ViewSonic VP171b 8ms LCD monitor
More to it than a fast response time?
Review Right, let's make this clear from the start: the ViewSonic VP171b has been upgraded from a 16ms panel to a faster, 8ms one. This should be good news to folk who claim that they can notice differences in response time when gaming and watching movies. Myself, I'm sceptical - surely you should be concentrating on taking out the villains rather than measuring the miniscule motion trails left by your targets? asks Jalal Werfalli.
Right now there are still plenty of 16ms monitors available in stores, so be sure to verify with the vendor that you want in the 8ms version. If the seller isn't sure, there are a number of ways to determine this. I'd ask them to confirm the model number, which can be found on the box. If the last two characters are either '4W' or '5W' then it's the 8ms display. If they are '2W' or '3W', it's the 16ms display. For those who have already bought one, you can always check out the model number by navigating your way to the 'Information' menu in the on-screen display (OSD).
With that cleared up, let's take a closer look at this reasonably priced (£240) TFT monitor. The design of the chassis is always an important consideration when purchasing a new LCD, and I have to admit that ViewSonic's familiar double-toed base with a telescopic neck is among the best around. Not only does it confer good stability to the whole unit, it also employs a dampened, spring-assisted mechanism within the neck that allows it to be raised by up to 11cm with minimal effort.
Furthermore, the triple jointed interface between the panel casing and the top of the neck lets one swivel, tilt and pivot the screen through 90, 25, and 90 degrees, respectively. The latter mode is one of my favourite LCD features, ideal for when you want to display as much of a portrait-format document as you can. It would have been impressive if ViewSonic had built-in a sensory function that informs the pivot software that the screen has been rotated, but that would probably hike up the cost. That said, at least the company has ensured that the OSD rotates automatically, something some manufacturers neglect.
As for the bezel, at 15mm along the side, and 17mm along the top and bottom, this is one of the slimmest around. This really helps minimise the gaps in a multi-panel setup and consequently the perceived interruption to a picture stretched over more than one display.
Mounted vertically around the back are three video ports: two D-SUBs and one DVI-D, the latter supporting HDTV in both 480p and 720p flavours. To switch between the signals you can choose the connection within the OSD or use the button labelled '2' to select the one you want. Alongside the video ports is the power socket that feeds the internal PSU together with its own on/off rocker switch to completely cut off the power. In the box, you'll find a cable for each port type that, when connected, can be neatly routed around the back of the stand's neck through the series of cable loops.
The lower part of the VP171b's bezel sports ViewSonic's five familiar and unobtrusive buttons consisting of the power button, a main menu button labelled '1', up and down scroll buttons and another button labelled '2'. The reason behind the labelling is clearly displayed on most of the sub-menus - you press '1' to exit, '2' to select. This makes for an intuitive OSD that also carries settings for auto image adjustment and picture position (both for an analogue connection only), plus contrast, brightness, and colour temperature.
There are some omissions. When using an analogue signal through one of the D-SUB ports, I would have liked a button to function as a one-press auto-calibration button for correcting any pixel jitter and/or timing drift that could develop over the course of a working day. Instead you have to enter the OSD for that setting. Secondly, I'm not a big fan of peculiarly calibrated adjustment scales. For instance, I'd much prefer to see a percentage scale rather than 34 steps for the brightness and contrast levels and 51 steps for the user-definable RGB settings. Still, the level of control is better than in some displays and this was needed when setting up the display for testing.
Before doing so, the VP171b needed a little attention. A pinkish cast could be seen across much of the panel and especially from an elevated viewing angle. A ViewSonic representative said this was a result of the preset contrast values which are somewhat elevated when the displays leave the factory. Indeed, this pinkish cast was reduced by dropping the contrast level and ensuring that the colour temperature was set 6500K.
With VP171b now optimised and set to its native 1280 x 1024 resolution, I ran through DisplayMate Multimedia Edition with Motion 2.10's test script for LCD screens. I was highly impressed by the greyscale tests. There were no visible signs of banding across the 256-level scales, which showed a silky smooth gradation from black to white. In the white level saturation test I was able to distinguish level 253 against the white background, which for an LCD is also commendable and is largely attributable to the VP171b's 500:1 contrast ratio.
As for the colour tests, the ramps were smooth and linear with only a hint of compression at the dim ends of the scales. This just goes to show that it's possible to achieve good results with a 6-bit plus 2-bit Frame Rate Control to dither up to a full colour gamut. Colour purity was very clean and vibrant, although I should add that this particular model showed a 3cm-wide lighter vertical band in the dark screen test. It's difficult to say what had caused this but I'd say it was an anomaly in this specific unit as it was not apparent in another one I had a look at.
The only real difference when using an analogue signal and a digital one was of overall luminance and a cleaner picture, with the digital signal over DVI giving that extra bit of punch. In both cases I was impressed with the image quality results, but in order to get the optimum quality I'd recommend using the DVI interface, if your graphics card supports one.
Our test photos looked well-balanced and natural, and those notoriously difficult skin tones were rendered well. However, I would reiterate here that some colour, brightness and contrast tweaking was needed to get the balance right. In this respect the VP171b is rather like a motor engine - finely tune it and it will deliver the goods.
The 8ms response time was a feature that I couldn't help but try to assess, comparing the same set of moving test patterns on this machine and a 16ms job. I can't say there was a conclusive difference between the monitors, but it was interesting to note that I could pick out more smearing on test screens where a grey area was surrounded by black in comparison to a white area surrounded by black. This would indicate that the response time is slower when the pixels are twisting from a grey shade to black as opposed to white to black. In our real world tests, however, our test DVD's action sequences looked very smooth, and I couldn't really see any smearing during frenzied gameplay.
The LCD's viewing angles are relatively narrow and although the stated horizontal viewing angles cover an arc of 140 degrees before the contrast and brightness drop off, the up and down viewing angles are narrower. In fact, the vertical viewing angles are narrow enough that when you pivot the screen for a portrait mode the screen can be seen to darken a little on the right (or the top portion of the screen in the standard landscape orientation). In this portrait mode, it only takes a small shift of your head to the left before you notice the fall in illumination down the right.
The VP171b's image quality is very good, but you'll have to spend a little time getting it to that point. As for that fast response time, I'm sure it'll please a number of potential users, but as a display for general use whether it be at home or in the office, the added bonus of good connectivity, a lovely design and a decent price tag should see it gain a wider following.
|More info||The Viewsonic site|