A 17-in. monitor used to be a treat reserved for the power user, who kept fourteen windows open, or who ran complex graphic applications. In its CRT form, it’s now mainstream; it’s a real struggle to find anything smaller.

In the flat panel world things are moving in the same direction. Where

the 15-in. LCD offers the viewing area of many 17-in. CRTs, a 17-in. flat panel provides more screen real estate than we ever dreamed affordable.

As prices fall and screens grow, demand for CRTs is being replaced by flat panel frenzy. According to Evans Research, CRT shipments fell by 24 per cent in 2003, while LCDs shipments were up 94 per cent over 2002.

Almost half the LCDs shipped were 15-in., with 17 inchers snapping at their heels with 38 per cent of units. In Q4 of 2003, 17-in. LCD shipments grew 143 per cent compared to the same period in 2002.

Well, the quality, although good for most purposes, still can’t approach that of a high-quality CRT. For many graphics professionals, therefore, the old faithful tube still must live on their desks.

We’ve gathered a gaggle of 17-in.LCD monitors and run them through a battery of tests. All units were connected to an ATI Radeon 9600XT graphics adapter, and run at their native resolution, 1280 x 1024. Automatic calibration was run, but other than that I did no special fiddling with the display.

Viewsonic VP171B

Viewsonic fell into the “”invisible black text on black buttons”” trap.

Its ultra-slim black bezel makes the display look huge, and the unusual V-shaped base is both functional and attractive.

The unit has one digital and two analogue connectors, and is HDTV-ready, with 16 millisecond response time. The display tilts, swivels, pivots, and has a height adjustment. There were, interestingly, two power cables in the box – one for North America, and one for the UK — as well as both digital and analogue cables.

Output quality was excellent by all measurements.

HP L1730

This is the contortionist of our roundup — it tilts and swivels and pivots from landscape to portrait orientation, and can be raised or lowered to optimal viewing height. A wide oval base holds it steady, and a handle carved into the back of the case makes it easy to carry.

One of the two multimedia units in our roundup, it boasts a pair of two-watt-per-channel speakers built into the bottom of the bezel, with a handy volume control front and center. It supports both analogue and digital inputs.

The display is easy to look at — crisp and bright, with no ghosting or blurring. In DisplayMate tests, it did very well in low saturation testing (this measures how well nuances appear), though its grey scale had some khaki overtones at times.

IBM Thinkvision l170

The L170 is analogue only, with the cables already installed. It tilts and swivels, but has no height adjustment.

The controls are operated by pushing attractive wavy buttons that are, miracle of miracles, clearly labelled in colour. All too often, black monitors have black buttons with virtually invisible black legends that put users trying to read them into extremely black moods.

The lower contrast ratio meant that the display seemed a bit washed out, and the results of the low saturation test were not good. I also notice faint ghosting on some DisplayMate screens.

The L170 is analogue only, with the cables already installed. It tilts and swivels, but has no height adjustment.

The controls are operated by pushing attractive wavy buttons that are, miracle of miracles, clearly labelled in colour. All too often, black monitors have black buttons with virtually invisible black legends that put users trying to read them into extremely black moods.

The lower contrast ratio meant that the display seemed a bit washed out, and the results of the low saturation test were not good. I also notice faint ghosting on some DisplayMate screens.

LG Flatron L1710B

LG’s unit offers both analogue and digital inputs (but only an analogue cable), and has an extra twist in the form of two USB 1.1 ports (for low-power devices like keyboards and mice) in its neck.

The base is narrow, but deep, so the footprint is larger than one would expect. Controls are clearly labeled and easy to use. The on-screen display lets you set various brightness levels, depending on your activity (viewing text, movies or photos), and Colorific software that matches what you see on the display with what comes out on your printer, is in the box. Read the licence agreement before installing, however — it transmits information to its home site that you may not want sent.

In DisplayMate testing, greyscale was stellar, and the unit did well on the low saturation tests as well. And Harry Potter looked great.

NEC Multisync LCD 1760NX

Another digital and analogue unit, this unit offers tilt and swivel adjustments. Its controls are highly readable on the dark grey bezel. And if you don’t want to fiddle with buttons, NEC/Mitsubishi offers a free download of software that performs all of their functions.

In DisplayMate tests, it exhibited considerable moiré (rippling) and some ghosting in tests for those issues. Its greyscale had tinges of various other colours at some intensities, and there was some ghosting. In eyeball tests, however, those problems were not particularly noticeable.

Samsung Syncmaster 173T

There’s actually a locking pin on the neck of the 173T to prevent you from accidentally changing the height. It also tilts and pivots to portrait orientation; Pivot Pro software is in the box.

Like most of our roundup, it has both digital and analogue inputs, with an analogue cable in the box. The 173T has a generous 170-degree viewing angle (the best of the bunch), and has a MagicBright button that lets you set a comfortable brightness for viewing text, the Internet or “”entertainment.””

In DisplayMate tests, the unit fared very well on greyscale, but its low saturation results were not great. In viewing windows and dialogue boxes, the menus seemed almost engraved, with thin, faint characters.

Sony SDM-X73

Our second multimedia monitor has a pair of one watt speakers across the bottom of the bezel, a headphone jack in the side, and no volume control in sight (it’s handled through the on-screen controls). It has one digital and two analogue inputs (and cables for both), and allows connections to two computers. A button on the front lets users switch among the inputs.

Since the bezel is black, and the buttons are black with engraved text, the controls are almost impossible to read without squinting from an inch away.

Cable management is clever — the whole back of the unit slides up, revealing the connections. An ECO button lets you manually switch among power-saving modes, and, in an inspired move, Sony put a little light sensor on the bezel that automatically adjusts display brightness to suit the environment.

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