Wide Screens Open for Business

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Adjustments Available (or Not)

Most of these larger displays offer standard screen adjustments like color temperature and RGB control. The Apple, however, offers no adjustments but brightness--the rest are built into Mac OS X. For people who don't like fussing with controls, this might be a plus. But for the PC user who prefers a color temperature different from the default or who wants to tweak the gamma control in a game with a dark environment, it's a deal-breaker.

We had expected 23-inch wide screens to be too ungainly to offer many physical adjustments, but only the hefty, 31.7-pound LG L2320A and the perhaps-too-simple Apple pony up nothing more than screen tilt. The HP L2335 and the 24-inch Samsung 243T pivot for portrait and landscape viewing. In addition the HP and the Samsung offer height adjustment; the former's is smooth, but the latter's is rather awkward, involving a button on back of the base.

With all the inputs and ports that most of these larger displays have, cable clutter can get ugly. The Apple's integrated power/DVI/USB/FireWire cord makes a neat cabling package, and LG achieves a similar (if less subtle) effect by placing all the A/V ports on its Media Station--a separate box measuring 8 by 5 by 7 inches (width by depth by height)--and running everything to the display through a single cable.

Work, Play, or Both?

The aspect ratio of wide-screen monitors lends itself to massive programs and to entertainment, and the vast open space of a larger wide screen certainly draws admiration. People who toil over immense spreadsheets or palette-filled image editors can justify the cost of such a monitor in terms of work efficiency. But if you don't need the improved text clarity, or if you spend your workday in narrower program windows, a wide-screen display may not be the best dedicated monitor for you.

It's the multifunction capability of these monitors that will carry broader appeal. "It depends on what your budget is and how you're going to use the product, says ISuppli's Alexander. "If you have a home office and occasional need for a TV there, a multifunction display fulfulls both functions, serving as a monitor and a TV. Rather than allocating money and space to two displays, a TV and a monitor, the user can opt for a combination product that better serves both needs." Perhaps these wide-screen LCDs are expansive enough to straddle the work/play divide.

Laura Blackwell

Ask Mother When to Buy a Monitor

It all starts with mother--or in an LCD monitor's case--with the mother glass, the thin sheets of glass that manufacturers cut into LCD panels. "Panel price is a big percentage of the total cost," says Sweta Dash, director of LCD and projection research at technology market analysis company ISuppli. "It can be from 60 to 70 percent of the cost" of a typical LCD monitor, Dash says.

That cost is heavily influenced by supply and demand. Last year's popularity of LCD panels in monitors, notebooks, and TVs made panel supplies tight, driving prices higher--and that price increase caused would-be buyers to hold off on purchasing LCD monitors and TVs, according to Dash. New sizes of mother glass, in use now, will soon mean more efficient yields for manufacturers, and new fabrication facilities will mean a greater stock of panels. "In the second half of 2004, we see lots of extra capacity and increase in supply," says Dash. LCD shoppers who opted to bide their time can reap the rewards, if only for a few months. "We believe [the panel price] will reach the bottom in November. But because the panel prices are going down so fast, panel suppliers are cutting production. By the end of the year, the panels may stabilize in price." October and November look like the sweet spot to Rhoda Alexander, ISuppli's director of monitor research. "I don't think it's out of the ballpark [for prices to drop] 15 to 20 percent, and it could be more than that."
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