It's been a long time coming. But things are finally starting to get interesting in the affordable monitor market. For the past 18 months or so, the sweet spot in terms of price and performance has been the 22-inch widescreen segment. However, despite the illusion of choice generated by the huge number of models on offer, nearly every 22-inch display has essentially been the same.
All were based on cheap TN panels with the same 1,680 x 1,050 pixel native resolution and 16:10 aspect ratio. OK, some were slightly superior to others. Prices have taken quite a tumble during that time frame, too. But the reality in terms of image quality has been varying degrees of mediocrity.
And technologically speaking, it's been a largely stagnant period.
But no longer. A few months ago Viewsonic released the first sensible-money monitor with an LED backlight in the form of the flawed but intriguing 22-inch VLED221WM. And now we have the vanguard of what promises to be a whole new generation of 22-inch models with a wider 16:9 aspect ratio and full HD 1080p resolution. If you believe the marketing bumpf, better support for HD video playback explains the shift to the slightly wider 16:9 aspect. It's certainly true that HDTV content maps perfectly to this new screen form factor.
However, virtually all feature films today are actually wider than 16:9. So even with the wider aspect, those black bars above and below the picture survive to irritate another day, albeit in slightly smaller proportions. The underlying truth, therefore, is that the 16:9 aspect allows manufacturers to squeeze a few more panels out of a given amount of LCD substrate. It's really about cutting costs.
Click to enlarge
For all other PC-related usage models, the benefit of the wider aspect is probably moot. For games, the visual impact of the marginally wider aspect is fairly negligible. For desktop work, it serves to make you feel rather constrained in the vertical axis, which is certainly a negative. Indeed, these new 22-inch 16:9 panels are actually marginally smaller overall than existing 16:10 screens.
But if the wider aspect is hardly a game changer, the jump from 1,680 x 1,050 pixels to 1,920 x 1,080 represents a substantial overall boost in usable screen real estate. With more pixels packed into a slightly smaller screen area, you also get the benefit a tighter pixel pitch and improved visual sharpness. Moreover, with the arrival of these new screens you can now buy a full 1080p monitor for under £150. That has to be a good thing.