Dull image after reformat

Hey all, long time tom's hardware reader here. I came to the forums cause I'm completely stumped. I need help diagnosing the cause of my display "problem". Before I start, I need to emphasize something. I am using the same monitor, nvidia control panel settings and display drivers since before I reformatted. To be more specific, I am using 100% default settings for everything. Settings would include Brightness, Contrast, Gamma, Hue, "Digital Vibrance", and so on. With that said, I have tried adjusting settings anyways, both with eyeballing and monitor calibration software. Nothing has fixed my problem. I do not believe this is a problem that can be fixed by simply "turning on digital vibrance" or "turning up my brightness". Okay, here's my problem:

Ever since I reformatted my computer, my screen image has changed. The screen is slightly dimmer. Colors are a tad bit washed out. I have lost some overall screen sharpness as well. This is most evident when I play computer games like World of Warcraft or Modern Warfare 2 but it is visible with general desktop computing as well. WoW is a very colorful, cartoonish style game. I have, without a doubt, lost some color fidelity. Before, colors were very deep and vibrant. Almost like they pop out of your screen. Now, everything just looks a tad bit dull and washed out. Same goes for Modern Warfare 2. The screen looks darker. Colors are not as bright. Textures aren't as sharp.

Can anyone give me a logical reason why this happened? As I stated before, I'm using the same color and brightness settings since before I reformatted. I'm also using the same video card driver version. So I doubt it's a software or display settings issue. My monitor is less than four months old. My computer is less than seven. So I doubt it's a hardware issue too. I'm using a high quality Monster DVI-D cable. So I doubt it's the cable.

If I had to make a choice on what I think it is, I would say pre-mature hardware failure. But what would most likely be the cause, the video card or the monitor?

I'll be glad to answer any questions, as thoroughly as posisble. First off, my system specs:

Intel Core 2 Duo E7300 2.66GHz processor
2GB PC-6400 DDR2 memory
MSI mATX LGA775 motherboard
EVGA nVidia GeForce 9800GT 512MB PCI-Express video card
Hitachi 250GB SATA-II 7200RPM hard drive
Creative Soundblaster Audigy 2 ZS sound card
Microsoft Windows XP Professional SP3 32-bit operating system
LG 23" 1920x1080 2ms Widescreen LCD monitor

Some miscellaneous notes that might be relevant:

I had this EXACT SAME issue on my old computer/monitor. It happened after I upgraded my EVGA GeForce FX5500 to a PNY GeForce 7600GS.

My current computer experienced a similar problem before, except it only happened with WoW. A while back, I did a "factory image restore". After I installed WoW, I noticed that my colors were alot different. The screen didn't look as grey and washed out. Colors were very deep, bright, vibrant. MW2 looked exactly the same though (which was fine until I reformatted).

I'm hoping someone has seen this problem before or may have heard of it. I believe it's some NVIDIA related issue. I have found other people with similar issues on the internet, all unresolved.
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  1. If all you did was reformat and re-install, then I submit that you either didn't re-install everything, or what you did re-install is different that what you were originally running. The fact that you experienced this before during a hardware change might indicate that you have a bad video cable that is not making good contact at either the monitor connection or with the graphics card. You might try re-seating the graphics card and checking the monitor connections
  2. The only thing that's different is the chipset and NIC drivers. They we're dated February 2010. How a newer version of motherboard drivers can affect screen clarity is questionable though. Also, to the best of my knowledge, I re-installed everything. That would include chipset drivers, NIC drivers, display drivers and sound card drivers. Then, Windows Updates of course. Not sure what else I could be missing here. I did install the monitor drivers at a later point in hopes of fixing my problem. Obviously, they did not.

    Just to clarify, you stated I experienced this before during a hardware change. That was on a totally different computer with a different monitor. And on that specific monitor, the video cable is "built in" on one side so it is non-replacable. I always make sure my connections are firm and secure, without applying too much pressure so I don't bend pins or damage jacks.

    And as I stated before, I had a similar problem on my computer im using now. Except it only happened with WoW. And it happened after I did a "factory image restore" which is similar to a reformat/reinstall but not quite. The current cable I'm using is one of the highest quality DVI cables avalible to consumers. I find it highly improbable that it is a cable problem. I also took your advice and removed my video card, dusting it out and the pci connector, and reseating it. Not sure how this would fix my problem (it didn't) but I guess thanks, I didn't think about doing that.
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