Summary: Hasta la Vista? A good monitor is supposed to last for years, but Hollywood is going to shake things up with mandatory HDCP support for high-definition video in Windows Vista. In this first part, Alan discusses the need for HDCP monitors, and previews the 5 monitors that will go head-to-head next week in Part 2.
So what is HDCP?
HDCP stands for High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection and it’s an Intel-initiated program that was developed with Silicon Image. Manufacturers participating in the program must pay an annual fee of $15,000 and a device fee of $0.005. This is a content protection system as opposed to a copy protection system. Essentially, this protocol ensures that high-definition content such as HD-DVD, Blu-Ray, and copy protected MPEG-2 is encrypted at every stage of the transmission. All HDCP does is guarantee that premium high-definition content can be output over a digital display interface such as HDMI or DVI. A lot of information can be found from Microsoft’s own documents on the Protected Video Pathway - Output Protection Management (PVP-OPM).
What happens if you don’t have HDCP?
Without HDCP, you will only be able to output premium content of analog connections. In the case of VGA or high-definition component video, PVP-OPM will either constrict (decrease resolution) or completely disable output. Relevant quotes from Microsoft’s article include:
Where can I find HDCP Monitors?
Gateway FPD2185W - $600 with 1 year warranty
(+ $40 sound bar + $36 DVI cable)
The FPD2185W is a 21” 1680x1050 S-PVA monitor that is part of Gateway’s new line of premium-grade monitors. Recall that S-PVA monitors are known for excellent contrast ratios. S-PVA panels are used in Samsung and Sony Bravia LCD televisions. The Gateway is rated at 1000:1 contrast, something that our previous 2nd place winner, the Samsung 720T showed was a real, measurable result. Brightness is rated at 300 cd/m2. Gray-to-gray response time is rated at 8 ms. Bonus features include 4 USB 2.0 ports, Faroudja DCDi deinterlacing and component, S-Video, and composite video inputs. This is the only monitor from Gateway to feature HDCP support.
HP f2105 - $700
($650 after mail-in-rebate if purchased before 4/8/2006)
When you think of monitor manufacturers, HP is rarely at the top of your list. HP displays have always been good, but they rarely distinguished themselves from the pack. HP’s recent successes with the premium Pavilion line of DLP rear-projection TVs and their L2335 23” widescreen business-grade LCD have changed that perspective. I don’t think there’s a better 1080p wobulated DLP TV than the HP Pavilion line at the moment. It’s got superb fit and finish, and excellent image quality as well.
The new HP f2105 is proof that HP is committed to bringing high performance monitors to the market. As the only other HDCP-compliant monitor in its price range, the HP f2105 looks like a solid competitor to the Gateway. The specifications are identical to the Gateway FPD2185W: 900:1 or 1000:1 contrast ratio, 8 or 12 ms gray-to-gray pixel refresh (HP isn’t consistent), 300 cd/m2 brightness, and 178-degree viewing angle. However, unlike the Gateway FPD2185, the HP does not have the component or S-Video inputs or the ability to rotate into a portrait mode. That said, it is interesting to see that the HP draws more power than the Gateway (90W vs 75W). This is the only monitor from HP to feature HDCP support.
NEC MultiSync 20WMGX2 - $800
($750 after mail-in rebate if purchased before 2/25/2006)
To say that I have very high expectations for the MultiSync 20WMGX2 would be the understatement of the year. Like most of you, NEC wasn’t on my short list of multimedia monitors to look at. I’d look at the published specifications, and then read some reviews which define image quality in terms of “Good,” or “Very Good.” Then I’d look at the price NEC was asking, an ended up choosing a Dell or some other lower-priced monitor.
That said, NEC LCD displays have taken first prize in both monitor round-ups at FiringSquad due to their superior colors and excellent pixel refresh performance. The first time NEC won was a surprise, the second time less so, and now NEC has a lot to live up to. NEC monitors have always started off at a disadvantage given higher prices, yet performance has always been measurably better than the competition. For those looking for a true high-end monitor, the price premium has always been justified. In the end, I guess this shouldn’t have been a surprise given that NEC and Mitsubishi’s heritage with display technology dates back into the 80’s. They are one of the few manufacturers who have a commercially available LED-backlit display, and have a full lineup of medical-grade monitors.
The GX2 line from NEC is designed for professional gamers. The 20WMGX2 is a 20” monitor but preserves the same high resolution 1680x1050 resolution that the HP and Gateway offer. This brings pixel pitch down from .270mm to.258mm meaning that images will be sharper, although the screen is smaller. Again, we see NEC coming to the competition with a price disadvantage, but NEC’s specs look superb. It has a 1600:1 advertised contrast ratio, 6 ms gray-to-gray pixel refresh, 400 cd/m2 brightness, and a 3-year warranty rather than the 1-year warranty offered by the Gateway or HP. The 178-degree viewing angle is measured at a tougher contrast ratio of 10:1. Like the Gateway, the NEC even features component, S-Video, and composite video input. This is the only monitor from NEC to feature HDCP support.
Samsung SyncMaster 244T - $1400
Moving up in price (and size) is the Samsung 244T. The Samsung SyncMaster 244T is a 24” 1920x1200 S-PVA display. This monitor resolution allows you to enjoy the full resolution of 1080p. Although big monitors tend to require sacrifices in performance, Samsung is advertising a 1000:1 contrast ratio, 500 cd/m2 brightness, 178-degree viewing angles in both axes, and a 6 ms gray-to-gray pixel refresh. It’s as if you’re not giving anything up!
The Syncmaster 244T also features 2 USB 2.0 ports and the component, S-Video, and composite inputs. Video processing/deinterlacing is performed by a Samsung proprietary chip. This is one of Samsung’s five currently shipping monitors with HDCP support. The other models include the 214T, 930MP, 940MW, and 242MP. Although the Samsung website does not mention HDCP, this list of five monitors was provided to us by Samsung Electronics of America.
Viewsonic VP2330wb - $1400
The VP2330 uses a 23” 1920x1200 MVA panel. By offering the same 1920x1200 resolution as the Samsung, but in a 23” size, the pixel pitch is brought down to .258 mm. By using a MVA panel, the Viewsonic should offer superb competition to the Samsung 244T. Viewsonic advertises the VP2330wb at 800:1. Viewing angle is rated at 170 degrees, but this is misleading. Whereas every other manufacturer has rated the viewing angle at the point where the contrast ratio is 5:1, Viewsonic measures it at the tougher 10:1 standard. Pixel refresh is quoted as 8ms. Brightness is rated at 250 cd/m2. This is the only PC monitor from Viewsonic to feature HDCP support (although it is unadvertised).
All of the monitors in this test were provided by the manufacturers and arrived in retail boxes. Most of the monitors came in boxes that had been previously open, meaning that these were press samples.
The approach to LCD monitor evaluation that I’ve developed focuses on real-world and objective performance metrics rather than subjective comments. Since our last article, I have substantially improved the testing protocol, most notably the addition of improved pixel refresh tests. Even if you’ve read the previous two LCD round-ups, I recommend reading through this section carefully.
Image Fidelity / Color Accuracy
Up until now, the challenge has been in determining a useful real-world system for evaluating pixel refresh. That is, while it’s possible to use photo-diodes and measure the actual transition time in milliseconds, these measurements will not help anyone get a true sense of how those numbers translate into the real world. Fortunately, the consultants at PRAD in Germany (http://www.prad.de/en/index.html) have a Pixel Persistence Analyzer tool which they call PixPerAn. Although there are several different tests with their PixPerAn software, the most precision tool we’ve found (in terms of repeatability of results) is the scrolling text test. In this test, text is scrolled from right to left at increasing speeds. The tester must type the randomly generated string of letters that are scrolling by. The speed increases with each correct answer until the tester is unable to accurately read the text. You should download the Pixel Persistence Analyzer at http://www.prad.de/en/monitore/pixperan.html so that you can understand what text scrolling at a tempo of 8 looks like, as compared to text scrolling at a tempo of “23.”
I can easily reach a speed of 23 on a CRT refreshing at 100 Hz. At a tempo beyond 23, I have trouble reading the text even though it feels like the CRT is capable of keeping up. So far, all LCDs we’ve tested score worse than 23 points so we expect this test to be useful for some time. To prevent random luck from skewing results, the reported scores represent the fastest times achievable as a sequence of three tests. That is, because certain letter combinations are tougher to read when they’re adjacent to each other (such as mn and fl), it is possible to occasionally get letter sequences correctly at one speed but then fail when trying a different sequence of letters. To address this problem, scores only count if it was achieved in a sequence of three or more. So when I report a score of 17 on an LCD monitor, it means that I first correctly answered the letter sequence at a tempo of 15, then correctly answered the text at a tempo of 16 speeds, and then correctly answered at a tempo of 17. I spent an equal amount of time with each monitor, and there isn’t a difference between monitors that I tested earlier versus those that I tested later.
We test exclusively with the DVI connection. This is in contrast to the way most monitors are tested at major technology publications.
We’re still waiting on one final monitor to come in, but in the mean time, we strongly recommend that you grab a copy of PixPerAn. If you’re a CRT owner, you can use it to see just how fast a tempo of “23” really is. If you’re an LCD owner who thinks that LCD monitors no longer blur, try PixPerAn to see just how much blurring occurs at speeds substantially less than 23. Of course, it’s important to remember that blurring is not a problem in itself. As long as you can still achieve the high scores in the action games you enjoy, the blur actually helps improve the experience.
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