Widescreen displays — The wider vista

Ian Yates
15 June, 2007
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Once upon a time, not very long ago, all computer monitors were roughly square with an aspect ratio of 4:3, the same as most television screens. Mostly this was historic, based on the available glass tubes that were being mass-produced for consumer TV sets. It wasn’t long before the monitor attached to your Macintosh had much higher resolution than any TV, but the shape stayed the same, most probably because those glass tubes kept popping out of the factory that size.

When LCD panels were invented, they were also produced in 4:3 or 5:4 aspect ratios as TV replacements, despite it being relatively easy to make them any shape required. Since the TV stations were mostly broadcasting in the old 4:3 format, there wasn’t a great incentive to change the shape of LCD TVs, and so the first LCD monitors for computers were also squarish. Into this square world stepped Apple, with its “Cinema Displays” offering the widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio favoured by Hollywood moviemakers.

For a considerable time afterwards the rest of the computer industry couldn’t see the point in changing the shape of their monitors just to watch Hollywood movies, but they completely missed the point. Sure, it’s nice to watch a movie full-screen, but the major attraction of a widescreen display is being able to see other things on the desktop beyond the current window. Viewing an A4 document occupies most of the screen width on a 4:3 or 5:4 display but on a widescreen monitor you can still keep an eye on your e-mail or check the progress of a download without interrupting your work.

Widescreen monitors are even more appealing when working with applications like Adobe Photoshop or Apple’s iPhoto. These graphically oriented programs like to park panels or palettes with options all over the screen and when that screen is wide, you can see both your work and your options without needing to drag windows out of the way or collapse option panels. Even if you switch from a square display to a widescreen display of the same height, you immediately appreciate the extra width, and for that reason multiple vendors are now offering this wider vista.

On test. AMW lab looked at six 20-inch widescreen displays, which is now about the entry-level size on offer anywhere. You can easily go bigger but it’s getting hard to find anything much smaller or cheaper without reverting to the old 4:3 aspect ratio. The displays reviewed came from Acer, Apple, LG, NEC, Philips and ViewSonic, and the picture quality was absolutely stunning at the maximum 1680×1050 resolution on every single one of them. Since there were no dud displays, we need to look at other factors to arrive at a purchasing decision.

We had no problems making these displays work just fine on the Macintosh although, not unreasonably, some required a restart to hit maximum resolution the first time they were attached. We ran Photoshop CS3 and Final Cut Pro to make sure the displays didn’t flicker or get fazed by video streaming. All of them were well up to the task. All the displays we tested had DVI connectors as well as VGA connectors, allowing you to plug them in to almost any Macintosh, but they work best with DVI-equipped Macs.

Only the Apple display transfers both USB and FireWire ports from the back of your Macintosh to the convenience of the LCD panel. However, the Philips and the NEC both extend your USB ports to the monitor. All the monitors can be tilted to your preferred viewing angle but the Philips and the ViewSonic can also be adjusted for viewing height without needing the help of last year’s phone books. The Philips takes the adjustment prize by allowing you to swivel the monitor as well as raising and tilting it to suit your work space. The ViewSonic differentiates itself further by including built-in speakers below the display — which would certainly appeal to Mac Mini owners.

Matching sets. Of course the Apple Cinema Display is made from the same brushed aluminium as most other Apple components so if interior design is important you may not want to look any further. This is yet another example of Apple at its very best in industrial design. This display looks almost as good switched off as it does when you’re using it, and if you have one of these you would probably find yourself spending way too much time in front of your Mac.
However, you will pay a significant financial penalty for staying loyal to the Apple brand on this occasion, despite a 60 percent price reduction since this model first appeared at the end of 2005. Almost as unbelievable is the price of the NEC display at $1079, which is even higher than Apple’s asking price. There may be situations when these higher-priced displays come into their own, but for general use on a Mac Mini it seems more than a little strange to pay almost as much for the monitor as you do for the computer. The ultra-adjustable Philips is the third most expensive in this review at $629.

Australian Macworld’s buying advice. The Apple and NEC displays are almost double the price of either the LG, Acer or ViewSonic monitors. The absolute bargain here is the Acer at $429. For less money than either Apple or NEC is asking you could have dual Acer displays and get some serious screen real estate, provided of course you have a dual-screen-capable Macintosh. For an extra $70 over the Acer price ViewSonic gives you a height-adjustable screen with the bonus of built-in speakers, which just might clinch the deal for some buyers. Then again, you can get some serious speakers for $70. We’ll stick with the Acer and count our savings.

Acer AL2016WD

SRP AUD$429
Ports DVI, VGA
Cons No height or swivel adjust
Pros Tilt adjust
Rating 5
Type LCD Monitor
Distributor Acer 02 8762 3000
Ian Yates

LG L204WT-SF

Distributor LG Electronics 02 8805 4000
SRP AUD$499
Ports VGA, DVI
Cons No height or swivel adjust
Pros Tilt adjust
Rating 4.5
Type LCD Monitor
Ian Yates

View Sonic VG2030WM

Ports VGA, DVI, Audio
Cons No swivel
Pros Tilt, height adjust
Rating 4.5
Type LCD Monitor
SRP AUD$499
Distributor ViewSonic 1800 880 818
Ian Yates

Philips 200WB7ES

Ports DVI, VGA, USB
Cons Price
Pros Tilt, swivel, height adjust
Rating 4
Type LCD Monitor
SRP AUD$629
Distributor Philips Electronics Australia 1800 009 300
Ian Yates

20-inch Apple Cinema Display

Ports DVI, 2x USB, 2x FireWire
Cons o height or swivel adjust, price
Pros Tilt adjust
Rating 4
Type LCD Monitor
SRP AUD$899
Distributor Apple 133 622
Ian Yates

NEC LCD20WGX2-BK

SRP AUD$1079
Ports DVI, VGA, 2 x USB
Cons No height or swivel adjust, price
Pros Tilt adjust
Rating 4
Type LCD Monitor
Distributor NEC 02 9877 2333
Ian Yates

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