As LCDs become more ubiquitous on desktops, it takes more than just a slender profile to make a flat-panel display stand out in a crowd. With its svelte black bezel and two, 3-watt speakers embedded on the bottom edge, the ViewSonic VG700b's solid, functional look won't win any design awards. In keeping with the VG700b's utilitarian design, its base is a sturdy, oval plastic leg, and the screen tilts back and forth on a hinge. The display's tilt range is fairly small: 135 degrees vertically. But while you can't swivel the LCD from side to side, it does have an average, 140-degree horizontal viewing angle.
The VG700b is both Mac and PC compatible and works on an analog connection only, not DVI, so it can't display digital video. Fortunately, a lack of DVI often doesn't noticeably affect image quality. Power and VGA connectors, along with an audio cable that connects the speakers to your computer's sound card, ship with the display. Attaching the cables is a minor nuisance; you must pop off a plastic panel from the back of the display to access the plugs, but you can't reattach the panel because the cables get in the way.
Don't let the multitude of buttons fool you; the ViewSonic VG700b's settings are easy to adjust. You'll find eight controls (including the power button) along the bottom bezel, three of which manage speaker volume. The remaining four are for calibrating the display: one to engage and exit the onscreen menu (OSM), two to adjust and scroll through its submenus, and one to select within submenus. If you forget what the buttons do, each submenu offers instructions such as "1 to exit" or "2 to select." You can adjust all the usual settings, including brightness and contrast, color temperature, and horizontal and vertical positioning, as well as a few extras such as OSM and power lock, so no one can mess with your settings or even accidentally turn off the display.
The VG700b ships with a CD that contains instructions on how to install the LCD; a user guide with further setup, usage, and troubleshooting tips; registration and support-contact information; links to the customer service and software downloads; and a copy of Adobe Acrobat 4.0 so that you can read the user guide.
We've seen some good-looking, albeit more expensive, LCDs lately, including the Formac Gallery 2010 (20.1 inches) and the Princeton SENergy 981 (19 inches). Compared to these beauties, the ViewSonic VG700b's image quality ranks merely average.
According to CNET Labs' Display Mate-based tests, the VG700b had excellent geometry and sharp, even focus across the screen. However, text at various point sizes was not terribly crisp for an LCD, and the display had some trouble with nuances of shades at extremely high and low intensities. For example, whites looked yellowish and lacked subtlety as they moved from light gray to pure white, as did blacks when moving from charcoal gray to true black. The monitor's color performance also left something to be desired. Color reproduction looked accurate, but the overall effect was slightly darker and muddier than the ideal tone and vibrancy exhibited by the Formac Gallery 2010 or the Princeton SENergy 981.
The ViewSonic VG700b's 450:1 contrast ratio is high for its price range, but our tests didn't bear out these lofty specs. This monitor's scores lagged slightly behind those of other 17-inch LCDs with lower contrast ratios, such as the Compaq TFT7020 and the CTX PV720A, on our tests. The VG700b's 35ms pixel-response time is also slower than that of higher-end displays, such as the Formac Gallery 2010, which has a 25ms pixel-response rate. This was apparent in DVD playback quality, which was decent overall but looked somewhat blurry and shaky. Lastly, the display's embedded 3-watt speakers sounded tinny and not terribly loud.
LCD image-quality test
Longer bars indicate better performance
For the most part, ViewSonic offers excellent support for the VG700b. The three-year warranty includes the backlight, and you get 24/7 toll-free phone support for the life of the product. Our test call to ViewSonic's tech support yielded a live, courteous, and helpful technician in less than three minutes. He answered our test question quickly and correctly.
The ViewSonic Web site contains downloadable drivers, FAQs, white papers, user guides, a calibration tool, and e-mail support. By far the coolest feature is the Instant Support tool, which delivers real-time, intelligent answers to questions you type in. When we asked it a made-up test question about "bright spots" on our display, it quickly narrowed down the list of possible causes to pixel/image quality and gave us helpful information about ViewSonic's stuck-pixel policy and specific technical information about pixel performance and how LCDs work. (Note: There were no stuck pixels on our evaluation unit.)
ViewSonic's stuck-pixel policy is its only support shortcoming. The company says it will replace a display if it has seven or more stuck pixels. Compared to other companies that will replace a display with three to five stuck pixels, that's a lot of dead screen space.