Test Setup

We have covered this information in our desktop LCD reviews, but for those of you unfamiliar with some of the terminology used when discussing displays/LCDs we refer back to our Gateway FPD2485W review. The various specifications have become somewhat meaningless on the desktop, as the difference between higher contrast levels and higher quality isn't immediately apparent, for example. On notebooks, things are further exacerbated by the fact that most of the LCD panels don't list any specifications beyond the size and resolution. In some ways, this is the reverse of what we see on the desktop; we would almost go so far as to say that the manufacturers are aware of the poor quality of their laptop LCDs and they don't want to draw attention to this fact by listing specifications.

We couldn't dig up much information beyond the size and resolution, but we will provide actual measurements of some of the specifications later in this article. Here's a quick overview of the displays on the four laptops we're looking at today, all of which have been previously reviewed here at AnandTech. Hopefully, notebook manufacturers will begin to include more detail in their specifications in the near future.

Laptop LCD Specifications
Panel Size Resolution Panel Vendor Penel Model
ASUS A8Js 14.1" 1440x900 CMC CMO 1416
ASUS G2P 17.0" 1440x900 AU Optronics AUO 4087
Dell XPS M1710 17.0" 1920x1200 Seiko Epson SEC 3155
MSI S271 12.0" 1280x800 Unknown Unknown

Update: One of our readers suggested we try using a utility called Advanced System Information Tool (ASTRA32) to determine which LCD panels were actually being used in our test laptops. While we can't guarantee that the information is 100% accurate, it's at least something some of you will find useful. (Note for example that we were unable to get any details of the MSI S271 panel so far, but we will update the table if we can find updated drivers that will work with ASTRA32.) There is a very good chance that some notebook manufacturers will source LCD panels from more than one location, so for example the Dell XPS M1710 we have for testing may not be (and probably isn't) representative of all such laptops in the area of the LCD panel.

We mentioned in our review of the ASUS G2P that it had one of the best notebook LCDs that we had ever experienced, and our opinion has not changed. The only drawback is its relatively low resolution for a 17" laptop, but we have seen some other laptops advertising "ultra bright" LCDs with 1680x1050 and 1920x1200 resolutions, so those may be comparable to the G2P LCD. We can also say that the 1920x1200 17" laptops that we've encountered to date (the ABS Mayhem Z5 and some brief use of an Alienware notebook) appeared to be very similar to the XPS M1710 display.

Given how rapid desktop LCDs have been improving over the past three or four years, we're actually a bit surprised at the relatively low quality that we find in laptop LCDs. We understand the need to conserve power, particularly when running off of batteries, but the performance of laptops has reached the point now where many people would be more than happy with midrange (or even entry level) processor and graphics performance with a high-quality display, as opposed to extreme performance with a low-quality display. In some ways, the ASUS G2P is a perfect example of this, as its graphics chip is relatively underpowered compared to many of the other similarly priced notebooks. As we mentioned in our review, despite the "Gaming Series" moniker given to the G2P, it serves far better as a moderately powerful laptop with a great display than as something suitable for mobile gaming.

Just like in our desktop LCD reviews, we use a Monaco Optix XR (DTP-94) colorimeter and Monaco Optix XR Pro software for most of our objective measurements. Since the majority of people don't have such hardware/software available, we will also look at the uncalibrated performance of the notebooks.

Index Brightness and Contrast Ratio
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  • Hulk - Tuesday, May 22, 2007 - link

    You guys always find the unexpolored areas to investigate. Great job!

    I have also always wondered why laptop displays have seemingly stalled in comparision to desktops. I would gladly sacrifice a little battery life for a high quality desktop-like display.
  • rqle - Tuesday, May 22, 2007 - link

    Yup. Reviewing display from anandtech is great. Kudos on the viewing angle and response time. uniquely presented. ++
  • mongo lloyd - Tuesday, May 22, 2007 - link

    Not really. Behardware has been doing the same thing for quite a while.
  • skyyspam - Tuesday, May 22, 2007 - link

    I don't know why I haven't seen a laptop LCD comparison yet...but this has been very informative, and I only hope that Anandtech continues to evaluate laptop displays in the future.

    On the subject of laptop displays, how come I can't find a 17" stand-alone LCD panel that does 1920x1200? 24" is great and all, but sheesh--I don't need a screen to be that big. The 17" size is perfect for my eyes' resolving power.
  • Johnmcl7 - Tuesday, May 22, 2007 - link

    One aspect that doesn't seem to have been given much discussion is resolution, one thing that irritates me about desktop TFTs is the low resolution compared to laptop monitors. You can have 1920x1200 on a 15.4 inch laptop display but you need to go up to 23 inches on a desktop display to reach that resolution.

  • corduroygt - Tuesday, May 22, 2007 - link

    I believe that display quality goes down as dpi (resolution relative to the screen size) goes up, and that's why the XPS did so poorly while the G2P did well. For example, compare two 15.4" notebooks one with the 1280x800 res and the other with the 1680x1050, and you'd see the difference. Similarly, compare the A8Js with another asus that has a 14.1 screen with 1280x800, and the lower resolution panel will have much better results. It's harder to get light through when you have more transistors for some reason. Also I have an A8Js and it's funny you did not mention the regular sand grain pattern you can see very easily when you have a white background, which irritates me much more than any of the issues in this article. You should definitely research the correlation between dpi and screen performance, and this might also explain why desktop monitors fare way better, and large lcd tv's are the best when it comes to display quality.

  • Johnmcl7 - Tuesday, May 22, 2007 - link

    Sorry, I didn't realise I had to consult you for my own opinion on TFT monitors.

    I have no need to research this because my choice is high resolution, I have used laptops and desktop TFTs for years - my WUXGA monitors do not suffer from 'grain' and I prefer having the higher resolution to give me more working space. A 1280x800 screen, even if it's the highest quality ever made is still useless to me because there's so little I can fit on screen whereas the 1920x1200 monitors actually let me get on with what I want to do.

    If you don't like that, fair enough but given their existence in the laptop market clearly I'm not on my own in wanting a higher resolution - we should have the choice for our own preferences.

  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, May 22, 2007 - link

    I agree that it would definitely be nice if people have more choice available -- both in desktops as well as laptops. However, he may be correct that higher DPI LCDs result in lower overall quality in other areas. Unfortunately, since no one manufacturers anything like that for the desktop so far all we have is speculation.

    I personally prefer a slightly lower DPI, but that's mostly because my vision isn't that great. I still use a 30" desktop LCD, because I really like the high resolution, but the 24" LCDs are a bit easier on my eyes. Regardless, we will try to bring up this topic with some of the display manufacturers to get their input.
  • DerekWilson - Wednesday, May 23, 2007 - link

    I suppose this is where I interject the fact that high dpi effectively reduces aliasing without the need of graphical tricks (like antialiasing).

    The smaller each pixel, the less we will be able to see the stairstep pattern created by non-horizontal and non-vertical straight lines.

    For those interested in the signal processing theory behind this, more dots per inch (dpi) translates to a higher sample rate in converting the continuous representation of a 3d world into a digital representaion suitable for display. Higher sample rates can more accurately represent higher frequency data -- which in images appears as high contrast edges.

    Currently, aliasing is hidden using good game design techiques (avoid lots of high contrast edges), antialiasing (which increases the sample rate for each pixel and chooses pixel color based on more of the surfaces a single pixel covers), and low pass filtering (blurring the entire image slightly can reduce aliasing, but this is a low quality technique).

    Sufficiently high DPI would eliminate the need for all of these techniques and really increase the quality of graphics on the desktop.

    I would venture to guess that Jarred prefers lower dpi more because of the fact that operating systems interfaces don't currenlty scale well with dpi. High resolution shouldn't make things smaller, it should make things more detailed -- and it is the operating systems job to handle this in the majority of cases. modern operating systems fail at this.

    some games do this better -- in games where controls, text, etc. take up the same ammount of screen space no matter what resolution is selected effectively fudge on handling dpi correctly -- that is, things aren't built on a fixed number of pixels but on a fixed portion of the physical display.

    I'm not currently aware of games that do things "right" when it comes to dpi scaling -- that is that contorls and text would have a fixed size no matter what resolution or what size display is being used. This is how things should be done everywhere when it comes to graphical user interfaces. The application should be aware of how many pixels are in one inch, and it should be able to scale on screen controls and text to include more or fewer pixels to provide very consistent UI. This result in something like 18pt font always being 1/4 inch tall no matter what monitor and resolutoin combination are being used. (this also makes zooming in and out take on a meaningful role in the ui).

    Doesn't that just seem like the right way to do it in the first place? Oh well... it's apparenlty too complicated :-/

    But wow, I got off topic a bit ... If user interfaces scaled with dpi, we would all always perfer higher dpi, because higher dpi would directly translate into higher quality images consisting of higher frequency data giving us less aliasing and smoother images without blurring or subsampling.

    high dpi is good -- current operating system, application, and game design are lacking in that they don't always (the exceptions are usually in graphics desing, publishing, and engineering software) make use of dpi data to present a consistent user interface. this turns resolution into "something that makes things smaller" when this is not something it should do at all.

    ok, i'll stop now :-)
  • Deusfaux - Tuesday, May 22, 2007 - link

    Where does one get this software you guys have used in LCD articles - especially for calibration of colors?

    Or perhaps there is a free equivalent? If the improvement is that substantial going from out-of-the-box to calibrated I'd certainly like to explore doing so on my 3007's

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