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2008-12-29My review: Hanns.G HW173AB 17" 1440 x 900 monitor

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I've been using a 15" 1024 x 768 ProView display for years, and thus far never seen any reason to change. Web design is if anything going in the other direction — the advent of netbooks means the number of low resolution screens in circulation is expanding again, though expect the 800 x 480 ones to fall off as economies of scale push 1024 x 600 forward (and early adopters realise that web developers, on the whole, couldn't give a fuck about them after waiting for years to sprawl into more space.)

I'm fairly set in my ways, having been clinging to the paradigm of keeping most windows maximised and thus not accidentally getting resized or moved. Flitting between monitors elsewhere (1280 x 1024 at work, 1600 x 1200 at a friend's office, 1280 x 800 on other half's laptop) and wanting the option of leaving a Skype chat window alongside a browser window, though, have convinced me to give widescreen a shot, and discovering that a little piece of freeware I already use for hotkeys and tray minimisation — The Wonderful Icon — vertically maximises windows if you right-click on their maximise icons also soothed the OCD. Windows itself (i.e. the explorer.exe shell) is a waste of space when it comes to window manager features, so it's nice that things like TWI and the Web Developer extension for Firefox exist.

The tipping point was realising that something with usefully more horizontal width was available for a quid or two over £65 from eBuyer. It doubtless isn't as nice as whatever Dell and others are currently bundling with systems for twice the price — for example, this is a model with only a VGA connector rather than VGA/DVI — but the moral (and quick summary) of this experiment is that bargains are worth a punt. I'd certainly recommend this monitor for typical office app usage, light movie-watching, etc. It may take you a few minutes to set up to suit your tastes on an existing system, so here's how I got on...

The boxed unit comes with a CD of Vista drivers, which stayed in the box. Switching it on for the first time, the screen happily resized to show BIOS information, and did a passable job of stretching my existing 1024 x 768 resolution desktop to fit. Providing graphics to fill the screen at its native 1440 x 900 resolution is the job of the graphics card, which in many cases will require updated drivers — this is only just becoming a standard screen size. Current ones for the integrated Intel graphics used in Vostro 200 builds were easy to obtain from here.

Despite the monitor shipping with brightness at maximum, I found the overall display a little dark. Reducing contrast didn't change things much, so rather than mess around with colour profiles I opted to increase gamma at the graphics card driver level from 1.0 to 1.2 — in layman's terms, this makes colours in the mid-range and shadows brighter without affecting lighter ones. This is primarily a matter of personal taste and bear in mind I've been used to a fairly washed-out tone on my previous monitor that was chosen for being kind to eyes rather than than reproducing blacks and whites flawlessly.

No dead pixels were in evidence — Nokia's old NTest.exe software, which can be downloaded from http://majorgeeks.com/download960.html, is useful to test for things like this — and sharpness is at least on par with other recently produced screens I've used. The sharpness comes at a price, which is one thing you may want to be careful about when buying a TFT monitor if your eyesight isn't too hot. The dot pitch (i.e. how big each individual pixel is at the monitor's native resolution) this 17" screen offers is 0.255mm pixels, whereas my existing screen is about 0.297mm; if I wanted comparable pixel sizes at 1440 x 900, I'd need a 19" screen with that resolution which would have about 0.285mm dot pitch. I considered it (those are only £80 at the moment) but in that range moving the monitor an inch or two closer has much the same effect. (For comparison, the ThinkPad X23 I've got has roughly a dot pitch of 0.24, average for a 12.1" 1024 x 768 screen, and is comfortable enough for bits of typing, but most people would want a little larger than that for frequent use.)

Overall you can get a good level of functionality for closer to £50 than £100, which is good news for anyone replacing an existing monitor or kitting out a new system. And, as screen sizes creep up, it's encouraging that Microsoft is finally showing signs of adding the significant enhancements to its archaic window managing functionality that'll be required to best use them: http://www.winsupersite.com/win7/ff_aero_snaps.asp


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