Welcome to the second annual SRO Plasma & LCD Buyer's Guide! If there was any doubt that LCD and plasma monitors are mainstream products, this past year should put it to rest once and for all. Sales of plasma and LCD monitors (and integrated TVs) continue to climb while a buyer's market has resulted in some amazing price drops.
And folks are using them everywhere, from airports and shopping malls to movie theaters, branded retail stores, theme parks, and even in broadcast and media production environments. You can get them with screen sizes as small as 10" or as large as 63", and they can be flown, tiled, driven with seamless mixers, or even built into mini datawalls using internal image segmenting software.
NEC PS 42VP4
Once again, I have tried to gather as many models as possible into one master listing. There's been a slight change from last year's guide, however. Due to the limited number of products in the 10" to 14" range, I consolidated that grouping with the 15" to 19" category. The next three categories remain the same — 20" to 30" displays, 31" to 46" displays, and 50" to 63" displays.
Within each category, products are differentiated by aspect ratio and screen size, and products are arranged in ascending order of price. The prices shown are current manufacturer's MSRPs as of Aug. 1, 2003. Keep in mind that some models will just be coming to market, while others may be close to retirement. Always check with your dealer to be certain.
How to Read the Tables
I provided several fields of data in an attempt to condense and simplify the manufacturer's published specifications. But there are caveats (aren't there always?) to the data fields.
For one thing, many of the smaller LCD panels — and some plasma models, too — usually come with support legs or stands as a stock item. Other models offer a support stand as an accessory. The prices shown do not include accessory stands unless I have made a notation to the contrary. If you want speakers with your monitor, you'll find that some models include them and others don't. Check the last column to be sure.
Under the Imaging Matrix column, you'll see a number that represents the native pixel resolution of the LCD or plasma monitor. The notation “NS” stands for non-square pixels, which are found on 32" and 42" ALiS (alternate lighting of surfaces) plasma monitors as well as some of the 42" and 43" XGA (1024×768) models.
Signal compatibility is listed for interlaced video (NTSC/PAL/SECAM), computer standard rates (VGA, SVGA, etc.), and DTV standard rates (480p, 720p, and 1080i). If you don't see support for specific video or PC standards spelled out when that particular LCD or plasma monitor might logically support them (i.e. support for 720p and 1080i on a 50" plasma monitor), it's because I had to rely on the specs provided by the manufacturers. A call to your dealer or a spec sheet check on the Internet will likely answer your question.
Cornea Systems CT1503T
In some cases, manufacturers provided additional information on compatibility with NTSC 4.43, 575i, 1080p/24sf (segmented frame), etc. I have noted these in the tables, but your particular model may also support these formats even though such support is not indicated. Again, your dealer will have the most up-to-date spec sheets.
Once again, kudos and thanks to all of the product managers, marketing managers, and press relations people who sorted through and organized this data for me, and then double-checked it again. Disclaimer: SRO cannot vouch for the accuracy of any of the data contained in these tables. We only believe it to be accurate. When in doubt, talk to a dealer or manufacturer.
10" to 19" monitors
There were so few entries in the 10" to 14" category that it may well disappear altogether next year. Even so, Sharp, Zenith, and Toshiba continue to sell variations on VGA-resolution (640×480) TVs that might be the thing for a small niche or a work-a-day video monitor. The price is certainly right, in any event.
Above 14", the world pretty much belongs to the XGA (1024×768) and SXGA (1280×1024) folks, with Sharp's LC-15M4U being the lone holdout at VGA rez. All of these monitors are 4:3 aspect ratio and more than a few of them can handle DTV rates, in particular Samsung's SM 152MP, BenQ's Q150, and Zenith's L15V24S. The Samsung monitor in particular is a good value, as is the BenQ offering.
You'll also start to see DVI inputs in this category — both of the BenQ 15" offerings have them, as do the BenQ and Cornea Systems 17" entrants. Only the Samsung SM 172MP is loaded for bear, though, with support up to SXGA and for all DTV rates. In the widescreen category, only two products made an appearance — Cornea Systems' CT1711 (supports all PC and DTV rates) and Zenith's L17W36, which probably supports those rates too, even though the manufacturer information stated only NTSC compatibility.
20" to 30" monitors
This category, like the previous one, is dominated by LCD technology — there's not a plasma panel to be seen anyplace. In the 4:3 grouping, BenQ's H200 and Samsung's SM 211MP offer the widest range of signal compatibility. The Samsung panel and Hitachi's CML200B also have the highest resolution in this class with 1600×1200 native pixels. But the CML200B might be the better value, considering its price is a little more than one-third of the Samsung product, and it's only one inch smaller in screen size.
The 16:9 category features products from 24" to 30" with a wide range of native resolutions. Samsung's SM 241MP wins the award for highest pixel density at 1900×1200, while the rest of the gang (except for BenQ's DV2680) offers the pretty-much-standard 1280×768 widescreen matrix. Just about every monitor listed is compatible with PC rates to SXGA and also supports 480p, 720p, and 1080i, and five of the six widescreen models offer DVI inputs.
31" to 46" monitors
As was the case in 2002, this is the most crowded category. Take the time to count them and you'll find 32 different models listed, with the lone 4:3 version being Zenith's P40V24. All the rest are true widescreen (16:9) monitors, and many of them support a full range of PC and video standards — even some of the more exotic rates, like 1080p/24sf and PAL 575/50p.
There are some good deals to be had here. The Vizio P1 is currently the least-expensive 32" plasma TV (yup, it has an integrated NTSC tuner and speakers) in the crowd, and the Philips 32FD9554 also looks attractive. It has an optional A/V set-top box and can function as an integrated TV with PC and DTV support. (Look for the LCD crowd to take over this screen size in a year or two.)
There are three 37" displays, and two of them use LCD technology as well. In addition to Rainbow's 3750, Sharp has a newcomer with the LC-M3700. It's distinguished by a very high pixel density (1366×768) and is based on the LC-HV374U consumer LCD TV that debuted at CES 2003. LCDs also rule the roost in the 40" bracket with NEC-Mitsubishi's LCD4000 presenting a very attractive price and 1280×768 resolution.
Want a 42" plasma monitor? Good luck picking your model, as the field is really crowded. There is a wide disparity in prices — you can buy a pair of 42" SDTV monitors from Sampo, Panasonic, ViewSonic, and Fujitsu for what the NEC PS42XM2 will cost you. To be fair, all of the higher-priced models have correspondingly higher pixel densities, so you are getting something for the extra dollars.
Want a bigger screen? Pioneer's PDP-433CMX will give you an extra inch, but you'll pay quite a bit more for it. Of course, you'll also wind up with an “open-platform” expansion slot for custom video and PC cards, which remains a feature unique to Pioneer. Other panels such as the new Panasonic offerings have expansion slots, but you can only use Panasonic cards in them.
Still need more screen area? Check out the 46" offerings from V Inc., Princeton, and BenQ. These panels offer SDTV resolution, DVI inputs, and are compatible with a whole bunch of signals. Not only that, they cost less than many of the 42" panels. Think of it — four more diagonal inches of glass for a couple thousand less dollars. (Did I mention the Vizio P4 also has an integrated NTSC TV tuner?)
50" to 61" displays
The group way up here in the nosebleed seats can breathe easier for one more year — no LCD “infiltrators” to deal with quite yet. Seventeen products were submitted for your consideration, with 12 of them in the “sweet spot” 50" category. The best deals here are Sampo's PME-50X6 and ViewSonic's VPW505, both of which are priced significantly under $10K.
All of the models in this category are “true” HD monitors and range in resolution from 1280×768 to 1366×768 pixels (variations of wide XGA). Nine of them come standard with DVI inputs and every model has an on-board audio amplifier. In particular, the JVC 50" and Fujitsu 61" panels should really blow you out of your seats, with their audio ratings of 16 and 20 watts per channel, respectively.
The Sony, JVC, and Panasonic panels all claim compatibility with 1080p/24sf for postproduction work, but you may find other panels in this grouping also support that format. Several of the monitors will also synch up with signals as dense as 1600×1200 (UXGA). The Panasonic, Pioneer, and Hitachi monitors provide an expansion slot for more exotic video/PC formats, with the Panasonic being a proprietary design and the Pioneer/Hitachi versions more open to the marketplace.
The behemoths of the Guide are found above 60", with a pair of monitors from Zenith (P60W26H and P60W26P) hovering just under $20,000. NEC and Fujitsu both have 61" versions bracketed around that MSRP, while Samsung tops the field with its third-generation PPM63H3 (also at $20K). Not many of the first and second generation 63" Samsungs made it to market, so it will be interesting to see just how well this offering does.