Now that we've gotten our gaming rig more or less stable, its been time to look at the other pieces. We cobbled together a nice three display system with a set of the best monitors of the mid 2000s (:-). So we have two old 4:3 19" flat screens and an old 24" flat screen by Benq, Samsung and HP respectively. These have resolutions of 1600x1200 for the HP 24", and 1280x1024 for the two 19" monitors. They are 75Hz monitors.
So to summarize this incredibly complex topic, here is whee I am in figuring this out is here are the choices in order and the main issue is finding a vendor that has a decent return policy because dead pixels and quality are the big problems:
- ASUS VG278HE x 3 and nVidia 3d Glasses v2. This is a 144 Hz (?!!) monitor that is also 3D capable for $500 each. Pretty good deal. The vG2780H is 120Hz and comes with the IR emitter. Runs at 1080p and is a TN monitor but otherwise amazingly fast and bigger too. Will try one I think and see how it goes.
- Catleap 2B. This is the risky choice, but these are $500 Korean imports, but incredible specifications. Runs at 120Hz and it 1440p (2580x1440). Probably going to try this one when it is available from 120hz.net. It looks like Monoprice is going to be importing these which woudl be great. Imagine three of these in a surround mode. Now I know why I need dual GTX690s!
- Benz XL2420TX, two Benq XL2420T and nVidia 3d Glasses 2. This is a active 3D monitor running at 120Hz, so you actually want one TX and two T's (they don't have IR emitters) on each side. Gives you a huge three display in surround 3D no less. 1080p monitors with good reviews. $400, $380 x 2, $130 respectively. The main drawback is that these are TN film technology so narrow viewing angle and of course only 24" 🙂 I'd call it the budget choice 🙂
Using nVidia's SLI technology, this gives us a playable resolution of 3840x1024 which is pretty amazing, but they are not HDCP compliant so I can't use Windows Media Center to watch videos and they are older so they don't support 120Hz for 3D gaming or for really smooth motion. So what are the modern choices?
It's interesting to see that monitors are actually moving relatively slowly and have converted to the 1080p (1920x1080) resolutions in the 16:9 form factor because of the high volume of HD TVs. And also the vendors have managed to hide what is actually going on in massively long social security number-sized codes. So here is a decoder ring for what to get. Thanks to the Wirecutter by the way, he is doing a great job of reviews (particularly of television sized systems as he's a former Home Theater magazine editor!) and TFT Central (or prad.de or the various user reviews on forums like overclock). Like DP Review and other specialty sites, they do the really in depth analysis of monitors. Neither Anandtech nor Tom's Hardware do much of a job and the other more traditional sites (PCmag.com, Cnet.com) are frankly really sad in their quality of reviews.
BTW you can read all the stuff or just skip to the recommendations at the bottom, but the short answer is that buying a monitor now is pretty easy except for this whole 3-D thing. If you don't care about that then it is easy. If you do, then waiting isn't a bad idea as Samsung and LG are fighting it out on 3D standards. Samsung is pushing active glasses (big and heavy) and LG is pushing passive. The big decision is which to go with. A hard choice right now.
This is one area where (like cars), you need a decoder ring to figure out what is going on. With cars, the manufacturers are always obscuring the platform and major revisions (which is why I use wikipedia and consumerreports.org for nearly all car things to suss this out, but that's another post). In this case, the vendors obscure the underlying technology that they are using. It is pretty impossible to figure out what is going on without knowing:
- The underlying technology of panel and backlight. That is what is the raw technology and what it is cable of. You figure this out by going to TFT Central or Wikipedia or reading this post 🙂
- Who is making the panel. There are something like 2-3 makers of panels in the world. So you can ignore all the brand names but if you don't know the panel, you don't know its characteristics. TFT Central gives you this.
- The tradeoff between resolution and size. Enough said, but there is a sweet spot typically
- How is the quality of the vendor. The only way I can figure this out is by looking at Newegg and Amazon reviews to check on quality (HP and Dell are terrible by the way).
Underlying Technology and Needs
There are a couple of families of technologies that coexist right now because of the many tradeoffs, so there is no one monitor that fits all needs from computer gaming, to watching movies to editing photos and videos. So here are the rough needs:
- For gaming, you want a very fast display (minimal lag from the time that the computer sends an image and the display shows it), minimal blur so that as things move across you don't introduce artifacts and a really, really wide screen because most games are about looking left and right as opposed to up and down. Resolution of course also matters. 3D is just starting to matter here as for obvious reasons a 3D game can be pretty cool and let's face it gamers already wear massive headphones and don't mind geeky glasses anyway 🙂
- For home theater, you want really great color range, this means a wide dynamic range and you a black that is really black (many devices don't do this because of the backlight, black is really grey). You want color accuracy as wel and the monitor not to blow out the dark scenes or light ones. And you want a wide viewing angle so everyone can see the screen. The jury is out on 3D given the need for glasses, but it is a all about future proofing.
- For photo and video editing, you need super color accuracy, so red is really red and everything matches properly.
- For word processing and desktop productivity. The big thing here is lots of screen real estate so that you can have your word file here and your spreadsheet open at the same time. So that means lots of bits both horizontally and vertically.
These have resulted in a bunch of technologies that are designed for this purpose from niche to mainstream with a bunch of proprietary efforts. Most of these look terrible out of the box, but after calibration look great. Hardforum has a decoder ring that let's you see which monitors use which panels
- Plasma. This is mainly used for big televisions (there is alot of overlap now between monitors and televisions since they share the same resolution). This again is an older technology, but the big advantage is that it has super wide viewing angle and the best color renditions. It's really a great choice for the low-end television (43") that you can also use for a gaming console.
- TN (Twisted). The LCD panel is a completely different technology than Plasma and started with the oldest still in use is called TN. This is an older technology with a limited viewing angle (the color changes as you turn your head), but it is very fast at 120Hz so make motion blur go away. Not surprisingly, if you are mainly gaming, then this is the right choice. Many folks make this but AU Optronics makes really nice ones.
Then there are the newer proprietary systems.
- IPS (In Plane Switching).This is the latest from LG and they are just starting to come out with 3D that uses something on the monitor and you can use the el cheapo glasses that are from the movie theater.
- PLS. The latest from Samsung and competes with IPS. It uses active 3D and runs at 120Hz for the best monitors
- AMVA. This has amazing contrast ratios from AU Optronics but has motion blur issues if you care about gaming.
The two sub flavors here are the kind of backlight. The older style is CCFL (Cold cathode Florescent) but most new monitors use LED as a backlight.
Resolution, Viewing Distance and Monitor Size (aka Angular Resolution)
This is a strange world where a monitor 120" projection TV has a resolution of 1920x1080 (1080p or HD) where as a tiny 10" Retina display on your iPad is actually has a higher resolution at 2048 x 1536 or a 27" with WQHD of 2560 x 1440. So what's going on here? Well first, its all about how far away you are from the display. If you sit 10 feet away vs 2 feet, obviously the perceived resolution is going to be about how much of the screen it takes up in your field of view. An iPad up close is going to have the same viewing distance as a monster home theater screen that is 10 feet away. Of course only you can see your iPad whereas your whole family can watch a big flat screen together. Similarly, a 32" television can actually have a higher perceived resolution at 720p compared with a monster jumbotron at 1080p. Confused yet? It just means that you have to be carefully picking the right resolution for the right size monitor at the right distance
What this means is that there is a natural resolution for different sizes and viewing angles, so here is a quick decoder ring based on screen size vs viewing distance at Wikipedia. The most immersive recommendation for a 1080p display is a 40-degree field of view while casual viewing is 20 degrees. This translates into multiply the diagonol size by 1.2 to get the right viewing angle. Personally this is actually what I like. That is a 32" inch display should be (32" x 1.2) = 3.2 feet. As an aside in English system this is super easy to remember. That is a 70" television should by 7' away. Divide the size by 10 and change it to feet. Or most correctly the maximum viewing distance VD is:
- DS: Display's diagonal size
- NHR: Display's native horizontal resolution (in pixels)
- NVR: Display's native vertical resolution (in pixels)
- CVR: Vertical resolution of the video being displayed (in pixels)
- Note: Make sure the angle mode is set to degrees when calculating the tangent. If using a spreadsheet, you must multiply the angle by PI()/180. If DS is given in inches, VD will be in inches. If VD in meters is desired, multiply VD by 2.54 and divide by 100.
Also the maximum that a human can appreciate seems to be about an 80 degree field of view. That's important for gaming where you want to really be in it. And what can we resolve if we have 20/20 vision. More math here, but at 20 feet away if you have 20/20 vision you can see an object 1.77mm large. One consequence of this is that at certain distances, you can't actually see the difference between 720p and 1080p because the finer resolution of the 1080p is too small for the eye to see. That's why for many home theaters you can get away with a 720p display on a small screen.
There is also a minimum viewing distance that is harder to calculate. If you get too close to a screen then you can see the individual pixels. There doesn't seem to be a formula for this, but it is pretty apparent that if you sit 1 foot away from a 30 inch monitor with a 1080p display you are way too close.
This is very rough as the actual trigonometry here is the field of view is actually the arc tangent and there is a simple calculator that does this for you. So to give some real world calculations, a 24" 1080p monitor from 2 feet away looks gives you a 47 degree field of view which is pretty close and the THX recommended 36 degree view from THX would be 3 feet. And if you are looking at 1080p content, you should also be 3 feet away as a minimum. Or 8 feet for 720p content
Overdrive and Input Lag
The original LCD monitors blurred too much and there was too much lag. Now modern LCDs have overdrive built in so they push the displays hard to show fast changing and also electronics that reduce the lag from the time a signal comes in to its display.
This is a complicated rapidly evolving topic as tftcentral and more indepth at 3d-blog and 3dmonitorreview.com. But the basic issues are:
- Inputs. Displayport 1.2 supports full 1080p 3D while HDMI 1.4 can only handle 720p 3D at 24Hz and nVidia uses DL-DVI for 1080p@120Hz
- nVidia and AMD have different competing standards and in general active shutter glasses are incompatible with each other. nVidia sells its own glasses as 3D Vision 2 and an IR emitter that tells the glasses what to do. The Samsung 2233RZ and BenQ XL2420T, The Asus VG278H is a 27” model with a built-in 3D Vision 2 emitter and a bundled pair of new glasses. NVIDIA also lists the Acer HN274HB and BenQ XL2420T / XL2420TX as 3D Vision 2-certified monitors which are new to the market or being released very soon. They also have something called 3D Vision Surround which allows three monitors
- There is a big war going on between Samsung leading the active glasses approach and LG leading the passive glasses approach with a film on the LCD panel splitting the image. LG supplies most of the panels to others and the passive 3D is just coming on line now.
- The other good news is that Sony PS3 plays Blu-Ray 3D natively and also 3D games are supported over 3D HDMI
Cost curves on screen size and resolution
The final factor is cost. Right now there is a big premium for displays above 1080p, so all things being equal, it makes the most sense cost-wise to live with 1920x1080 displays as the next level up call WXVGA is 2440 x 1400 which is about 2x more. There are the so called next generation display called 2K and 4K (2K is also know as ultra HD which are x2160 and x4320 respectively), but these are really, really expensive.
The ideal gaming setup is wide and fast and has a wide field of view for that immersive experience. Because 1080p displays are relatively cheap at $300 vs. the bigger ones. So here are the characteristics:
- 24" or 27" monitor at 1080p. Again using the viewing angle math, at 1-2 feet away, you are really too close to a 30" display (that needs 3 feet). If you get closer, you can see the individual pixels which isn't so good. A 24" 1080p display should have you 2.4 feet away which is about right.
- 120Hz. Other than resolution, you don't want much motion blur. The other monitors are 75Hz at most, but with 120Hz, the screen looks so much smoother. TN is the only display technology that can do 120Hz, so that limits your choice.
- Triple display. If you can afford it, having three of these displays would create the full 80 degree plus field of view. We've been experimenting with this and it is truly remarkable. You do need an ultra fast graphics card and probably a dual SLI system. We've been running GTX 670 in SLI and with 3840x1024 we are getting 40 fps even running DirectX, Tesselation and every turned full on. This system would of course being even more stressed at 5960 pixels across!
- Less than 13ms lag. You want something that lags by less than a frame. In a 120Hz monitor that is 13ms in essence. There are some that advertise less
- 3D. This is the cutting edge and i haven't tried it and apparently there is even technology to do 3-D with triple monitors. How much processing power in the graphics care you need for this I can only imagine.
Hardforum, Overclock.net seems like the place for reviews like this from the ultra hard core live. For purely high speed and high resolution there are Korean no names that are producing amazing 2560x1440 displays running at 120Hz which 120hz.net covers. But caveat emptor. There seems to be an underground of folks doing these things located around 120hz.net
- Yamakasi Catleap. The latest 2B monitor runs at 2560x1440 (sometimes called 1440p) and overclocks to 130Hz plus and reportedly breaks the SLI refresh limit as well moving it from 60Hz to 120Hz.
- Vidia Driver Limit. Apparently also nVidia did a bad thing limited overclocking in SLI and memory, but the hackers found a way around this. Nice.
TFT Central lists some good choices here for active 3D and note the big advantages are that it is much faster at 120Hz so smoother, but the glasses are more expensive (less of an issue for gaming, but a big problem for Home Theater where passive makes way more sense IMHO and works pretty well 🙂
- BenQ's XL2420TX. Also calibrated well once of of the box and has a version with the nVidia. It's $380 from Amazon for the T model which doesn't support HDMI 3D and $400 for the XL2420TX which has an integrated IR emitter for 3D. The 3D Vision 2 Glasses are another expense and the monitors all have to be the same. Prad.de likes it as well.
- ASUS VG278HE. At $500 at Amazon, it is a relatively course 1080p but has 144Hz and Lightboost is nVidia 3D capable. You do need the $128 3D Vision 2 kit, it is not integrated like the BenQ. The VG278H (not E) is the same panel but only 120Hz and has the glasses included at $538 from Amazon.
- Iiyama ProLite G2773HS. This is a 27" 1080p monitor. When calibrated it is a very good at color rendition, but doesn't have 3D support but is much at cheaper as a result at $670 from Amazon
For passive 3D, there are many fewer reviews and we are looking for monitors that are fast that use the new IPS technology from LG, but from a gaming POV, havig 120Hz is pretty important to keep things smooth.
- ASUS VG23AH. This is a 3D IPS using LGs FPR technology. Wecravegames.com did an extensive user review and also reviewed setup. It does allow 3D at up to 76Hz which is quite a stepup from the usual 60Hz. Good news there is that you can actually overclock a monitor, so get that extra performance! He essentially says that the 120Hz Active works well for 3-D games because you have to be 3 feet away for passive to work right whereas with nVidia active you can be very close. It is great for 3D Movies because IPS panels have better color.
- LG D2342P. Although LG makes better displays, this is a TN-based 23" one 60Hz and because passive is cheaper it is just $320 from Amazon.
Home Theater Setup
The main variable here is how big a home theater and far away. In this case, the easiest setup is going to be to get an AppleTV and then display with mirroring your iPad or MacBook. Assuming this, Wirecutter has some great recommendations that center around using Samsung screens or plasma if you can find it:
- 32" Samsung 4000 for 720p or 5000 for 1080p. This is really a crossover television as it is about the size of a computer monitor. But at this size, if you are 3 feet away, it is an immersive experience. In some ways it is a true tweener in that you can't use it really a computer monitor as thing looks pixellated and 3 feet isn't very far to sit a a screen.
- 43" Samsung Plasma. Another recommendation. It is also cheap at $470 and as 720p you don't get quite the resolution, but from 4 feet away it certainly isn't bad as HD.
- 50" Panasonic gets the nod for this one.
Photo Editing or Office Setup
Single big 27 or 30 monitor makes the most sense in the highest resolution possible. Using an iMac, it is pretty clear than having more vertical resolution (50% more with 2560x1440) makes a difference as documents are much taller. But the main thing for Photo editing is to calibrate the monitor. Turns out that most of the current flat screens work well if they are calibrated. It may seem ridiculously costly to have a $300 calibrator, but from experience, I can tell you it works really well.