GNR TS2200W widescreen monitor
Dave Holden marvels at the wide open spaces...
For over three years I've been using a Dell 2100 monitor. This is a 20" 1200 x 1600 TFT monitor which has given extremely good service, but a few weeks ago it started showing an intermittent fault. A vertical band, about 2 cm. wide, at the right hand side of the screen would suddenly begin to display random pixels. At first this would appear for a few minutes and than vanish, but it was obvious that this was a serious fault so I started looking for another monitor before the Dell became unusable.
What screen resolution?
My starting point as the Dell's 1600 x 1200 resolution. Space considerations meant that I needed something that was not significantly bigger physically. The monitor had to work with my RiscPC, both with and without Viewfinder, and also with an Iyonix and A9 via a KVM switch.
A lot of searching revealed three possible types of monitor:
I was very tempted by the larger of the three; I liked the idea of a larger desktop, but practical considerations ruled it out. The size of these monitors makes them quite a bit bulkier than either of the others, and, more importantly, at its natural resolution it simply had too many pixels to be used without a Viewfinder.
The remaining contenders were therefore 1600 x 1200 and 1680 x 1050.
It didn't take long to discover that there was a very large price disparity between these two sizes. Although they have a similar number of pixels the 1600 x 1200 monitors were at least double the price of 1680 x 1050. In fact, the 1600 x 1200 monitors were quite a bit more expensive than 1920 x 1200. The reason for this is that these resolutions correspond to the two main High Definition widescreen TV sizes. Since the LCD panels are already in high volume production for TVs this obviously reduces costs whereas 1600 x 1200 panels are only used for computer monitors.
This combination pretty much made the decision for me, the 1680 x 1050 22" was physically the right size and was very much cheaper than the 1600 x 1200 alternative.
Incidentally, for anyone who has the space for a 24" monitor prices for these now start at less than £200. On a RiscPC without Viewfinder you will not be able to use it at its natural resolution, but as my experience shows (see below) this might not be an insurmountable problem.
What to buy?
Having decided on a 1680 x 1050 22" monitor the next question was which to buy?
There was quite a wide range of prices, mostly in the £150-£200 range. Eventually I found the GNR TS2200W at Oyyy.co.uk for the extremely attractive price of just £129 including VAT and carriage. This seemed too good to miss, so I ordered one.
The 'standard delivery', which was the free option, quoted 2-4 working days with an extra charge for next day. Since I wasn't in a great hurry (I did have a spare 17" monitor that I could live with for a few days if necessary) I chose not to pay the extra. As it happened it would have been superfluous as the monitor arrived at 10 am. the next day anyway.
I must admit I hadn't examined the spec too closely when I purchased. I bought mainly on price since I wasn't sure if I would like a 1680 x 1050 monitor with RISC OS. I checked that it it had the necessary inputs, both 15 pin VGA and DVI, and that the contrast and brightness were reasonable. However I did find the same monitor at various other online stores at prices close to £200 including VAT and carriage and didn't find any negative reviews so I assumed it would be reasonable quality.
One thing that I did like was the narrow bezel. This is only about 2 cm. wide all round and makes sure that the physical size of the monitor is as small as possible. I also like the built-in power supply. This means that there is no external lump cluttering up the place. Another plus is that the mains input socket uses a standard IEC connector. A minor point but so many monitors use some sort of non standard connector and an IEC connector allows me to use the right type and length of mains lead to suit my installation and keep leads tidy.
Also very useful are the built-in speakers. Admittedly these aren't particularly brilliant but, for me, a plus point is that they're actually on the back of the monitor so they don't increase the overall size. For someone who uses their computer to play music, which is something I don't do, these speakers probably wouldn't be good enough, but for me they're fine as they take up no space and enable me to use the KVM switch (which can also switch audio) to route sound to the speakers from whatever machine controls the screen display.
I was anticipating problems since all the MDFs I had to hand were 'normal' 4:3 type, rather than the 16:9 aspect ratio of the new monitor. There was only one way to find out, so I plugged it in to my RiscPC with the same MDF I used for the Dell monitor and switched on. To my surprise I ended up with a perfectly centered and sized 1600 x 1200 desktop which, despite not being the 'natural' size of the panel, was remarkably clear. I tried the other main standard screen sizes, 1280 x 1024, 1024 x 768, 800 x 600, and, apart from the need to bring up the menu and select 'Auto' the first time I used 1024 x 768 (it was about 1 inch too narrow but resized itself without problems) they all worked perfectly.
As the screen dimensions weren't correct for these 4:3 screen modes everything was a bit distorted, but it seems the electronics in the monitor were designed to give the best possible extrapolation with these modes since the picture was always very clear and usable.
The next step was to add a 1680 x 1050 definition to my MDF. When this was done I could see the monitor working in its natural screen resolution. Once again it went without hitch and the monitor correctly centered and sized the screen. I then tried it with the A9 and Iyonix using the modified MDF. Again there were absolutely no problems.
So far it had all gone with surprisingly little hassle. The only remaining thing to try was how well it worked without Viewfinder.
It took a bit of 'tweaking' with !MakeModes to get a suitable 1680 x 1050 mode but once this was done I found the monitor worked perfectly in 256 colours at this resolution with 2 MB of VRAM. I'd deliberately reduced the frequency to 56 Hz to see if that would work OK since I know that some RiscPCs have problems with high bandwidth screen modes but even at 56 Hz the display was clear and solid. Of course, most RiscPCs would have no difficulty in running a 1680 x 1050 screen at 60 Hz, which is the standard frequency for TFT monitors.
In order to use 32,000 colours without a Viewfinder you would need to drop the screen resolution to 1024 x 768. This is the largest standard screen resolution that permits 16 bpp. but it would, of course, be possible to create a larger screen mode, say 1248 x 780. I haven't tried this but experimenting with a couple of other 'odd sized' screen modes that I had to hand wasn't too successful. There was no problem getting a good, solid display, but in each case there was some vertical banding. This is quite common with TFT monitors when used with screen resolutions outside their natural size and where there is no inbuilt compensation in the monitor's firmware to balance this as there is with the more common sizes.
While I had the Viewfinder disconnected I tried it with a few older games, since many of these don't like the Viewfinder. The monitor seemed willing to display the low res screens used by the games, the only problem was that the widescreen format exaggerates the 'letterbox' effect. All LCD monitors exhibit this effect, but obviously it's more pronounced on a widescreen display than a 4:3 screen. For a serious games player this could be improved by customising the required screen modes or there are utilities that can double each horizontal line thereby doubling the height of the display.
I've been using this monitor for several days now and I'm definitely sold on the 'widescreen' format. The biggest advantage is that when editing a document there's more unused desktop for directory displays, other documents etc. The two pictures below illustrate this. In either case click on the picture to see it full size.
As you can see with the document sized to fit the vertical confines of the 'working' area of the desktop the 1680 x 1050 screen gives a lot more unused space for other things.
Since I don't do a lot of graphics work I can't offer a definitive opinion on the colour reproduction. However colours do seem very good with the graphics files I've looked at, although for the serious user some fiddling with the colour balance on the monitor's menu would probably be required. The display is uniformly bright and even over a wide viewing angle; it doesn't exhibit the darkening when viewed off centre of some TFT monitors.
All in all a very worthwhile purchase, even if I hadn't been able to buy it at the special offer price.
The most gratifying thing is that it demonstrates that, even without a Viewfinder, a RiscPC can still use a modern low cost TFT widescreen monitor. This is an important consideration when so many RiscPC users now have a PC as well and use a common monitor for the two machines via a KVM switch.
I have included the 1680 x 1050 resolutions as an MDF in the software directory, so that anyone else who is considering this size of monitor will not have to do the same messing around as I had to.