Disguised as a fairly basic 20-inch monitor, the ViewSonic VG2021m surprised us with solid overall performance and a low $405 price. As with any bargain monitor, you'll have to make some sacrifices; the VG2021m skimps on physical adjustability, has less than average DVD and gaming performance, and has a low 1,400x1,550 native resolution while standard 20-inch LCDs offer 1,600x1,200. We didn't notice any major differences between the VG2021m's image and a standard 20-inch monitor, but designers and artists may want to steer clear since fewer pixels means less-detailed images and less screen real estate. Despite the VG2021m's pixel deficit, it outperformed our 20-inch category favorite, the Dell UltraSharp 2007FP, and kept pace with high-end business displays such as the Sony SDM-205FB and the Samsung SyncMaster 204B. If you can do without the extra pixels, the ViewSonic VG2021m is a great, inexpensive display for everyday use.
The ViewSonic VG2021m shares the basic black design of most LCDs, but a contoured silver border, an artfully placed power button, and out-of-sight control panel buttons give it a subdued elegance. The rather small, round base keeps the monitor fairly sturdy, though tilting the panel back causes the stand to lift off the desk. However, flexibility isn't this monitor's strong suit: the panel tilts 25 degrees back and 5 forward, and cannot swivel or pivot or be raised or lowered. We don't mind the lack of height adjustment since the screen is suspended slightly more than four inches above the desktop--a good fixed height for most users. The display accepts DVI-D and VGA signals (both cables are included) and two clips provide a secure cable management system. There's also an audio-in port that supplies sound to the two built-in 1.5-watt speakers and 3-watt amplifier. This speaker system sounded a bit thin at lower volumes but surprisingly full at louder volumes. Cube dwellers, take note: The VG2021m lacks a headphone jack.
Though hiding the onscreen menu (OSM) buttons along the right edge of the display gives the ViewSonic VG2021m a cleaner appearance, it makes navigating the OSM a bit more difficult. For monitors with side-mounted control panels, we prefer an OSM like that of the Gateway FPD2185W, which eliminates having to search for the correct button by aligning the control panel options with the appropriate button, much like an ATM. Additionally, the VG2021m's control panel is labeled with icons that are so small they're nearly invisible. The ViewSonic VG2021m has two buttons that toggle between the digital and analog inputs, two arrow buttons to navigate the OSM, and a mute button for audio. We wish the arrow buttons doubled as volume control buttons like on the ViewSonic VX2025wm; as it is, you must go into the OSM to adjust the volume.
We tested the ViewSonic VG2021m at its 1,440x1,050 resolution; take note that this resolution is slightly lower than the 1,600x1,200 resolution we typically see on 20-inch monitors. The ViewSonic's lower resolution gives slightly less screen real estate, which necessitates more scrolling through documents, and displays slightly larger images and text than a standard 20-inch monitor. However, in CNET Labs DisplayMate-based tests, we didn't notice any other differences. The ViewSonic VG2021m excelled in our sharpness tests, displaying dark, legible text. Its grayscale looked better than average, showing an even fade with only slight pink tints in the midranges. Colors appeared bright and vivid, though we noticed slightly washed-out greens and slightly orange reds--errors that won't be noticeable to casual users. Screen uniformity was average, with a noticeable dark area on the top section of the screen and a bright spot along the bottom; when we viewed the monitor from different angles, we noticed only a slight change in color intensity.
ViewSonic has rated the VG2021m with a relatively fast 8-millisecond response time, and we found the display's DVD-playback performance tolerable; the most obvious errors were slightly red skin tones, high noise levels in backgrounds, and evident ghosting. Games looked better with sharp, detailed images, though we noticed some blurring during fast-moving scenes, making this monitor less than ideal for entertainment use.
ViewSonic backs the VG2021m with an industry-standard three-year warranty on parts, labor, and backlight. There are a host of upgrade options for the warranty: one- and two-year extensions cost $63 and $90 respectively; adding Express Exchange, with a replacement unit shipped within 48 hours, costs $74 for one year and $105 for two years. ViewSonic's support site has an e-mail support form, an interactive Q&A knowledge portal, white papers, and driver downloads. Toll-free support is available 24/7, but you must go through the Virtual Support Assistant to get the number.