Not All LCD Panels Are Created Equal

When I purchased my last set of LCD monitors, I didn't fully understand that not all LCD panels are created equal. There are three distinct families of LCD display technology, each with their own tradeoffs and peculiarities. Before you buy a new LCD display, you should take note of what kind of panel technology you're investing in.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at:

Wait, where does Average fall compared to Excellent and Good? If there is nothing below Good, does that mean that Average is between Excellent and Good? Or are there two other choices below Average that just don’t exist for these three types of LCDs?

Average – Good – Excellent

If you’re looking for numbers, I suggest you read the X-bit Labs article and drill down into the review data for individual LCDs.

I wondered what it meant that my LCD TV said ‘In Plane Switching’ on it, but didn’t need to know that to appreciate the amazing colors! People comment on it, especially when I turn on Discovery’s Planet Earth in HD.

Now I know, though!

In case you’re wondering, it’s a Syntax Olevia 26" HD-ready that I bought about 10 months ago for only $450. I love it!

Hey Now Jeff,
As always very informative, now I know all LCD monitors are not created equal. I gotta trust a triple monitor guy like you. That buying guide you linked to looks like a real good resource to have.
Coding Horror Fan,

Jeff: Thanks for another useful post and link to the LCD monitor buying guide.

Would you please change your blog behavior so that when I click on the "Read older entries " link at the bottom of the page, it takes me to the next page of entries, rather than a specific older entry?

The current configuration makes it difficult to read through your older posts, and I often find that I stop after the first page.

Looks like the aluminum 24" iMacs have an H-IPS display. That certainly makes the prices on them look more competitive.

Thanks for bringing this to my attention :slight_smile:

I went out and read the full article, and am excited my Dell monitor (2407WFP) falls into the S-PVA class. Always been happy with it :slight_smile:

Jeff, I think Catto is trying to mess with your head. :slight_smile:

Are you ever going to write about coding again? (And no, “I love makefiles” and “I love regexes” do not count as “coding” entries.)

Where does one find what technology the Apple monitors use? I have the 23" LCD and can view it at any angle (even near 180 degrees vertical or horizontal).

I wish I had found this earlier, although I really can’t complain about my 204B Samsung. I really wanted the 24 inch version, but I went with what I could afford. And I was tired of reading about 1280x1024 when I knew I wanted 1600x1200, just like my CRT (that died a month after I got the flatscreen - at least I knew it was dying before hand! :slight_smile:

But definitely something I’ll keep in mind when I decide to get that second monitor. And I will be getting one before too darn long.

I couldn’t find a definitive source, but it looks like the Apple Cinema displays are mostly S-IPS panels.

Glad that I decided to come take a look at your bog today. I just sat down this afternoon and started looking around for the LCD screens which I’ll be using on the new system that I’m building. Now it looks like I have a whole new set of criteria to think about before making my choice. Excelent read as allways, and very informative.

Part 2: What’s a Panel Lottery, and Why You Might Want to Play

Because S-IPS panels tend to be adopted by more high-end manufacters (like Apple and NEC) most end up being quite expensive. The good news is that some S-IPS panels make it into mid-priced monitors too. The bad news is that many of those suffer from the “panel lottery” problem. A panel lotery is when a manufacturer decides to ship different panel types under the same model designation, forcing people to either “buy blind” or figure out some way to tease the panel type information from the manufacturer’s cryptic serial numbers ans revision codes.

Of course you can always count on someone somewhere doing the latter: here are the HardOCP forum threads for the HP LP2065 (20" 4:3) and the Dell 2007FP and 2007WFP (20" 4:3 and 16:10 respectively): (all the info you need is in the first post)

Armed with this information there are 3 possible strategies:

  • If you can get it from an online store with a good returns policy, order one and hope for the best (this is the lottery part :). If you get the non S-IPS version just send it back. This appears to work well when ordering direct from Dell, for example.
  • Find the monitor you want at a retail store and check for the panel type (no lottery)
  • Get it from ebay. This has the advantage that you can ask the seller for the panel identifying information (again, no lottery)

(BTW, I list 20" models because that’s what I was looking for, there are probably other choices for other sizes. The exception is 24", there are no 24" IPS panels currently in the market at all, the closest you can get is the 23" Apple Cinema Display.)

Me, I got a Dell 2007FP from ebay for 215 incl. shipping. Not much more expensive than a cheapo TN panel after all!


paol, thanks for sharing your expertise on this topic! Great stuff!

You people are clearly in need of some links :slight_smile:

First, the panel database at tftcentral, where you can check the exact panel used in any monitor (may not have the very newest models):

And a searchable version here:

Another similar site, but I haven’t used it as much:

(to Dave: all Apple Cinema Displays are S-IPS, as you can see from the above)

I have no idea what panel type they are, but I have a 24in Dell purchased in August 2005, and a 30in Dell purchased in July, and they both rock. The 30 cost 1200 USD, not a trivial amount but certainly less than Apple or others. I can view from any angle, practically “pencil vision” as I am looking at the side of the monitor itself almost, and they look great. Color is great( although I am not doing work for print and can’t speak much for ICC perfect color ), brightness, etc. Hell, even games and movies with fast motion have no refresh issues.

I am one happy coder.

I thought I would post some more info, as I’ve recently gone throught the same discovery proccess as Jeff. I was hanging on to my aging Sony 19" CRT but it started dying on me and, according to Sony, could not be fixed, so I set out to find an LCD that didn’t suck.

I would recommend anyone serious about display quality to read up on it a lot before buying, as there a lot more to it than I could cover in this comment. Don’t even bother with panel “reviews” in sites like cnet and such, those people couln’t tell an LCD from a CRT if it dropped on their foot. Specialist sites like are a better place to start.

Also, be aware that different uses and different individual sensibilities means that not everyone will benefit from the “better” panel types. If you’re happy with one of the supposedly inferior panels, by all means get it and spend the leftover money on something else.

That said, for me it was S-IPS or bust. Here’s why:

  • TN vertical viewing angles are just hideous. This isn’t just theoretical either, my work assigned portable has a TN panel. Even though it’s only a 14" I can stand still and see a strong color/brightness/contrast gradient from top to bottom. In eclipse which uses tiny colored markers along the right edge of the editor to signal errors, search matches, etc, I find myself cranning my neck up and down just to seem them at all. Light colors on light backgrounds often become completely invisible below the middle of the screen, and the same for dark colors above.

  • PVA and MVA are better but suffer from their own angle problems, this time in the horizontal. A single solid color across the monitorwill appear darker directly in front of your eyes and lighter toward the left and right. Some people seem ok with this, others swear it drives them crazy due to the “sheen” efect caused by each eye not seeing the same color (slightly different viewing angles you see…) I checked out PVA panels in stores and the sheen effect was clearly visible, so I decided to steer clear of these.

  • The response time argument in modern panels is a red herring IMHO. TN film panels have the lowest figures, but any decent IPS or *VA panel today will have 8ms grey-to-grey, which at least to my eyes is more than good enough for gaming.

After the break: how to win a S-IPS panel in the lottery, without breaking the bank :slight_smile:

Good article Jeff.

Your HTML chart has two problems though:

  1. There is no key/legend.
  2. I am slightly color blind so I am unable to easily match the colors on say the TN row with the A-TW-IPS row. For example TN View Angle(V) looks the same as A-TW-IPS Cost to my eye. (I use utils called Zoomplus and WhatColor to help me out here).

Interestingly I’m using a TN LCD panel so the vertical color variance probably makes things even harder for me.

HardForum should be everyone’s first stop when searching for an LCD. They have massive threads discussing everything - from backlight bleeding, to colour shifts and weird firmware quirks.

That said, after going through their Displays subforum, I decided to stick to my old CRT for a while. LCD just doesn’t seem there yet, everything has its quirks. TN isn’t an option, *VA annoys the hell out of me, and *IPS monitors are either too expensive, unobtainable, too small, too big, or have problems with backlight bleeding.

I’m waiting for OLED and SED. Should my CRT die in the meantime, I’ll buy a cheap, used one.