How LCD makers lie to you about viewing angles

How LCD makers lie to you about viewing angles

Summary: I was in a large computer store looking at computer LCD monitors and a lady was asking about which one was the better one to buy.  A man (presumably her family) told her that the ones which indicated TFT (Thin Film Transistor) were the ones to buy.

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TOPICS: Hardware
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I was in a large computer store looking at computer LCD monitors and a lady was asking about which one was the better one to buy.  A man (presumably her family) told her that the ones which indicated TFT (Thin Film Transistor) were the ones to buy.  I then interjected that everything was TFT and it's been that way since the extinction of those ugly STN passive matrix LCDs 8 years ago they use to sell with the cheaper laptops.  Of course this invariably invited more questions as to which LCD was the better buy and better quality so I spent a few minutes showing them some of the shortcomings to many of these displays.

The first thing I noted was the poor viewing angle of every LCD on the display with the exception of a single model.  To see this in effect, simply lower your head a few inches in front of the monitor and you will see the brightness of the entire display dim dramatically.  Looking at the display from the bottom makes the image almost darken to the point of being black with some weird hues showing.  Many of these displays don't even look right when viewed at a slightly down angle since the color will change drastically.  Case in point, look at the photos below of a typical LCD monitor which uses the most common TN (twisted nematic) technology.

Photo credit: Vincent Alzieu of BeHardware.com (quality review)

What's extremely frustrating is that the manufacturer claims that this display has a vertical viewing angle of 160 degrees.  Yet the image above came from a photograph shot at 50 degrees above and below which indicates a 100 degrees spread.  If we wanted to be extremely generous, we could say that the top-down view pictured bottom left is barely acceptable (it isn't as far as I'm concerned), but the bottom-up view is flat out atrocious and there is no way in hell you can tell me that's an acceptable image at this viewing angle.

In reality, the usable viewing angle of this display vertically is about positive 35 degrees to negative 10 degrees at best and that's being generous.  But looking at the vendor specifications, there is no way that you as the consumer would know this when you're making the purchase.  Now I don't have a problem with the actual specs at the price they're selling it at, but I do have a big problem with the deceptive advertising.

Only one of the LCD monitors out of about 30 models being shown on the show floor was viewable from all angles and it was most likely using PVA (Patterned Vertical Alignment) technology but it was about 30% more expensive than other displays of comparable size.  It looked like something like the image below which is actually quite viewable at any angle.  Furthermore, these displays typically offer true 8 bit per color or even 10 bits per color whereas the TN type displays are limited to 6 bits per color.

Photo credit: Vincent Alzieu of BeHardware.com (quality review)

So the old adage that you get what you pay for holds true when it comes to LCD monitors, but manufacturers need to be honest with their customers.  I purposely avoided singling out any single manufacturer because they all do the same thing, but this kind of deceptive advertising needs to stop.

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Topic: Hardware

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125 comments
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  • That's why...

    you really need to go to the store a look at them in action.
    CowLauncher
    • What if you don't live by a store?

      What if you don't live by a store? Do you think the manufacturer should list "160 degrees" as the vertical viewing angle?
      georgeou
      • Then you don't have that advantage

        This comes with the territory. The next best thing would be to google the terms. If you don't know how to do that or are incapable of figuring that out, ask some one besides a salesman.

        A salesman's job is ultimately to get rid of merchandise. Whether he sells you junk or not does not always bother him.

        http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=LCD+Monitor+reviews+&btnG=Search

        Granted, the audience may not always consider this information. When dealing with consumers that want to know what computer to buy, I have started to steer them into searching on their own. I love knowing all the information, but I am finding that looking everything up for people is becoming too time consuming. So to teach them to look things up for themselves is usually a better suggestion.
        nucrash
        • Buy you know darn well that 99% of the public can't or won't

          Buy you know darn well that 99% of the public can't or won't. They just buy based on what the marketing material says. So what I'm saying is that vendors have to be honest and we need a standardized benchmark to give out these metrics.
          georgeou
          • I do agree on standards

            I won't argue about being held to a standard and having truth in advertising, however, people still need to take some responsibility for their purchases.

            I do want a world where I can go to a store, look at a monitor's specifications and know whether or not the monitor is better than another monitor.

            For that matter, I want to be able to go to the store and look at an HP Turion system and see how it compares to the HP Celeron system. For that matter, I think there needs to be a standardized benchmark applied to computers where I can tell a manager, "This computer is faster than That Computer."

            Benchmarks are great, but they are only good for the "Top of the line systems" and rarely seem to be used for a run of the mill laptop. I could have a Core 2 Duo 2.8 GHz system with 4 GB of RAM and a 40 GB 4000 RPM disk. If I look up the performance specs on the processor, I will think that laptop is the end all be all. But I would be cursed at the second I get the system for how slow it is.

            Why stop at LCDs? Let's get an entire set of standards for all things computer related. If you sell a System, place a SPEC benchmark on it. No more of this, "Is HP better than Dell, IBM, or Apple?"
            nucrash
          • Oh so true. But one question for you...

            What WAS the brand/model of the monitor that looked so good? C'mon... clue us in.... please.
            shawkins
          • The link is an excellent review

            The link I posted below the photo is an excellent review, I would highly recommend reading it for all the details.
            georgeou
          • Marketing materials are irrelevent...

            Consumers fall asleep the moment they set eyes on any marketing brochures and stated specifications, since it's all gibberish to them.

            The only thing they look at is price and size. The bigger and cheaper, the better.

            Viewing angles? If you just plan to look straight at it on a desk, those are irrelevent.

            Us geeks care. Everybody else does not.
            sframberger@...
          • Viewing angles are most definitely not irrelevant

            Viewing angles are most definitely not irrelevant. Your eye to the top of the display and to the bottom of the display forms a line of sight of about 20-30 degrees. There is a noticeable change in color and brightness from top to bottom. In fact on some webpages where there are subtle color differences, I actually have to drop my head a few inches or raise a few inches to see some of the details.

            The color isn't the same and the crappy monitors have fake artificial color and not natural/vibrant color. Maybe you don't care about that but please don't say it is irrelevant.
            georgeou
          • Lots of People Care

            As an artist I care if the values and hues are off. I've had a bad monitor before and was quite shocked to finally see some of my work on a better one. I don't do that for a living but if I did I would likely have some upset customers if they'd received the work I did on the bad monitor.

            As a desktop publisher, I care if the colors are off. I want something onscreen that's comparable to what the customer is going to get on paper. Often specific company colors are needed and they'd best be right. You don't always get the RGB values along with the job.

            Anyone editing videos for home or business would want to know that what they see on the computer is going to look like what they put on a DVD and view on a display elsewhere.

            People do a lot more with their computers than just email and casual surfing. Lots of us work with visuals.
            pj_mouse
          • not just the graphic designers & professionals

            I agree with Pj mouse, this is important to many people. I just have to add the rest of us pot heads, gamers, anime freaks, online social networks, virtual lives etc, etc.

            People watch movies on their laptops and many times they watch movies with a significant other and sometimes a whole cypher of burnouts. Angle is very important if more than one person is trying to enjoy a movie.

            Gamers bring their laptops to gaming networks or hook it up to a friend's network, etc. And to them the angle is very important, also for the other friends and family who just want to watch and not play. They invest top dollar for a video card and processors - of course they care about manufacturers lying about the capabilities of the monitor.

            Then you got the digital comic book community. A comic book on wide screen trubrite laptop monitor is one of the most beautiful things to witness in this ever expanding cosmic Universe.

            And what of the kids making social network personal pages. They go nuts adding all of these corny graphics. There already are free services that give you flash templates for those social network sites. They work with visuals too ... perhaps even more so. Parents should put them in a martial art school or something.

            I have also noticed a new trend in socializing between friends and family. How often have you heard this?:

            ... "Did you see this video on 'whatevertube'?"

            And then you answer ...

            "No, I also have to show a few online videos myself, but after you show me this". The quality and specs of the monitor is important to everyone.

            So yes this was a great article and even though my monitor is really nice, I still feel the outrage for every one getting cold hustled this way. I think the author and this community should call out some companies even if we don't get them all. Writing an article like this is leaning towards consumer advocacy, and I think the author should take a harder stance. You won't be alone. There will always be hundreds of people posting their support.
            SolTzu
          • CRTs are still best for color-accurate work.

            Color-accurate and calibratable LCDs do exist, but are considerably more expensive. Also, CRTs have the advantage of not having a native resolution to lock you into. You can switch screen resolutions without having text get all blurry and/or jaggy (the scaling algorithms have improved recently, but text and line art is still not as clean at non-native resolutions than at native resolutions, and while ClearType™ [Microsoft®] and CoolType™ [Adobe® Acrobat™] algorithms do increase clarity at the native resolution, they make things worse when the resolution is scaled at all).

            In all other respects, LCDs are better. They’re always geometrically perfect, without having to resort to pincushion, trapezoid, etc. controls (and even with those I have yet to see a CRT capable of displaying a straight-edged, linear-sized rectangle all around the borders of the screen). They are capable of using ClearType/CoolType. They use less power (critical in these days of impending Hubbert’s Peak [look it up but only if you can tolerate learning something that is [i]extremely[/i] depressing]). They generate less heat, which means that (except in winter) your office air conditioning also uses less power.
            Joel R
      • Read the return policy

        <|:{O>
        sykandtyed
      • Give me break.

        What if you don't live by a store? This isn't Uganda.
        frgough
        • Do you always have to be such a jerk?

          I live 50 minutes from the nearest tech store. And I'm close by. Many people in my area live hours away from one. I can go to Walmart, but everyone knows that if you are serious about getting decent equipment, you have to go to the right store. What if you use Apple products? I live 4 hours from the nearest Apple store.

          Just because we live in a country that has stores doesn't mean that 90% of the population living rural areas has access to all different kinds of them. Your inability to recognize that not everyone is like you doesn't change facts.

          Since you never have anything good to say, why do you even bother to read this blog? You are so close-minded and ego-centric that I am starting to understand that you honestly believe that if it's okay for you then it must be okay for everyone else, and if you don't like it, neither should anyone else.

          They have cults for people like you, you know.
          laura.b
          • I'll bet you don't live 50 minutes

            from a wal-mart.

            LCD panels are in more places than just tech stores.
            frgough
    • Seeing sets in the store may not help

      I read in another forum that stores sometimes (?) tweak the higher-priced
      sets for the best display, while leaving cheaper sets at the default settings. It
      would be a pain to figure out how to change each set to default, and make
      the change, so as to compare sets equally--but it could avoid
      disappointment. Another problem seems to be that at least some
      manufacturers optimize displays for the fluorescent lighting in stores--and it
      might look too red, etc., in your home with incandescent lighting. Buyer
      beware!
      frabjous
      • Sometimes the deception is far more deliberate.

        I remember reading in one of these TalkBack threads about a customer who went to a major national chain store specializing in technology, who read the specs on a computer for sale. It said that the graphics card was a DirectX9-capable NVidia GeForce or ATI Radeon X or some such. He ran ?DXdiag? on it, which reports the actual DirectX hardware. It was a low-end Intel motherboard integrated graphics chip, incapable of decent frame rates on even low-end 3D games these days.

        He was ejected from the store and forbidden to return for doing that. That sort of thing is actual criminal fraud on the part of the store. I hope he sued their @$$e$.
        Joel R
  • While I agree that viewing angle is ...

    ... a major issue for LCD TVs I don't believe it is as much an issue for comuter monitors. The reason being computer monitors tend to be directly in front of the user at a distance of between 18" and 24". They are normally at eye level or can be tilted for direct viewing. TVs on the otherhand tend to be viewed from much farther away and at more extreme angles. Just my 2 cents!
    ShadeTree
    • It is a big issue just by adjusting the screen a two degrees

      It is a big issue just by adjusting the screen a two degrees. On most of these laptops, I can't see the highlight details or I can't see the shadow details. If I want to see highlights, I have to pull the LCD towards me 2 degrees. If I want to see shadow details, I have to push the LCD away 2 degrees. Just dropping your head a few images causes the entire screen to dim. Furthermore, only one part of the screen can be perpendicular to your line of sight unless you're at infinite distance from the screen.
      georgeou