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Project Iceberg (v1)

The astute reader will have noticed that I haven't made any mention of a monitor for my rig yet... I didn't buy a monitor with the new PC as I already had a pair of very capable and very expensive 21" Iiyama Vision Master Pro 502s. These CRTs are brilliant for graphical work, watching DVD's and gaming. Their high resolution means that reading even very small text is always comfortable.

My plan, therefore, was to use these excellent monitors with my new rig. The beige wasn't so much of a problem here as the monitors were, of course, external to the PC-6089. Even so, when I set them up alongside my (now gorgeous) PC, they looked dated. They also dwarfed the computer, taking attention away from it (and I hadn't built this machine to have it ignored).

Additionally, the graphics card has only one VGA port, whereas the Matrox Millenium G450 I had used in my previous machine had two and thus could drive both displays simultaneously. However, while the Radeon 9700 Pro has only one VGA port, it also has a DVI output. The card would drive a DVI and a VGA monitor simultaneously.

This presented me with something of a dilemma. I didn't have a DVI-capable monitor. I could just use one of my Iiyamas on the 9700's VGA line, but I had grown used to working across two monitors and I didn't want to lose the obvious benefits of such a configuration.

I had a couple of options: I could buy a PCI graphics card for my second display (so both would connect via VGA) or I could by a digital CRT or TFT monitor (which would be my primary display on DVI and one of the Iiyamas would then connect to the VGA port on the same card). Neither option was really appealing, I didn't want mix-and-match monitors, I wanted a matching pair. Nor did I want to tie up a valuable PCI slot with a second graphics card.

What I really wanted was to add a pair of large, sexy TFTs to my setup. TFTs would free up some valuable desk space and compliment the style of my system. They have their drawbacks though, not least of which is cost - especially for the larger panels (although becoming more affordable by the day). More worrying, they have slow refresh speeds and high latency - so, apparently, do not cope well with fast action games and DVDs.

Now I don't play games that often. When I do, it's more likely to be Microsoft Flight Simulator than Quake III. However, I do enjoy movies and I have an extensive collection of DVDs that I have always watched via my PC as I don't have a seperate DVD player. However, the wide range of connectivity options offered by my Iiyamas meant that I could just hook a regular DVD player up to one of them if I opted for TFTs and if the TFTs were no good for movies.

LG L1810B Flatron TFT Monitor...

So... I took the plunge and, causing panic in the offices of Barclaycard, I bought two award-winning LG L1810B Flatrons. I chose the L1810B because, to quote PC Magazine, "[they are] one of the best LCDs ever for playing games or watching movies".

There were many other factors in the LG's favour. With a smart silver bezel and black stand they look terrific, and compliment the PC-6089 very nicely. They have a very sleek, very slim bezel. The PSU is built into the monitor, whereas many TFTs run off a seperate "brick" power supply, adding to the clutter that already exists round the back of the average PC. The L1810Bs also have a USB hub in their stands (1 upstream, 2 downstream).

Significantly, each monitor has both a D-SUB and DVI input with automatic source detection. This meant that I could drive both monitors from the 9700 Pro, with my primary display on DVI and secondary on VGA. Perfect!

So what are they like? They are good, they are damn good. Now you have to appreciate that I have no apparatus for testing monitors, so my comments are subjective. However, I write having used these displays in the real world, with real applications and not in the controlled environment of a lab.

Running at their native resolution of 1280x1024, the display is bright, clear, well focused and with no obvious imperfections. Colour saturation is very good and, despite PC Magazine's comments, reds seem to be very vibrant to my eyes. I was amazed by the viewing angles of the panels too, when four friends gathered around the Iceberg they were all able to enjoy a "Cold Feet" DVD without any discomfort (although, naturally, brightness falls off considerably unless you are viewing "head-on"). The panels also cope well in a wide variety of lighting conditions, I've used them during the day (in direct sunlight), at night with all room lighting off and everything in between. They have excellent anti-glare properties.

I was slightly disappointed with the text rendering though, most fonts seemed to be more "jaggy" than they had appeared on the larger Iiyamas. I had resigned myself to it and was just starting to get used to it when I discovered the "ClearType" options in Windows XP. Enabling ClearType transformed the rendition of text. The jaggies disappeared completely, fonts were suddenly clear and easily readable as small as 8pt although, as PC Magazine observed, "reading fonts smaller than six points is almost impossible". I very rarely use text smaller than 8pt (bearing in mind that I'm running at a resolution of 1280x1024) and tend to use 10pt for day-to-day use, so this "problem" isn't really an issue for me. Your mileage may vary.

So, for day-to-day computing the L1810Bs are great, no complaints. But, I'm sure you are dying to know how they performed with DVDs and games...

As I have already explained, games aren't really my thing, so my catalogue is small. I tested the L1810B with two of the fastest games I have, Forsaken and Rollcage. Neither of these games posed any problems at all for the LG. Screen updating/refresh was spot on, no artifacts, no blurring, absolutely nothing to detract from the enjoyment of the game. The colours in Rollcage were rendered perfectly, the panel easily conveying the special atmosphere of this "world".

On to DVD playback... I tried a couple of discs to put the panel through its paces. M:I-2, Matrix, Tomb Raider and Ronin all have scenes with fast action, vibrant colours, moody colours and darkness. Again, the LCDs coped admirably and all four movies were perfectly watchable, with no distracting flaws. However, I did notice that blacks look a little "muddy" on occassion, but it wasn't enough to spoil the experience.

The biggest compliment I can pay to the LGs is this: I won't be firing up the Iiyamas for either DVDs or games. I am perfectly happy with these TFTs.

Note: Many potential buyers of TFTs are put off because of the risk of the dreaded "dead-pixel" [PDF]. I am delighted to report that the combined total of dead pixels on my pair of TFTs is exactly zero, nada, nil... TFT manufacturing is either improving considerably (very likely) or I am extremely lucky (previous experience would indicate otherwise).

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