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The Latest in Flat-Panel Displays

Prices are falling on big-screen flat-panel monitors. All you have to do is choose one that offers the features your business needs.

We don't have to preach the cause of the flat-panel monitor anymore. Everybody knows they're affordable, space-saving and easy on the eyes. The question now is, Which LCD monitor should you buy?

The 17 and 19-inch flat panels are practically budget models these days. The real action is happening in the slightly larger 20 and 21-inch screens. They're still affordable, and they're not so enormous that they dwarf your desk or make you feel like you're sitting in the front row at the local cineplex. We rounded up a good selection of 20-inch LCDs suitable for general business use. These models tend to skim in at prices under $400 and, in some cases, under $300.

There are certain features you can expect to find in a solid 20-inch business monitor. Look for both digital and analog inputs. That means that you'll be able to hook up to both older analog equipped desktops as well as newer machines with digital outputs. A three-year warranty is standard. Widescreen designs are incredibly popular right now, mirroring a trend in notebook displays. If you plan on viewing video and wide spreadsheets or tiling multiple windows, this is a nice design feature. Most monitors in this range are VESA-compliant to be wall-mounted if you choose.

You will run into a host of technical specs such as contrast ratio, dot pitch, response time and brightness. Technophiles, especially those who frequently work with graphics or multimedia applications, will want to spend some time com-paring and contrasting these. Response time in particular has been getting a lot of attention. Faster generally is better--a 10-millisecond response time should give a better video performance than a 20-ms response time. Both the ViewSonic VG2030wm and the Hewlett-Packard LP2045w boast 5-ms response times. But the best measure is still personal experience. If you have the opportunity to try a monitor before you buy, put it through its paces with a DVD and note whether the video has any digital noise or ghosting. Look for smooth, clean video performance.

Extra features can make the difference when you're shopping for a moni-tor. The $399 (all prices street) Dell UltraSharp 2007WFP, for example, comes with a built-in four-port USB 2.0 hub, picture-in-picture capabilities and the ability to double as an HD-compatible TV. The $329 ViewSonic VG2030wm comes stocked with integrated speakers.

When it comes to budget 20-inch LCD monitors, you might have to make some trade-offs to get that ultra-affordable price point. Pivot is usually the first feature to go. If you need to work with spreadsheets and other long documents, then you'll want to look for pivot capabilities and pay the few extra dollars. General adjustability can make a big difference when it comes to viewing comfort. That includes height adjustment, swivel and tilt. The Westinghouse Digital LCM-20v5 hits a very attractive sub $300 price point with a fast 8-ms response time, but it is somewhat limited in adjustability.

It might be tempting to shop for the biggest monitor you can afford, but your best bet may be to invest in two smaller monitors. A dual 20-inch moni-tor setup won't stress your budget too much, but it will boost your productivity and give you tons of viewing space for multiple programs and windows. There are plenty of different LCD manufacturers to look into. Also check out offerings from Envision, Gateway, LaCie, Lenovo, Planar and Sony. All those options mean you have a variety of 20, 21, and even 22-inch flat-panel monitors to choose from. Just match up your budget to the feature set you desire.

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This article was originally published in the January 2007 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Screen Test.

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