Get them while they last: 5 LCD monitors tested

 LCD monitors AOC LM520i Hallmark Viewmaster IBM 6636-AB1 Philips 150B5CS ViewSonic VE510 Specifications How we tested Final words Sample Scenario Editor's choice About RMITIf you're looking to replace monitors or roll out new PCs, it's hard to go past one of these 15-inch LCD monitors. But is the 15-inch form factor in danger of becoming extinct?



Get them while they last: 5 LCD monitors tested
  LCD monitors
 
AOC LM520i
 
Hallmark Viewmaster
 
IBM 6636-AB1
 
Philips 150B5CS
 
ViewSonic VE510

 Specifications
 How we tested
 Final words
 Sample Scenario
 Editor's choice
 About RMIT
If you're looking to replace monitors or roll out new PCs, it's hard to go past one of these 15-inch LCD monitors. But is the 15-inch form factor in danger of becoming extinct?

It has been 10 months since we last looked at LCD monitors in the August and September 2003 editions of Technology & Business. Those two reviews were general looks into the growing popularity and affordability of LCD monitors, from 17-inch units up to 21-inchmodels. This current review is focusing on the mainstream desktop 15-inch models currently on the market.

When we say "mainstream", however, this is starting to look like one of those instances where the manufacturers are looking out for their profit margins rather than listening to customer needs. Already some major vendors are abandoning their 15-inch models and selling only 17-inch or larger. While we are usually inundated with LCD monitors whenever we review them, this time around when we asked for 15-inch monitors, we only received five. Sure, we can't think of many people who would say no to a 17-inch LCD monitor on their desk -- unless they're really short on space -- but the accounts department may have other ideas. So treasure this review, it may be the last time you see 15-inch LCDs in these pages.

LCDs now carry many advantages over CRT displays, the most obvious of which are space saving and power saving, not to mention the elimination of the radiation factor. Some people are still reluctant to take up LCDs because of the slower refresh rate, however many vendors now have faster LCDs. For the average office worker who uses their monitor for e-mail, wordprocessing, spreadsheets, and database applications, it probably makes little difference. Also, with corporate offices now much more in the public eye, style surely must be another incentive for some offices to make the move away from CRT. For more information about the pros and cons of LCDs vs CRTs, take a look at our Monitor Buying Guide.

Something to keep in mind here when narrowing down the field if you are looking at upgrading from a CRT monitor to an LCD -- particularly in the larger sizes, 18-inch or bigger -- it's worth checking your existing video graphics card has a DVI port on it. And this applies vice versa; if the LCD panel doesn't have a DVI input then you are limited too.

The difference in image reproduction on some monitors between the standard analogue 15-pin D-Sub (VGA) port and the digital DVI ports is amazing, somewhere around 10-15 percent better visible image sharpness and overall image quality.

You can purchase small adaptors that convert from DVI to 15-pin D-Sub and though not providing the same benefits as a direct port connection, they may improve the image slightly over the standard straight 15-pin connection. This is something you will need to test yourself, as it would depend on your system and monitor choice.

Generally, the smaller and cheaper LCD monitors do not support DVI input. With the smaller size comes lower resolutions of between 800 x 600 or 1024 x 768 and the image quality is generally quite acceptable even through the traditional analog 15-pin D-SUB VGA connection.

AOC LM520i

AOC LM520i
The AOC unit is quite a stylish matt silver over matt black. The unit itself is very attractive to look at, however it has a kind of cheap plasticky look and feel to it, this may be in part to do with the matt colour scheme.

The rear of the monitor has two different sets of wall mounting threads available for use, and the base is readily removed. There are only two ports on this monitor, one VGA port and one standard IEC power socket. It is interesting to note that all the units submitted for this review have their power supplies built into the monitors, whereas the last LCD review we performed several of the manufacturers opted to use external "brick" power adaptors. The base itself is relatively sturdy, however with the screen pivoted all the way forwards it can be a bit prone to tipping over. The base also has no swivel functionality, just pivot forward and aft. The rear of the unit also has a Kensington security lock port.

Once powered on, there was a handy "auto" setup button which made the initial calibration/setup for us. We found that only very small tweaking was required when running through the Display Mate setup routine.

The blacks were very black on the AOC panel, however they tended towards blending with the greys too much, not giving much contrast differences. The video playback was acceptable, however fast moving/flashing scenes tended to tear a little; the pixellation also of these sequences was also quite pronounced.

While it's not a well known brand, we feel this monitor offers good value for money, in a no-frills solution.

  LCD monitors
 
AOC LM520i
 
Hallmark Viewmaster
 
IBM 6636-AB1
 
Philips 150B5CS
 
ViewSonic VE510

 Specifications
 How we tested
 Final words
 Sample Scenario
 Editor's choice
 About RMIT
Product AOC LM520i
Price AU$499
Vendor AOC Monitor
Phone 02 9403 5780
Web www.anz.aocmonitor.com
 
Interoperability

No DVI port, stylish design, but let down by cheap plasticky look.
Futureproofing
Only has a VGA port and no speakers.
ROI
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Very well priced at almost AU$80 cheaper than it nearest competitor, which is a good price for its performance.
Service
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Three-year warranty is excellent and also appears to be the standard for these monitors.
Rating
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Hallmark Viewmaster ES555

Hallmark Viewmaster ES555
The Viewmaster unit is a stylish matt silver over gunmetal grey. The rear of the monitor has a set of wall mounting points. The base is easily removed by taking out two screws. There are two ports/sockets on this monitor, the first is a standard IEC power socket and the second is an audio jack for audio input. The video input is via an integrated VGA cable that is just over 1.5 metres in length. Note that this cable is not removable, so should the cable or plug ever become damaged or need replacement, the entire unit would need to be returned to a service centre. (This is also the case with the ViewSonic VE510b monitor.)

The base of the Viewmaster unit is quite sturdy, while not offering any swivel capabilities the pivot forward and aft would be more than sufficient for most applications. The rear of the unit has a Kensington security lock port too.

When we first plugged this monitor in it automatically went through a setup procedure, which resulted in the image on the display looking very dull, blurred, and out of focus. We immediately suspected that something was wrong, however a short flip through the menu showed that the phase was way out and once set more conservatively we found the screen image to be quite sharp. We then ran the auto setup again which can be accessed from the menu and found that the brightness also improved dramatically.

Image quality was reasonably good in our performance tests. During video playback, there was some slight tearing and pixellation however nothing to be really concerned about. The depth of field also was not as good as some of the other monitors.

This is a very nice professional looking display with inbuilt speakers, but no headphone port. There is no DVI input or swivel on the base, also the integrated video cable may become a headache to replace. Overall this is a decent monitor at a reasonable price.

  LCD monitors
 
AOC LM520i
 
Hallmark Viewmaster
 
IBM 6636-AB1
 
Philips 150B5CS
 
ViewSonic VE510

 Specifications
 How we tested
 Final words
 Sample Scenario
 Editor's choice
 About RMIT
Product Hallmark Viewmaster
Price AU$579
Vendor Hallmark
Phone 02 9540 8555
Web www.hallmark.com.au
 
Interoperability

&frac12

No DVI port, good looks.
Futureproofing
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Speakers are a worthy inclusion.
ROI
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Excellent price considering speakers are included.
Service
&frac12
Three-year warranty is excellent and also appears to be the standard for these monitors.
Rating

IBM ThinkVision 6636-AB1

IBM ThinkVision 6636-AB1
The IBM monitor is very attractive and certainly would blend well with most offices these days. The rear of the unit is covered by two very well designed removable plastic covers, these not only hide the ugly parts of the rear of the monitor but they also act as cable guides. The base can be easily removed.

There are two ports on this monitor, one D-SUB 15-pin VGA port (DB15F) and a standard IEC power socket. The stand is very strong and heavy, it would be extremely difficult to tip this monitor over. The stand offers a good deal of fore and aft movement however there is no swivel capability. There is also a Kensington security lock port at the back of the unit.

The IBM monitor, like the AOC, has a button for automatic setup of the display. The image quality in our tests showed up rather average. In video playback, the skin tones seemed a little washed out, while the blacks and contrast in dark/greys was very good. Despite all our tweaking, we could not get the monitor to display more than average skin tones. Fast motion also created tearing however there was very little pixellation during those scenes.

The IBM panel is overall a very nice LCD panel and performs quite well. Remember, though, there is no DVI input, no swivel functionality to the base, and no speakers/multimedia. For the brand name, it is competitively priced.

  LCD monitors
 
AOC LM520i
 
Hallmark Viewmaster
 
IBM 6636-AB1
 
Philips 150B5CS
 
ViewSonic VE510

 Specifications
 How we tested
 Final words
 Sample Scenario
 Editor's choice
 About RMIT
Product IBM 6636-AB1
Price AU$599
Vendor IBM
Phone 1300 650 476
Web www.ibm.com/au/pc
 
Interoperability

&frac12

No DVI port, good looks.
Futureproofing
Speakers are soon to be a fairly pricey AU$79 option.
ROI
Good price for brand name, particularly if the office runs IBM machines.
Service
&frac12
Three-year warranty is excellent and also appears to be the standard for these monitors.
Rating
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Philips 150B

Philips 150B
The Philips 150B is an extremely attractive monitor, silver with gunmetal grey highlights. The base can extend to give an extra 60mm in height, so bonus points go to smart ergonomics in the design.

The rear of the unit is has a removable plastic cover built into the adjustable base which acts as a cable guide. The base is also easily removed to allow wall mounting. There are five ports/sockets on the rear of this monitor, one D-SUB 15-pin VGA port, one DVD-D digital video port, a standard IEC power socket and two audio jacks, one for headphones and one for audio in. There is also a Kensington security lock port at the back of the unit.

The base offers an amazing deal of fore and aft movement, but it understandably becomes unsteady at extreme angles. The base also features a swivel ability.

We tested the 150B using analog video input so we could perform a equal comparison between this monitor (which also has DVI input) and the other monitors in this review (which only have the analog 15-pin input). The initial configuration is via an automatic setup which is launched by pressing the "auto" button.

Once the auto setup had completed, the image was bright and sharp. The whites were very crisp and the black text stood out clearly. Contrast was particularly good. Video playback tests were very good with excellent depth of field and very little tearing or pixellation even in the faster scenes.

The Philips 150B was the only monitor with DVI in this review, and considering its very good performance via the standard analogue port, the use of DVI could only provide better results. It was also the only monitor here with a height-adjustable base and a base that allows swivelling, which considering the relatively light weight of these monitors is a slight bit of overkill.

The 150B was also one of only two monitors in this review with in-built speakers. Overall the 150B is very well designed, finished and particularly attractive. This monitor is also perfect for use in a multiple-display arrangement due to its very small side bezels (17mm). A very hard monitor to go past and is certainly worth shortlisting for evaluation.

  LCD monitors
 
AOC LM520i
 
Hallmark Viewmaster
 
IBM 6636-AB1
 
Philips 150B5CS
 
ViewSonic VE510

 Specifications
 How we tested
 Final words
 Sample Scenario
 Editor's choice
 About RMIT
Product Philips 150B5CS
Price AU$749
Vendor Philips
Phone 1300 651 993
Web www.philips.com.au
 
Interoperability

&frac12

DVI port and height adjustable base are excellent inclusions on a monitor like this. Excellent style and design to boot.
Futureproofing
&frac12
Speakers, DVI port, headphone jack, need we say more?
ROI
A bit on the pricey side, however with the performance and features is not too bad.
Service
&frac12
Three-year warranty is excellent and also appears to be the standard for these monitors.
Rating
&frac12

ViewSonic VE510

ViewSonic VE510
The Viewsonic monitor is black with chrome highlights. The bezel is 17mm wide all around the monitor, which is great for users looking to deploy these units side-by-side with dual display adaptors.

ViewSonic has been able to keep such a small bezel because the five control buttons are all embedded into the base of the unit which is integral to the monitor and cannot be removed. It can however be flipped up behind the monitor to allow wall mounting. The rear of the unit has the four standard wall mounting threads covered by removable rubber plugs. There is only one port on this monitor, it is a standard IEC power socket. The video signal comes in from a two-metre video cable and 15-pin plug. The unit's base is surprisingly sturdy, it would be very hard to tip this monitor over.

The stand offers a good deal of fore and aft movement, but there is no swivel capability nor is the base removable. There is also a Kensington security lock port at the back of the unit.

When the ViewSonic VE510 was first connected to the host PC it went through an automatic setup which resulted in a very impressive configuration needing little tweaking to improve it.

The video playback was very impressive with excellent depth of field and contrast ratio. The blacks were very black while not affecting the overall image. There was virtually little if any tearing however we did notice some pixellation in the fast scenes.

Overall the ViewSonic is quite an attractive monitor and performs quite well, but again it has no DVI input, no swivel base, and no speakers.

The integrated cable could also be a headache for some, however the slim bezel makes this monitor ideal for users of systems with multiple displays. The base is also not removable however it does fold up to allow for wall mounting.

  LCD monitors
 
AOC LM520i
 
Hallmark Viewmaster
 
IBM 6636-AB1
 
Philips 150B5CS
 
ViewSonic VE510

 Specifications
 How we tested
 Final words
 Sample Scenario
 Editor's choice
 About RMIT
Product ViewSonic VE510
Price AU$605
Vendor ViewSonic
Phone 02 9906 6277
Web www.viewsonic.com.au
 
Interoperability

No DVI port, but nice design.
Futureproofing
Only has a VGA port and no speakers.
ROI
Very well priced for performance.
Service
&frac12
Three-year warranty is excellent and also appears to be the standard for these monitors.
Rating

Specifications

Monitor AOC LM520i Hallmark Viewmaster
Vendor AOC Monitor Hallmark Computer International
Price (RRP inc GST) AU$499 AU$579
Phone 02 9403 5780 03 9540 8555
Web www.anz.aocmonitor.com www.hallmark.com.au
Warranty 3 years 3 years
Pixel policy 0 bright dots 0, N/A
Screen Size 15-inch 15-inch
Connectors 15pin D-sub (VGA) 15pin D-sub (VGA), audio in
Response time (ms) 30 35
Horizontal frequency (Khz) 30~60 24~60
Vertical frequency (Hz) 55~75 56~75
Contrast ratio 350:1 400:1
Brightness (cd/m2) 250 200
Colour depth 16.7M N/A
Viewing angle (horizontal/vertical) 120/100 +-65/+45, -55
Weight (kg) 4.4 4.5
Kensington lock compatible Y Y
Wall mount option Y N
Speakers None Built in

Monitor IBM 6636-AB1 Philips 150B5CS ViewSonic VE510
Vendor IBM Philips ViewSonic
Price (RRP inc GST) AU$599 AU$749 AU$605
Phone 1300 650 476 1300 651 993 02 9906 6277
Web www.ibm.com/au/pc www.philips.com.au www.viewsonic.com.au
Warranty 3 years 3 years 3 years
Pixel policy 0 bright dots
Screen Size 15-inch 15-inch 15-inch
Connectors 15pin D-sub (VGA) 15pin D-sub (VGA), DVI-D, audio in, headphones out 15pin D-sub (VGA)
Response time (ms) 35 16 25
Horizontal frequency (Khz) 30 30~61 30~62
Vertical frequency (Hz) 75 56~76 50~75
Contrast ratio 400:1 400:1 400:1
Brightness (cd/m2) 250 250 250
Colour depth 16.7M 16.7M 16.7M
Viewing angle (horizontal/vertical) 115/150 150/110 150/25
Weight (kg) 4.8 4.2 3
Kensington lock compatible Y Y Y
Wall mount option Y, AU$255 Y Y
Speakers Optional, AU$79 Built in None

How we tested

  LCD monitors
 
AOC LM520i
 
Hallmark Viewmaster
 
IBM 6636-AB1
 
Philips 150B5CS
 
ViewSonic VE510

 Specifications
 How we tested
 Final words
 Sample Scenario
 Editor's choice
 About RMIT
Interoperability
Does the monitor have a good variety of connectors, such as DVI and audio, or just the standard VGA port?

Futureproofing
In addition to ports and connectors, does it have useful features such as speakers and an adjustable stand?

ROI
Do the features, usability, and performance justify the price?

Service
What warranties and service contracts are available? Can you get prompt service at a reasonable price?

We used DisplayMate for windows video edition to adjust each model according to the application's instructions and patterns. Once setup was completed we looked at subjective image samples, movie clips, and patterns to get a feel for the image quality and clarity. Our test rig stayed the same for all units comprising of a 2.6GHz Intel Pentium 4 system with 512MB RAM, 80GB HDD unit, and a 128MB Radeon video card with both digital and analogue outputs. In all the tests we used the 15pin D-SUB VGA connection to the monitor; the only monitor with both analogue and digital inputs in this review was the Philips 150B.

  LCD monitors
 
AOC LM520i
 
Hallmark Viewmaster
 
IBM 6636-AB1
 
Philips 150B5CS
 
ViewSonic VE510

 Specifications
 How we tested
 Final words
 Sample Scenario
 Editor's choice
 About RMIT
Final words

Well it seems they can only keep falling in price -- all the units in this review are easily within the reach of the average desktop user, and with the space saving as well as the power saving there are many benefits in replacing CRTs with LCDs on your next desktop rollout.

Look out for...

  • Image quality is going to make a big difference to your everyday use of the monitor. Look for sharpness of text, refresh rate, and contrast ratio.
  • Scrutinise the vendor's dead/bright pixel policy to ensure that if the worse case happens you will have support from the manufacturer.
  • Features such as in-built speakers, the ability to rotate the screen from portrait to landscape, extra inputs such as DVI, S-Video, composite RCA etc, or widescreen format. Some of these features are hard to find on the more entry-level monitors as tested in this review, however it is something to keep in mind.
  • Aesthetics in the office are becoming a important fact of life especially in professional environments, so the monitor's style is another issue to take into account.
  LCD monitors
 
AOC LM520i
 
Hallmark Viewmaster
 
IBM 6636-AB1
 
Philips 150B5CS
 
ViewSonic VE510

 Specifications
 How we tested
 Final words
 Sample Scenario
 Editor's choice
 About RMIT
Sample Scenario

Company: P&P Oils
This company is updating its PCs and wants to shop around for the best deal on LCD monitors.

Approximate budget: AU$600 per monitor.

Requires: 120 15-inch LCD monitors.

Concerns: The company wants to save space and energy over its current CRT monitors, and wants reasonable picture quality and adjustability.

Best solution: This company's best choice would be the ViewSonic Ve510. Its picture quality and its good aesthetics ensure that this monitor would suit this scenario perfectly, and it comes in under budget.

  LCD monitors
 
AOC LM520i
 
Hallmark Viewmaster
 
IBM 6636-AB1
 
Philips 150B5CS
 
ViewSonic VE510

 Specifications
 How we tested
 Final words
 Sample Scenario
 Editor's choice
 About RMIT
T&B Editor's choice
Editor's Choice: Philips 150B

This month's pick is the Philips 150B 15-inch LCD Monitor. It not only has the most features of the monitors in this review, it also performs very well, has excellent design features such as the height adjustable base, and is well constructed but still stylishly attractive. The only downside is unfortunately the price as it is a little on the high side.

About RMIT IT Test Labs

  LCD monitors
 
AOC LM520i
 
Hallmark Viewmaster
 
IBM 6636-AB1
 
Philips 150B5CS
 
ViewSonic VE510

 Specifications
 How we tested
 Final words
 Sample Scenario
 Editor's choice
 About RMIT
RMIT IT Test Labs
RMIT IT Test Labs is an independent testing institution based in Melbourne, Victoria, performing IT product testing for clients such as IBM, Coles-Myer, and a wide variety of government bodies. In the Labs' testing for T&B, they are in direct contact with the clients supplying products and the magazine is responsible for the full cost of the testing. The findings are the Labs' own -- only the specifications of the products to be tested are provided by the magazine. For more information on RMIT, please contact the Lab Manager, Steven Turvey.

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