is adequate, although you should probably buy yourself a DVI cable to make the most of it.
Considering the cheapest TN screen with a matching size and resolution (Benq GL2250) costs AU$129, the cost differential is tiny and you’d be silly to even bother with a TN screen any more. Think about this the next time you’re up for a new monitor – or three.