The Wide-Screen Myth
Wide-format displays first appeared on portable computers, and they quickly became the standard in the world of mobile computing. Today offering a laptop or notebook with a 4:3 display is considered positively reactionary, as a good number of manufacturers have learned to their dismay. Wide-format displays for desktop computers are becoming the rule for 20" panels. They've become trend items and everybody is singing their praises: Their format is better suited to human vision, which is more peripheral than vertical. The 16:10 format fits well with movies. The higher resolution is a joy with office applications, and especially with Excel, where the number of columns it can display expands utility. The same goes for word processing, since it's now possible to display two text documents side by side. In short, there's no obstacle to pushing the 16:10 display format anywhere and everywhere; in the minds of marketers, at least.
Still, there are some limits here. First of all, while the format itself is ideal for video, few panels are really suited to the task. The video noise induced by the technology they use is a major stumbling block for wide monitors. Then, the response of 20" wide-format panels is not as good overall as that of standard 19" LCD displays. Up to now no 16:10 monitor was able to rival the ViewSonic VX922 for low latency. That's the reason why few gamers have moved from standard to wide displays. Finally, the price of wide-screen 20" monitors is still higher than for 5:4 displays. All these phenomena, taken together, explain why wide-screen 20" monitors have been less than successful up to now.
But monitor makers haven't given up, and while the situation hasn't changed much where 20" displays are concerned, the counterattack is coming from 19" and 22" wide models. And the surprise is that these wide models are significantly less expensive than standard-format monitors. The 19" models are particularly impressive for their low price. You can find wide-screen 19" monitors for less than $200! You have to admit it's tempting.
So what's the secret of the highly aggressive price point? The answer has more to do with the LCD panel fabrication process than with any reduction in the quality of the displays - all the better for us. First of all, a 19" wide-screen display has only 14% more viewing area than a standard-format 17", whereas the visual impression for the user is out of all proportion with the difference. That's essentially due to the way we perceive space. Our highly lateral vision is much more at home with wide horizontal surfaces. The result is that 19" wide displays are a genuine improvement in comfort for an additional cost that's very acceptable for the manufacturer.
Then, you have to keep in mind that LCDs are manufactured using a process that's very similar to the one used for semiconductors. Glass substrates are printed using lithography, depositing the TFT transistors onto the glass. It's easy to see that the more displays that can be made from a sheet of substrate, the lower the unit price will be, since the cost of the sheet of substrate is divided by the number of displays. And that's just where wide 19" displays have an advantage. On a fifth-generation substrate, measuring 1100 mm x 1300 mm, the AU Optronics, Samsung and Innolux fabs can make nine 19" monitors in 5:4 format or twelve wide-format monitors with the same 19" diagonal. That's why 19" wide panels are less expensive than standard 19"ers. The manufacturer ChiMei is breaking all the records in this area. One of their 1300 mm x 1500 mm substrate sheets can produce 15 wide 19" LCD panels. Sixth- and seventh-generation substrates are bigger and bigger yet and confirm the trend.
So get used to the idea that if you're looking for a low-cost monitor, you'll have to move to 16:10 format. But "low-cost" doesn't have to mean low quality - the quality of the 19" wide displays I tested was quite satisfactory overall. That doesn't mean that you can ignore the wide variations in performance in the panels I tested in this roundup. Latency, for example, was highly variable, depending on whether the manufacturer uses Overdrive technology or not. And needless to say, the performance differences aren't visible at all in the specifications the manufacturers dish out! But lucky for you, I'm here to test the latency and all other important parameters of each LCD monitor. So you'll be able to make your choice with your eyes open.