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Adventures in the Screen Trade
Posted Aug 12, 2003 Print Version     Page 1of 3 next »

Recessions make us think small. Distinctions blur. The digital studio monitor market isn't as healthy or profitable as it's been, but that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of large-screen, luminous, high-resolution displays out there. Market conditions be damned, display manufacturers are thinking big and bright—and so should we, as we survey the current crop of LCDs, plasmas, and rear-screen projectors.

December 2002|According to what I hear on the "street," most people who are buying monitors and projectors for studio applications these days are buying cheaper, lower-resolution XGA products and delaying SXGA-and-up high-resolution purchases for better times. People don't want to buy CRT monitors because LCD monitors are cooler and flatter. Meanwhile, the LCD monitor market has been hamstrung by the tendency to abandon the smaller 15- and 17-inch units in favor of larger devices. Due to over-supply, under-buying, and just plain old cutthroat competition, pricing for the larger units has dropped too quickly to what the smaller units once cost. As the manufacturers bring out newer, larger units with more pixels for the same price, no one wants the old stuff. And if they do, it had better be cheap. So far, this new millennium hasn't proven too good a time to be a monitor manufacturer.

But enough with gloomy, recession-ridden, save your dollars for a better day stuff—let's have a look at all the great stuff out there and party like it's 1999. Even if some of the screens on my personal high-resolution shopping list are a bit on the pricey side, let's throw caution to the wind and consider the coolest, flashiest, highest-resolution monitors around. Regardless of the mixed emotions muddying the market, there is plenty of great product out there to make your studio shine. And since we're going for the gold here, I'm not leaving anything out. I'm not limiting this little roundup just to flat-screen, TFT-LCD monitors. No way. Even if some of the highest resolution available today comes in TFT-LCD form, those monitors are only so big, and for many of us that's not big enough. So to make sure that every wish has a chance of being granted, I'm including my favorite monitors using any and all technologies—including LCD and DLP rear-screen projectors, plus old standbys like widescreen plasmas. There's something high-resolution here for everyone and I've grouped my findings by manufacturer as shown here.

Samsung: Plasma, CRT and Flat LCD
Samsung claims to be "the world's leading manufacturer of LCD and CRT monitors" and I'm not one to dispute that claim. There was a time when American TV manufacturers reigned supreme and then the Japanese manufacturers took over and produced better, lower-priced sets. Then that kind of low-cost manufacturing expertise spread to Korea and Taiwan, so now most TVs and PC CRT monitors are made in Korea and Taiwan as are a huge portion of the flat-panel LCDs on the market today. Samsung now has its sights on the plasma market (with units ranging in size from 42 inches to 63 inches diagonal—my favorite is the PPM63HD1 with 1366x768 pixels). They're also pursuing the 50-inch diagonal rear-screen TV market using TI's 1280x720 HD2 DLP chipsets as the imaging power source.

Samsung and Sharp have traded claims back and forth for years regarding who can make the largest LCD monitor with both manufacturers showing 40-inch diagonal demonstration models. Now Samsung, if they meet their year-end schedule, may become the first to commercialize successfully that kind of large-scale, flat-panel TFT monitor. Samsung has both a 29-inch diagonal 16:9 aspect ratio display and a 40-inch version with the same 1280x768 resolution. Wow, that's what I want in my studio! Imagine a 29-inch or even a 40-inch LCD display with great color, contrast and brightness with the same area as the smaller plasmas but even thinner and with none of the plasma's annoying pixel sparkle—and with none of plasma's excess heat and power consumption either. These two models are planned to be priced competitively but high with the 40-incher going for something "between $15 and $18k," according to my sources at Samsung. The 29-incher should sell at $6k to $8k, if they want to sell any, but don't count on that—expect something higher.

They may be able to price big LCDs at about two or three times what the plasmas initially were, but I expect that to change with LCDs coming down to a point where you get to decide which technology you want in your studio—LCD's photo-like image quality or plasma's slightly more stunning (but sparkly) quality. If LCDs and plasma displays of the same area were priced the same, and if the largest LCDs could truly offer the same image quality as the smaller units do, I'd gladly take LCD over plasma, given my fondness for lower power consumption. Plus, LCD displays, even the largest ones, are lighter weight, less fragile, and easier to set up and move around than similarly-sized plasmas. What this means is that someday, plasma will have to move up in size it they want to survive, and that's the way I like it too. In my ideal studio, I want a 29-inch LCD display on my desk for editing and a 60-inch plasma unit on the wall for preview.

Besides the larger units, Samsung also has a couple of smaller TFT monitors worth checking out. The smaller unit is a 21-inch model (the 211MP) with 1600x1200 pixels and the larger one is a 24-inch unit with 1920x1200 pixels. The 24-inch model (241MP) is supposed to be offered with a $6999 MSRP and the 21-incher goes for $4999—which means they're both even more pricey than Apple's 23-incher at $3499 with about the same number of pixels. Maybe competition (like that from Viewsonic, Sony, and BenQ as described later) will drive Samsung's prices down, but don't count on it, since the Apple HD Cinema display does not have all the features of the Samsung units. Samsung is putting a "full-featured" TV tuner (NTSC, not HDTV, unfortunately) in each of their models along with a full range of video and computer inputs; all Apple provides for is the ADC plug on the back of the Cinema display.

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