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My VX900 vs. Planar 191M Review (Long!)

Last response: in Computer Peripherals
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May 14, 2003 11:17:40 PM

I've been looking for the ideal display device for watching dvds (mostly anime) on my home theater pc. Well, I started out the front projector route with a panasonic l300u, but after months of tweaking decided that I just can't live with the image on the current crop of budget projectors. DVDs looked great on my Cornerstone f1200 LCD (same fujitsu MVA panel as the old 17.4" 400:1 viewsonic), so I decided to go for a nice new 19" LCD instead. So, recently I've picked up a Planar 191M and a Viewsonic VX900. I though I'd take the time to compare these panels for those interested, and I'd also like to hear from VX900 owners about whether they're experiencing the brightness problems I've witnessed.

In short, both the 191M and the VX900 are capable of beautiful video. The brightness and contrast on these units is noticeably (but not hugely) better than the older generation f1200. The colors and neutrality of whites on the new panels are quite a bit better than the f1200. Let me state that I when I was shopping for LCD's I got sick of reading reviews about how sharp text was or how great desktop looked in a lit room. As far as I'm concerned, LCD text is infinitely sharper than CRT (when fed native res), and so this is a non issue. Also, most weaknesses of LCD's don't show up until you view them in a totally dark room. I would have liked reviews that kept 2 things in mind: a) Viewing high quality video and 2) Viewing in a dark room. So for my totally unprofessional (and probably quite useless to those who don't use LCD's for watching tv/dvd) review, here is a comparison of what I consider key performance aspects:

Note: I am using the 191M thought VGA and the Viewsonic though DVI. I see no practical difference betweeen DVI/VGA on these displays. The only reason I use VGA with the 191M is because the color settings are not adjustable when using DVI. I found the 191M way too blue with DVI, but luckily it looks great over VGA with custom color settings (forgot the exact settings but I had to push blue down about 5 notches below red & green). I found the VX900 too warm/reddish out of the box, so I also had to use custom color settings here. Ended up with green 2 notches above red, and blue three notches above red.

White Field Uniformity:
Both panels have excellent uniformity on a white field. The VX900 displays a bit more fixed pattern noise, but not enough to be really bothersome to me. Slight edge to the 191M here.

Black Field Uniformity:
The 191M displays some uneven illumination, but only if you are viewing in a dark room. The upper-left and lower right corners are about 10%-50% brighter in an area roughly triangle shaped and about 2"-3" across for each corner. Not as bad as it sounds, and I can live with it, but this is my biggest gripe about the 191M. The viewsonic has only slightly better uniformity at the factory default (max) brightness setting, but uniformity improves as you crank the brightness down. I have yet to see an LCD with what I would consider perfect uniformity in a dark room.
Pretty big win for the Viewsonic here.

Gamma:
Every monitor comes from the factory with a (usually hardcoded) gamma setting. NTSC video is encoded with a gamma of 2.2 in mind, so most computer displays have a gamma of around 2.2 to 2.4. Higher gammas give a bigger contrast between dark areas and whites, but overall makes the image look darker. Lower gammas do the opposite. A higher gamma of around 2.4-2.5 is supposed to be better for viewing in a dark room. I have no measurements to back this up, but the VX900 looked closer to a 2.5, and the 191M looked closer to a 2.2. For computer desktop, the 191M looked slightly better in a lit room and the Viewsonic looked slightly better in a dark room. For dvds, it was hard to tell a difference, whether the room was lit or not. I'm still not sure which I prefer.
No winner here; it's a matter of taste.

Colors:
When side-by-side on a computer desktop, the VX900's colors look crisper and more life-like. In practice when watching dvds in a non side-by-side configuration, I can't really tell/remember any difference. The differences I saw may actually have more to do with the difference in gamma than anything else. Slight, slight edge to the viewsonic

Whites:
The 191M's whites have a slight cream tint to them when compared to the viewsonic. However, even the 191M has great whites when compared to the older f1200, which has a yellowish tint. White perception is largely a relative thing as your eyes can adjust to one display if it doesn't have another to compare it to. If I hadn't placed the VX900 next to it, I may have gone on thinking the 191M had some of the best whites I'd seen in a monitor. Also a suprising plus for the cream whites is that it's just not as stressful on my eyes as the viewsonic's whites. Even if I adjust the displays to similar brightness levels, the 191M's whites are just more relaxing while the viewsonic's is more likely to cause discomfort - this can be problematic when coupled with the VX900's high brightness, escpecially when viewing in a dark room. Ouch! Technically the VX900 wins, but personally I'm still undecided.

Brightness:
I would consider the 191M's out-of-the-box brightness to be close to perfect: plenty bright for well lit environments, yet I can still view in a dark room without much if any discomfort. On the other hand I would say the VX900 has a serious brightness problem, in more ways than one. The VX900 comes from the factory with the brightness setting at 100% - and when you first turn it on, everything seems dandy. However, the VX900 warms up very very slowly and gradually (almost certainly unbeknownst to most users - it's that slow!), and after a while you'll end up with such a bright image that it can be uncomfortable to view even in a lit room. I "fixed" this by cranking the brightness setting down to about 40%, which gave an illumination level similar to the 191M's default. Problem is, next day when I turn the VX900 on again, it's now WAY too dim, about half as bright as the 191M, even after a couple of minutes to warm up. Using my camera's light meter (a canon EOS A2, decently accurate meter), I discovered that the VX900 would slowly, gradually work its way back up to the brightness level I had adjusted for the previous night. How long was this extended warm up period? FORTY FREAKIN' MINUTES. This really sucks. It is possible to get a decent brightness level on the VX900, but only if you're really patient. Big win for the 191M here.

Dead/Stuck pixels:
First 191M had a stuck on pixel right in the middle. Planar shipped an advanced replacement withing 2 days! Awesome customer support! New unit is pixel perfect, though uninformity is slightly worse than the first :(  Still better than having a stuck pixel, and I know I'll be taken care of if the new unit goes awry (I doubt it, I have more confidence in the Planar's quality than the viewsonic after the whole brightness debacle). I thought the VX900 was pixel perfect when I got it, but 2 days later I found a "defective" pixel near the center of the screen. It's just a pixel that has partially (not fully) dead blue and green subpixels, and it is actually damn hard to see; looks like a small speck of dust on a white or light gray field. Should be very live-able, even for a picky person like me. The brightness issue is a much bigger problem, IMO. Unfortunately Viewsonic's dead pixel policy is much worse then Panar's. I think Viewsonic won't replace until you have 8 or more. Planar's officialy policy is 3 bad pixels, but in practice if you have a single nasty one they'll replace it. Planar's customer support rocks!

Design/build quality:
I don't care that much about design; it's the image that matters, but I must state that I really hate the VX900's silver bezel. When the lights are on, I think that ugly silver detracts from whatever colorful image or dvd I'm trying to watch. Luckily this isn't an issue in a dark room, but I still much prefer the black 191M. Hell even beige would be preferable to silver IMO. Both monitors have that lightweight plastic-y feel, but personally I just get the vibe that the 191M has the better build quality. Perhaps my hatred for the silver bezel is influencing my opinion here...

Whew. Wow, that was more than I intended to write. Hope that helps some of you guys. Basically I am still undecided about the VX900 vs. 191M, though recently I have been leaning towards the 191M, even though the VX900 really WOW'd me the first day and I was sure I'd pick it over the 191M. Now I think that if the black field uniformity were perfect on the 191M I would probably have no reason to keep the VX900, because of its brightness problem. Overall I can't really lose, both displays are noticeably better AND bigger than the f1200, which I enjoyed quite a bit the last year. Any thoughts from other 191M or VX900 owners? Any of you VX900 owners also having trouble with brightness?

Mike U.
May 15, 2003 5:39:37 AM

I don't know anything about Planar, but I did own Viewsonic VX900 for over half a year and hated it. Dark colors, awful ghosting, weird cracking noises... 4 dead pixels... Before VX900 I owned KDS Rad7 17 inch LCD and it was much better as far as colors and less ghosting...

Currently own Hitachi CML174 for about 7 month, it's not perfect, but way better then VX900...

Recently, checked out my friends new 20 inch Dell LCD and I was amazed, at 1600x1200 resolution I was playing Planetside beta and it was almost as good as my Hitachi. I didn't even notice heavy ghosting, which was very noticeable in VX900.
May 15, 2003 11:43:21 PM

Well, the gamma on the VX900 I have seems higher than other displays, which does cause the colors to look a little dark in a lit environment. Still, I think the colors look pretty good. Can't comment much on the ghosting - I've had no problems, but then a panel doesn't need to be too fast for DVDs, Diablo II, and Warcraft III. No noises yet either. I did check the display properties and it says it's a "VX900-2". Perhaps there was a better second revision since you got yours? I can't really imagine anyone (well, other than a graphic designer or really hardcore fast twitch gamer) hating the VX900 I've got for anything other than the brightness issues.

Mike U.
May 17, 2003 7:51:47 PM

Just out of curiosity, what is your sound set up. You mentioned you have a home theater PC. Are those PC or Home Theater speakers you have.
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