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Acer AL922 LCD Monitor Review

December 12, 2002



Many know that the side ratio for non-computer video is 4:3 in most cases - this is the standard. Widescreen movies where the sides relate to each other as 16 to 9 are not widely spread. In computer video systems in case of IBM PC it used to be different. The first graphics system (CGA) of such computers could work in two video modes with the aspect ratios of 8:5 or 16:5. The EGA added other modes, but there were also untypical of the non-computer epoch. The first attempt to use 4:3 on PCs was unsuccessful - the PGA adapter wasn't much in demand. First mass adapters supporting 640x480 pixels (4:3) improved the situation, but on the other hand, in this mode MCGA and VGA supported few colors, that is why the game developers preferred the mode of 320x200 at 256 colors that was available in these adapters because it looked more realistic. Then came SVGA but such adapters and their additional modes weren't standardized for a long time, that is why game applications were developed mostly for VGA and 8:5. Graphics OSes weren't widely used at that time, and the side ratio of 4:3 couldn't be seen often.

The situation changed with the advent of the Windows and a transition of games under this OS. Even 640x480 was not sufficient for a multiwindowing environment, and users shifted to higher video modes. Gaming and other applications started to use the OS means as well and were not bound to the hardware anymore. The more or less standard video mode for 2D graphics was first 800x600 and then 1024x768. Because of the progress of 3D accelerators a typical resolution of the 3D sphere quickly jumped from 640x480 to 800x600 and then to 1024x768. But the things which finally went right were nearing some troubles.

Nobody thought the progress would be so fast. VESA first standardized video modes up to 1024x768 and calmed down. The next mode to become standard was 1280x1024 with the side ratio of 5:4. It was followed by 1600x1200. Even today not all monitors support this mode, and those which do are not always good at it, and 1024x768 is not enough already. However, video cards excellently support non-standard modes, and the monitors are not forced to run at their breaking points, that is why the users quickly turned to video modes like 1280x960 or 1440x1080 (especially the latter which looks perfect on a 20" CRT monitor, contrary to too small 1600x1200). It could be OK, but it was the time when LCD monitors were storming into the market in large quantities. As you know, LCDs have much worse image quality in any resolution which is not standard for a given matrix or divisible by a whole number (e.g. at the matrix resolution of 1024x768 an image of 512x384 will look noticeably better than 640x480, and the top quality can be obtained only at 1024x768). The matrix makers can't optimize their products for nonstandard video modes (though such solutions could be like hot cakes). The matrix of 1600x1200 is still too expensive (it's almost 2 million pixels, i.e. 6 million transistors!), 1024x768 is still too little, and we again turn our back on 4:3 in favor of 5:4. The number of LCD models designed exactly for 1280x1024 is really great. Such matrices can differ not only in internal parameters - they can have different diagonals - 16" (equal to 17 of CRT), 17", 18" and even 19", though the latter is not widely available on the market.

1280x1024 on a 19" LCD? What for?

What is it really for? Evidently, we can go with 1600x1200 on such a monitor. Maybe, it's not very comfortable to work on them, but the price gap between 19" and 20" is relatively small, and it's quite possible to feel comfortable with the latter. The matter is in a pixel size.

Unlike to a pixel pitch specified for CRT, matrixes have exactly a pixel size indicated in their specs, i.e. the size of the minimal image element. Most sizes in modern operating systems are made dependent on pixels, i.e. the smaller the pixel, the smaller all the rest. The ways to avoid such dependence are known, but they are not always handy or useful - if you work only with texts, the resolution of 1280x1024 with large fonts will provide no more space for other information than the resolution of 1024x768 with the standard fonts. That is why the monitors with a bigger pixel size (within reasonable limits) are more convenient than with a smaller one. Therefore, 16" LCDs seem to be an odd thing, 17" is probably a new standard while 18" monitors are in greater demand in spite of their higher price and characteristics comparable to 17" models. But when I was speaking about comfortable work I meant users with good eyesight.

Today there are a lot of short-sighted people, and they need larger images not to strain their eyes even more. Quite often we are asked in the forum questions like: "are there 14" or 15" LCDs with the resolution of 800x600 pixels?" Well, even a pixel of 0.297 mm (the standard for 15" monitors at 1024x768) is not enough. What about monitors fixed at 1280x1024? The pixel size on a 16" model is too small, on a 17" one it's only 0.264 mm and at 18" it equals to 0.2805 mm. Well, the requirements are even more tougher for eyesight. The 19" diagonal provides 0.294 mm, that is why such monitor is entirely equivalent to a 15" one in comfortable operation and outshines all its brothers of the same resolution. Such monitors should be taken into consideration when you are choosing a monitor, and one of such models will be examined today.

Meet the Acer AL922!

Matrix

This monitor is interesting not just because of its untypical correlation of a diagonal and a working resolution. We used to the fact that Acer is one of the largest makers of LC matrices which are used in monitors of Acer and other companies. But some time ago the department producing matrices turned into a separate firm, though Acer itself keeps on manufacturing monitors. And now a monitor marked as Acer can have a matrix from any other manufacturer as well. The AL922 is the first such monitor in our lab as the matrix is made by Fujitsu.

But end-users are usually indifferent to such things - the characteristics are the first thing that matters. The AL922 has something to surprise us with - just look at its contrast level - 500:1! The brightness is only 250 cd/m2. Well, Fujitsu managed to reach the highest contrast level without lifting brightness too high (most monitors of such brightness level provide only 350:1 or less, - the highest level achieved before was 450:1 of the NEC LCD1550VM). In other words , they improved the contrast not by increasing brightness of white color but by decreasing it of dark gray which is considered black :) The tests prove that quality of the black color is really high on the AL922 compared to its competitors. 

Other characteristics of the panel are standard for modern monitors: the pixel switch time of 25 ms (10:15), and 16 M colors. The viewing angle which is a key factor for such big monitors is 170° in both directions. Others have it at best 160 degrees. But note that such a wide range of viewing angles doesn't mean that the image quality will be the same if you look at the screen almost parallel to it and at the right angle. Colors will certainly be distorted. But noticeable distortions appear only at angles greater than usually used in work, or even when you watch video lying on a sofa (though the monitor is, first of all, meant for advanced offices).

Monitor on the whole

So, the model is built on a matrix with very good parameters. The other components are matched: the high-quality electronic system supports the refresh rate of 75 Hz in all modes including the maximum one. 

I'm often asked why I study operation at the refresh rate higher than 60 Hz if an image doesn't flicker at this frequency already, and for 3D games a pixel switch time is not enough. It didn't matter for old matrices because a monitor with the switch time of 40 ms (15:25) could provide only 55-60 fps in games. And for new matrixes the average fps is higher - about 80. Of course, with the VSync and at 60 Hz it's not noticeable - we will get the same 60 FPS (only less blurry images at definite moments), like on the old monitors. And a higher refresh rate provides FPS suitable both for single-player and network games. If the manufacturers succeed in making a transition to 19 ms (7:12), the problem of support of a higher refresh rate will be more critical.
The monitor can be connected to a computer via a digital DVI-D interface and an analog one. It has separate inputs which are reswitched in the menu, and you can attach two computer cases to it (though it's more handy to reswitch using a button on the front panel like in the BenQ FP2081). I tested the monitor only with the digital interface. I think most of you will use it; a DVI connector is standard for modern video cards. If you remember I didn't notice any difference between these two interfaces in case of the more demanding (because of a higher resolution) BenQ monitor. 

The PC connectors are located on the back on the edge and covered with a lid. It's easy to reach the connectors and they are turned by 90 degrees for better arrangement of the cables. The lid also hides a connector for an external power supply unit and a linear audio-in. Lack of video-ins implies that the monitor is meant for office use rather than for home entertainment. The built-in speakers are of terrible quality, though it's enough for system buzz and MP3 files of a low bitrate. However, they are very well concealed under the plastic grids which merge with the front surface of the monitor. Underneath there are an analog volume control and a headphones-out (so, you don't need to stretch the cables to the PC case).

There are five control buttons located in the center under the screen. A big one in the middle is a on/off button (note that it's possible to cut the power completely with a switch located under the lid next to the connectors), the rest of the buttons are used for menu navigation and other purposes. This looks very similar to the Hansol monitors, and works the same way.

In general, the monitor looks pretty nice. The case is made of high-quality silvery gray plastic which conforms to the TCO99 standard. It can be tilted by -5 to +25 degrees from the vertical line. Also, you can rotate it on its round base (by 45° in each direction; the neutral position is marked), which is similar to CRT models. On the one hand, it's not necessary for an LCD model as it's light enough, but on the other hand, why to rotate the whole construction :) Besides, you can detach the monitor from its base and mount onto any other VESA-compatible holder. Sometimes ago it was an exclusive feature, but in modern solutions it's standard.

Well, the design deserves A. This is not a futuristic Hercules Prophetview 920, but a beautiful stylish monitor meant for office use.

Finally, the dimensions :) The 19" (48 cm) matrix measures 376.32 by 301.056 mm. The monitor together with the support is 433x447x235 mm, i.e. it is very compact for such diagonal.

Personal impressions

It's much more comfortable to work with the AL922 than with 18" and 17" solutions. It relates to office applications and wandering on the network, as well as to video playback, because the screen size matters a lot there. But the best way to use its advantages is in work with texts. At the expense of the bigger pixel the eyes are under the less strain and you can make yourself more comfortable in front of such a big monitor. Such monitors are a next step after 15" models: the resolution is higher and you don't have to compromise with your eyes. But it's doesn't matter for games, and for graphics a smaller pixel is even better. That is why it's for you to choose.

As for this model, it really shined today. The matrix supports a high contrast level coupled with normal brightness, hence the excellent black color. I have noticed no artefacts. Well, it was expected that a baby of such powerful parents as Acer and Fujitsu would hardly have any artifacts.

Summary

I liked the Acer AL922. But whether you are going to like it depends on where you will use it. The built-in speakers and missing video-ins, as well as the austere design, say that the monitor was developed for office use. But the 19" model looks quite pricey for an ordinary office, - the AL922 will probably take some space on a boss's desk. The monitor doesn't look optimal for home, though it depends. Short-sighted users should go with a monitor of this class, though they are dearer than identical 18" and 17" displays because the eyes won't be strained so much.

Well, the monitor deserves the rapt attention indeed. It can be the best choice for many.
 
 

 

Andrei Kozhemyako  aka Korzh (korzh@ixbt.com)
 

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