Review: 6 HD displays, from midsize to massive

We look at 6 HD displays, from 21.5 inches to 46 inches, to see whether size matters when looking for a great monitor.

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(46 inches)

What do you call a 55-inch desk with a 46-inch monitor sitting on top of it?


One note of caution comes directly from the NEC's M46-AV's user manual: "DO NOT mount the monitor yourself. Please ask dealer. For proper installation it is strongly recommended to use a trained, qualified technician." Having spent four and a half hours wresting the 86.6-lb. monitor out of the box and onto a desk, I can unequivocally tell you that's a good idea.

Highlights: The M46-AV has a 1920 x 1080-pixel native mode and supports VGA, DVI-D, HDMI, S-video and component connections.

HD displays

With almost everyone sporting large dynamic contrast ratios, NEC's static 1000:1 ratio might seem timid. And although it has a relatively high 450 cd/m² brightness rating, I didn't need to dial down the M46-AV at all. It was perfect out of the box.

Its response time, 18ms, may give you pause, especially since all the other displays in this roundup are in the 2ms to 5ms range. But NEC engages in a neat bit of technological magic it calls "Rapid Response" that actually (according to the company) ramps that down to an effective 4ms while providing support for as high as a 250fps rate.

Test results: Step away from the M46-AV. No, seriously -- you probably need to give yourself about 6 feet (minimum) of distance between your face and the display. (Which is why you're not seriously going to use this as a computer monitor -- unless you like working across the room from your system.) You'll still be able to see the tread pattern on the tires of Batman's Tumbler but, at that distance, it won't look like a French Impressionist painting.

DisplayMate didn't find any bloom or blur and the monitor's gray/white levels, color and screen geometry were all within acceptable levels.

If you should happen to need to adjust anything on the monitor while you're sitting across the room, don't worry if you lack a boarding house reach. The M46-AV has a remote control for long-distance adjustments.

Picture quality: Watching a movie on the M46-AV, you just want to sit back, kick off your shoes and grab a handful of popcorn while you watch perfect color with incredible detail.

Conclusion: NEC's M46-AV is big and costly, and definitely over-indulgent for the average person. However, it's good to know that you can buy happiness.

Final thoughts

The truth is that contrast (the ratio of brightness to darkness) and color accuracy are more important than screen size. Despite ranging from 21.5 inches to 46 inches, our six monitors all displayed high HD video quality with only a little variation.

It was, in fact, the brightness and contrast adjustments that meant the most to the display quality. (Color was set correctly in all cases out of the box.)

Why is that? Simple: High definition almost invariably looks good unless you mess up the brightness and contrast ratio of the display or manage to get the color wrong. That's why, rather than worry about 1920 x 1200 or 1920 x 1080 or 21.5 inches or 46 inches (although almost all of us could certainly learn to live with a display that size), the better course of action is to spend some quality time with your HD monitor making sure the brightness, contrast and color meet your expectations.

Basic rule of thumb: You shouldn't have to squint when looking at a bright image. Once you've fixed that, then adjust the contrast so the picture doesn't appear too dark or washed out. And while color is a specific frequency of light, most of us know what red or blue or yellow should look like without resorting to expensive metering equipment.

If all of that sounds a bit subjective, once you're beyond the resolution issue, it really does boil down to: "I may not be able to define what HD is, but I know it when I see it."

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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