Big Monitors, Shrinking Prices

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Dashing duo: Dell's UltraSharp 2405FPW (left) carries a category-busting price; ViewSonic's VP231wb offers excellent image quality.
Dashing duo: Dell's UltraSharp 2405FPW (left) carries a category-busting price; ViewSonic's VP231wb offers excellent image quality.

Whether you're poring over spreadsheets or viewing DVDs, everything looks better on a gigantic wide-screen flat panel. Unfortunately, prices on 23- and 24-inch stunners have traditionally been as jaw-dropping as their output (our November 2004 Editor's Pick cost a whopping $2240, and even the bargain-basement 23-incher cost $1599). Now Dell is shaking things up with its UltraSharp 2405FPW, a 24-inch beauty that sells for an industry-quaking $1199.

We examined the Dell along with ViewSonic's dazzling new 23-inch $1749 VP231wb, comparing each model with our previous favorite, the 24-inch Samsung SyncMaster 243T (now priced at $1699). Neither newcomer quite measured up to the Samsung's overall still-image quality, but each surpassed it in other respects.

Big and Beautiful

With its thin black bezel and silvery half-moon stand, the 2405FPW looks every inch a Dell. The inches of most intense interest, of course, are the ones defined by the 24-inch display, with its 1920 by 1200 native resolution.

On test screens, our shipping 2405FPW showed sharp text and crisp, colorful images. The unit performed particularly well on our Web page test screen, producing easily legible text and subtle distinctions in shading. However, the brightness, which the vendor specified at 500 nits (units of luminance), seemed excessive at default settings, causing our test screen of several different brilliantly colored fruits to look a bit washed out.

The thin-bezeled ViewSonic VP231wb looks just a tad more businesslike; this model's understated, monochromatic, two-footed design is the display equivalent of a pinstripe suit. At its native resolution of 1920 by 1200, this 23-inch LCD monitor shows remarkable color and sharpness.

The shipping VP231wb we tested outperformed the Dell by a slim margin on our two real-world text screens: a Microsoft Word document and an Excel spreadsheet. On our photo test screens of a group portrait and fruit, the ViewSonic outdid even the reigning Samsung, showing vivid colors and natural-looking flesh tones with equal aplomb.

One clear business advantage to the ViewSonic is that the screen pivots on its axis. Accompanying the VP231wb is Perfect Pivot, ViewSonic's branded version of Portrait Displays' $40 Pivot Pro software, which rotates the image accordingly. Vertical viewing gives a better picture of full document pages, Web sites, and some specialized business applications. Pivoting the screen also makes reaching the four USB 2.0 ports located on the unit's back easier.

Dell came up with the better idea for USB port placement, however, setting two of its monitor's four USB 2.0 ports on the left side of the bezel. The 2405FPW's nine-in-one media card reader, situated next to the bezel-mounted ports, could be a major boon for a digital photographer.

The 2405FPW's numerous inputs should especially endear it to the entertainment-minded buyer. The monitor accepts analog and digital output from a PC in addition to composite, component, and S-Video from devices such as DVD players and camcorders. Each input is clearly labeled and numbered on the back; when you select an input, the corresponding number located on the front bezel lights up.

Silver-Screen Disappointment

Screens this size practically demand a movie viewing, so we watched a scene from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King on all three displays. Unfortunately, none thrilled us. The Dell in particular showed slightly fuzzy images and somewhat dull colors when we played the DVD through our test computer's digital output.

When we connected a high-quality DVD player that uses component inputs, the colors improved but the image still lacked crispness. However, detail was impressive in dark areas, particularly the highlights on a black velvet cloak.

The ViewSonic has just analog and digital PC inputs--no entertainment inputs--so we tested it only with the digital output from the PC. Images appeared sharper and colors looked richer, but the subtle texture of the velvet didn't come through. As in our previous tests last November, the SyncMaster 243T fared poorly at video playback. With its 25-millisecond response time (the Dell and Viewsonic offer a 12ms spec), the Samsung simply isn't made for motion. In short, if you seek a cinematic experience, don't toss out your TV just yet.

If you're an amateur digital photographer, the easy-access media card slot and USB ports of the Dell 2405FPW make it a great pick. If you're a graphics professional, the ViewSonic VP231wb will better suit your needs. If you're a spreadsheet wrangler, either will do, though the Dell's price is easier to swing. Or try a less costly, but less elegant, option: two smaller LCDs, from either vendor, placed side by side.

Dell UltraSharp 2405FPW

Displays text well, offers many extras, and sells for a song; but video playback falls a bit short.
Price when reviewed: $1199
Current prices (if available)

ViewSonic VP231wb

Razor-sharp images in rich colors, plus a pivoting screen, make it a graphics pro's dream.
Price when reviewed: $1749
Current prices (if available)
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