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Tom's Back To School Guide: Gear for Work

Displays

By Ed Tittel

LaCie 324 24” LCD Monitor with Hood and Calibration Software

$1,240, available from PCConnection.com

When it comes to flat panel displays for PCs, some are better than others, and they usually sport price tags to match. The main reasons for the high cost of high-end displays are their ability to reproduce color accurately, and also their overall resolution. More expensive monitors lend themselves well to photo editing, series computer graphics work, high-resolution animation and other graphics intensive applications. The best such monitors cost $3,000 or more, but this 24” LaCie monitor offers excellent color handling, 1920x1200 resolution, and even includes color calibration software, all for the relative bargain price of around $1,100.

Students learning about computer graphics, graphic arts, photography and so forth will find the LaCie 324 eminently well-suited to support their studies and related graphical interests. The unit also supports 10-bit gamma correction, offers two HDMI ports plus DVI-D and conventional VGA inputs, and even supports Faroudja Directional Correlation Deinterlacing (DCDi), to smoothe out the processing of rapidly moving images on-screen, which are common in action movies, sporting events and computer games. It even offers a snazzy picture-in-picture (PIP) capability, that permits easy repositioning of the PIP frame, and makes source selections for the main and PIP image feeds easy.

The calibration software included on CD-ROM with the unit permits users to select specific color profiles to drive the display, and to save their own custom profiles as needed.

Display options include four zoom and aspect ratio modes, including Dx2D, which magnifies the source to 1920x1200 resolution. You’ll also find accessible controls for brightness, contrast, color temperature, gamma, noise reduction and so forth. Overall, this monitor is a great tool for your graphically inclined student!

For more info, see the LaCie 324 product page

Samsung 245BW SyncMaster 24" Monitor

About $430, available from CDW.com

For those who don’t need serious graphics capability or color accuracy, the Samsung SyncMaster 245BW makes a great and affordable widescreen desktop monitor. At a price of around $400, it’s one of the cheapest 24" LCDs available. Despite the low cost, though, the 245BW offers 1920x1200 resolution, excellent brightness (400 cd/m2), a high contrast ratio (1000:1, 3000:1 dynamic), and excellent response time (5 ms). With HDCP support, even though this monitor lacks an HDMI port, it can still play back Blu-ray discs given the proper hook-ups using DVI-D or an HDMI to DVI-D adapter or cable. Its speedy response time also makes this monitor excel at computer gaming.

Samsung manages to keep the price down by skipping many of the features commonly found on 24" monitors. There are no USB ports, memory card readers, built-in loudspeakers or other frills (though some may argue that omitting HDMI is going too far). That said, unlike the LaCie 324, the 245BW offers less color capability and accuracy, by approximating 16.7 million colors rather than offering them directly and discretely. Also, this unit is best viewed straight on, as it offers a modest 160° viewing angle. But for typical Windows use, serious gaming, and light-duty graphics, students will find that the 245BW offers them a fabulous amount of screen real estate at a great price.

For those seeking to watch videos, play games, or run standard Windows applications on the big screen, the Samsung 245BW offers an excellent compromise between cost and capability. For more information on this monitor, please consult the Samsung product page .

Dell Ultrasharp 2408WFP Widescreen Flat Panel Monitor

$679, available from Dell.com

The Dell Ultrasharp LCD monitor family is nearly 10 years old; the latest model numbers end with an 08 suffix. We wanted to include the 27" model here, but it won’t be available until later this year, so we can’t share pictures or stats on it yet. The 2408 model is a smaller but still capable monitor that shares most of the same features its bigger cousin will also sport. Both units feature a resolution of 1920x1200, response time at 6 ms, color support at 16.7 million colors and 110% color gamut, with a 1300:1 contrast ratio.

What makes the 08 Ultrasharps interesting is their inclusion of Dell-driven VESA standard DisplayPort technology. Though it hasn’t been universally adopted by monitor makers, its royalty-free, license-free, digital audio and video interconnect capability seeks to give license- and royalty-required HDMI technology a run for consumer loyalty, if not for as much of their money. (For more information about DisplayPort, see the VESA press release .) Dell, however, hedges its bets on the 08 series by including both HDMI and DisplayPort hook-ups, as well as DVI-D, VGA, component video, S-Video, and composite video inputs.

The 2408WFP excels at gaming and at DVD playback, including Blu-ray content. It’s also great for conventional display activities from the Windows desktop. At just over $600, it costs half again as much as the SyncMaster 245BW, but its bells and whistles, plus ports and connectors galore, mean there’s ample added value to offset extra costs. Particularly for entertainment oriented students, the 2408WFP delivers an excellent combination of features and functions.

For more info on this display, please consult the Dell product page .

eVGA UV Plus+ USB VGA Display Port

$65-$80, available from CompUSA.com

The eVGA UV Plus+ is a USB device that offers support for an additional display on a notebook or desktop PC. Simply plug the UV Plus+ into an available USB port, attach a display, and you can extend your Windows desktop from your current monitor onto that display as well. Essentially, the UV Plus+ adds another graphics adapter to your PC via USB, thereby extending your desktop real estate without loading down your existing graphics circuitry.

The UV Plus+ comes in two models: the UV-16, which supports display resolutions of up to 1680x1200, and the UV-12, which supports display resolutions up to 1440x900. The UV-16 costs about $80 while the UV-12 goes for around $65. Either device offers a peachy way to extend your desktop, particularly for notebook PCs where simply plugging in an external monitor may either blank out the built-in display, or put too much strain on the built-in graphics processor. Both models work with Vista’s Aero mode, support 16.7 million colors, and include a DVI port with a VGA-to-DVI adapter for VGA-only monitors.

The device draws less than 500 mA at 5V, so it may be safely powered through the USB port even on a notebook PC. Reduced battery life shouldn’t be much of an issue, especially given that the external monitor needs a wall socket anyway! eVGA claims you can add as many as six UV Plus+ devices to a single PC, for up to 7 monitors in all. Needless to say, even at 480 Mbps, this could bog down a USB root hub pretty well!

For more information on the UV-16, see its product page , likewise for the UV-12.