Big Screens, Small Budget
Need even more space? Entry-level wide-screen models sized at 23 or 24 inches start at around $250--not much more than 22-inch units--while the least expensive midrange model on our 23- and 24-inch wide-screen LCD chart is the $649 HP LP2465, ranked third, behind the 24-inch Dell UltraSharp 2407WFP. With a typical native resolution of 1920 by 1200, 23- and 24-inch or larger LCDs are your best bet for watching Blu-ray or HD DVD movies, because these displays do not have to scale down the content to fit the screen.
Since people tend to rate bigger monitors higher when comparing them with smaller ones, we allow only displays with a 10 percent difference along the diagonal (which translates into roughly 20 percent along the horizontal) to be tested against one another. That's why the models in our first-ever 25.5-inch to 28-inch wide-screen monitors chart aren't tested against 23- and 24-inch monitors, despite sharing the same 1920 by 1200 native resolution.
Though basic 26-inch monitors start at about $550, the 28-inch (27.5-inch viewable area) Hanns.G HG-281DJB that we tested is temptingly priced at $600; that alone earned it a spot on our chart. The display does a decent job with office documents and has HDMI, but in our tests it was unable to handle very light and very dark blocks of color, producing muddled tones instead. The 26-inch (25.5-inch viewable area) Acer AL2626Wd, also low-priced, at $649, struggled with graphics, too; it lacked the color saturation to produce truly vivid images. Note that with monitors of this size category in particular, we're seeing vendors slightly round up an LCD's viewable image size (calling a flat-panel measuring 25.5 inches a 26-inch model for instance). So far they've been good about not totally misrepresenting the true size, but you should always be sure to check the specifications.
Our Best Buy nod went to the reasonably priced (for its features) $1000 Samsung SyncMaster 275T, a 27-inch model. It received accolades from our jury for excellent text rendering, as well as for delivering sufficiently good graphics.
With larger models, picture-in-picture abilities become more common. The Samsung, along with the second-place, $1199 Dell UltraSharp 2707WFP, for example, lets you work on documents while also watching video on a smaller screen.
The Swinging 30s
Just a year ago, a 24- or 27-inch display might have been considered luxurious, but now 30 inches is the new size to lust after. The least expensive model on our 30-inch monitors chart is also our Best Buy, the $1179 Samsung SyncMaster 305T. It rendered impressive text, but some of its photos exhibited a slightly dark cast. All of the models on the chart deliver excellent image quality with incredibly sharp text and vibrant colors. In addition, each offers features such as built-in media card slots or multiple DVI ports. Because of their high 2560 by 1600 resolution, these 30-inchers require a high-bandwidth dual-link DVI cable, as well as a graphics card that drives dual DVI-out. Most models include this cable in the box, but you may have to supply the graphics card, which can add to the cost if you don't already have one.