Let's cut to the chase. The Princeton SENergy 981 flat LCD received some of the highest scores that we've ever seen in a 19-inch LCD. It displays its native 1,280x1,024 resolution in 19 expansive inches (diagonal). Plus, the 981's ergonomic design also provides one exotic feature: it can pivot 90 degrees, from landscape to portrait, making it a cinch to work with both spreadsheets and memos. The 981's one drawback: at $1,250, it costs more than many PCs themselves--even some that come with their own monitor. But since we know of no less expensive 19-inch LCD that offers the same image quality, we recommend the 981 primarily for small businesses and large companies. For a big LCD at a lower price, consider the $700 18.1-inch Envision EN-8100e. With the SENergy 981, Princeton has attempted to create a graceful pivoting display, and the company handily mastered the challenge. According to our informal observations, some monitors, such as the Planar PV174, move as gracefully as an elephant en pointe. The pedestal is a hefty stalk that provides solid support for pivoting and tilting in portrait and landscape position, but it looks attractive and doesn't take up more desk space than other LCD pedestals.
The stalk also telescopes vertically 2 inches at its lowest position, so that the panel's top edge is 18.5 inches above your desktop normally and 20.5 inches at the highest position. And it swivels smoothly on bearings 70 degrees in either direction. But so much freedom of motion calls for one note of caution: you have to raise or tilt the panel before pivoting, or you'll smack it against the base. The rest of the 981's features are ordinary. The pedestal has two tiny, built-in speakers, but as on most displays, these speakers don't do their brethren justice. In this case, the speakers should be called whisperers, as we could barely hear them. Your PC probably has better speakers already, so don't even bother plugging in the audio cable that Princeton provides.
On the panel back, you'll find analog and digital-video interface (DVI) ports that, thankfully, sit far enough away from the surface that you can attach and detach cables easily. This dual analog/DVI system accommodates computers' graphics controllers with standard analog output as well as the latest digital output.
No buttons mar the front bezel. Instead, a combination wheel/button on the right edge (when the display is horizontal) switches the power on or off and scrolls through the onscreen menus. We thought the wheel/button would be tricky to use, but we quickly got the hang of turning it to scroll through a menu and clicking it to select a menu item. Besides, as with most LCDs, you won't need to use the 981's onscreen menus much anyway; the monitor usually readjusts its own settings automatically whenever you change resolutions.
But using a display that pivots takes some getting used to. The 981's screen image doesn't automatically turn 90 degrees as you pivot the screen 90 degrees, so you have to remember the right-hand button that triggers Portrait Displays' Pivot Pro utility, which Princeton provides. You can also access the pivot control from the Windows System Tray. The 981's onscreen display menus don't pivot with the screen image, however, so be sure to change any settings while in landscape mode. We thoroughly enjoyed using the 981--in part because the 1,280x1,024 resolution looks so big on a 19-inch screen that we never felt the urge to squint. Even better, in CNET Labs' DisplayMate-based tests, the 981 renders perfectly sharp text even at small sizes. Using small dots to paint big pixels allows the panel to create extraordinarily crisp images that are especially easy on the eyes. The screen lights up evenly across its surface, and its colors look strong and bright yet don't distort when adjacent pixels display very different colors. This monitor even captures subtle changes in intensity and hue and displays grayscale images well, which is usually a weak spot for LCDs.
17- to 19-inch LCD image-quality test (Longer bars indicate better performance)
|Note: Though the 128MB Nvidia GeForce4 Ti4600 graphics controller on CNET's 730MHz Dell Dimension 4100 test bed has both analog and DVI output, we tested the 981 on its analog connection because Princeton doesn't include a DVI cable; that costs an extra $30.|
The 981 ships with a one-page setup sheet and a 24-page reference manual that provides clear operation explanations. Princeton's Web site offers little help if you get stymied, but you can call tech support on a toll-free number during regular business hours (PT). In one test call, however, the technician we reached didn't understand our question even after several attempts to explain it and didn't offer to pass us to a supervisor. But that doesn't dim our enthusiasm for the top-quality and highly practical SENergy 981.