LCD monitor testing methodology – April 2004 issue

To test the monitors for our April 2004 LCD monitor review (page 103), we used an AMD Athlon FX-51-based machine (www.amd.com) with a 128MB Radeon 9800 Pro graphics adapter (www.ati.com). This card features a DVI port and an analog port, and all LCD monitors with DVI connections were connected to the DVI port. Monitors with only an analog connection were connected to the analog port and were optimised by using their auto-adjust feature. Displaymate (www.displaymate.com) was used to further optimise the monitors to ensure they did not suffer from focus, geometry or noise problems.

A 22in Mitsubishi Diamond Pro 2070SB CRT monitor (www.mitsubishi-electric.com.au) was also connected to the graphics card simultaneously during photo and gaming tests in order to compare colour and detail in photographs and to test for blurring during gaming.

We gave the monitors star ratings for black greyscale, white greyscale, colour reproduction, viewable angle capability, game playing capability and movie watching capability. These tests are described below and the star ratings are classified as follows:

***** excellent
**** very good
*** good
** satisfactory
* poor

Greyscale tests

These tests were used to judge the monitors’ ability to display dark grey colours on a black background and light grey colours on a white background. It is important for a monitor to display as many greyscale levels as possible in order to reproduce photographs and display DVD movies properly. We used the greyscale screens in Displaymate to check these capabilities.

Specifically, we judged greyscale by using the black level test and the grey on black and grey on white background tests. Five stars were given to monitors that could display all levels properly without shading problems (that is, with proper gradation between levels of grey) and without needing any adjustment. Monitors which required too much brightness and contrast adjustment, or which did not display all levels, or which had problems with grey shading, were given one to four stars depending on the level of fiddling required and the resulting shading.

This image displays the dark grey on black and light grey on white background test.

Colour and image quality

We judged the image quality and colour reproduction of the monitors by viewing a slideshow of high resolution photographs featuring very vibrant, high resolution shots alongside dark and gloomy ones, taken by a Canon PowerShot G5 camera at a resolution of 1365x1024. A handful of shots were selected to compare the quality of each screen with the Mitsubishi CRT monitor and judgement calls were made as to whether the colours looked natural or too saturated.

These photographs were also used to confirm the Displaymate greyscale results. Colour gradations were looked at to make sure each photograph did not lose any of its original detail.

Five stars were given to the monitors that displayed realistic colours, comparable to the CRT monitor, without saturation or loss of photographic detail. Monitors that were overly rich or too dull, or which had colour gradation problems, were given one to four stars depending on the level of colour saturation or dullness and on any gradation problems.

Each monitor was tested at all of its available colour temperatures in order to find the optimum setting, and colour adjustments were made in the on-screen display (OSD) of each monitor, where applicable, in order to get the best out of the monitors.

This is a small sample of the types of photos that we used to test the colour and image reproduction of the monitors.

Viewing angle

The viewing angle of each monitor was tested with three different types of screens. The first was a regular desktop environment with a text document loaded, the second was a full screen photograph, and the third was a DVD movie. We used these types of screens because they are what most users will most often view from the sides.

We tested whether the monitors could clearly display black text on a white background from either side without becoming too light and unreadable.

We also tested whether all photographs could be viewed accurately from the sides without too much contrast and loss of colour and image detail.

For DVD viewing, we tested whether the movie became too light when viewed from the sides, and observed the black widescreen bars for excessive brightness, which usually detracts from viewing from the sides.

Five stars were given to monitors that were able to display all three screens without major problems. One to four stars were given to monitors that were too bright or which lost image detail when viewed from the sides. All monitors were tested at their recommended angles and beyond.

Response time and gaming

The game we used to test each monitor’s response time was Max Payne 2. In particular, we decided to use a warehouse scene from this game to determine the extent of visible ghosting for each monitor during high frame rates, which is when blurring becomes most noticeable. The warehouse scene contains stacked boxes with labels on them, which were our indicator of motion blur. We made Max Payne stand in the middle of this scene and survey the room, which is done at a very high frame rate, to ascertain the amount of blurring on the boxes and shelves.

We used the Mitsubishi CRT monitor set at a resolution of 1280x1024x32-bit (the same as the native resolution of these monitors) to compare the scenes. On the CRT monitor the image remained crystal clear as Max Payne surveyed the room, but on all the LCD monitors some blurring was evident. Specifically, the labels on the boxes blurred noticeably on the LCD monitors, whereas on the CRT monitor they were perfectly clear; on some LCD monitors, blurring was even noticeable on the wall and shelving surrounds of the scene.

Most monitors were given two stars (which is a satisfactory rating), because they all displayed motion blur. Those that displayed severe motion blur were given one star.

The warehouse scene in Max Payne 2 provided an adequate test for monitor response time.

Movie watching

In the DVD movie tests we used one colourful title (Austin Powers: Goldmember) and one dark title (8 Mile) in order to gauge the monitors’ ability to display vibrant and gloomy pictures.

All monitors handled Goldmember without any problems, but 8 Mile brought out shortcomings in greyscale abilities. In particular, dark scenes in 8 Mile were used to see whether the monitor could display dark colours on a black background without turning them black.

One of the other things we looked at when watching movies was the presence of the monitor backlights (the lights that are used to illuminate the LCD screen) and how much light would seep through between the bezel and the screen. This light causes the top and bottom of the screen to be very light and can be distracting when watching movies. It can become more prominent when viewing from the sides, and because movie watching is sometimes a shared experience this is a crucial factor when judging a screen for movie display capability.

Likewise, the widescreen bars of the movie were judged on their level of blackness.

Five stars were given to the monitors that displayed the dark scenes in 8 Mile perfectly, could be viewed without problem from the sides, did not suffer from too much evident brightness in the black widescreen bars and whose backlights were not too prominent.

Monitors were given one to four stars depending on their ability to reproduce 8 Mile and on how bright their black widescreen bars were, how prevalent their backlights were and how comfortable they were to view from the sides.

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