There's a reason I never bought a combo cell phone/MP3 player. It's the same reason I never bought a TV with a built-in VCR: I didn't want to own a TV in five years that also included a broken or outdated VCR. I don't need my cell phone to play music, and I don't need an LCD monitor to take still pictures or video. The Asus PW201 does many display-related tasks well, but the built-in Webcam--with its bad drivers and buggy software--detracts from an otherwise excellent, entertainment-oriented LCD. The 20.1-inch wide-screen display excelled on CNET Labs' benchmarks, and the inclusion of component-video connections is a boon. If you can make do with DVI, S-Video, or composite ports, however, Dell and ViewSonic carry 20-inch wide screens that rival the Asus PW201's performance and cost several hundred less.
With its shiny, black bezel and glossy screen coating, the Asus PW201 looks more like a mini HDTV than a computer screen. With its plethora of ports, it's just as easily connected to a cable box or Xbox as it is to your PC. Tucked behind the screen is a neat and orderly row of video ports: VGA, DVI, composite, component, and S-Video. There's also an upstream USB port (for connecting the troublesome Webcam) and the requisite red and white composite audio ports. Flanking the screen are 3-watt speakers; they'll suffice for your desktop or a small room--think: dorm room--but will struggle to fill a large living room. Then again, you'll likely want a larger screen if you are shopping for an LCD for your home theater. Along the left side are three downstream USB 2.0 ports and a handy headphone jack.
The silver stand allows for a decent amount of adjustment. The lazy-Susan-style base lets you swivel the screen 60 degrees in either direction. You can tilt the display forward 5 degrees and back 25 degrees. The height adjustment lets you position the screen so that the bottom of the monitor is 1 inch above the desktop or 6 inches above. I wish it could be raised another inch or so because you're barely given enough clearance to pivot the screen into portrait mode without scraping the polished silver base. With the circular base that measures 9.4-inches in diameter, the Asus PW201 is not prone to wobble. A slot in the arm of the stand is the only thing resembling a cable management feature.
The wide screen is bright with vibrant colors. With an 8-millisecond pixel-response time (gray to gray), it easily handles moving images with DVDs and games. It's not the best pick for offices because the glossy coating that makes colors pop in photos and movies can result in distracting reflections and glare when you're sitting in a well-lit office. The LCD features four preset image modes, which Asus dubs Splendid Video Intelligence Technology, that optimize the contrast, color, and sharpness for specific usage scenarios. The modes--Scenery, Theater, Game, and Night View--are easy to flip through just by using the buttons on the front of the display. A picture-in-picture feature lets you display images from two different video sources at the same time. There are also three present skin-tone modes for viewing photos; maybe my camera is good enough that the Natural preset always looked better than the Reddish and Yellowish presets.
Where I ran into trouble--and a quick trip to Asus's user forums confirmed that I wasn't the only one--was in setting up the 1.3-megapixel Webcam that sits above the display. I connected it using the supplied 3-in-1 (USB, VGA, audio) cable and installed the Webcam driver and LifeFrame software from the included CD. The Webcam showed only a gray or black screen; I could take neither still images nor video. Even when taking grayed-out photos and video, the LifeFrame software would occasionally report an error and close. I reinstalled the software and drivers and also tried connecting the monitor via DVI instead of VGA--no luck. Maybe my desktop was to blame, so I tried connecting the display to my laptop. Failure, once again. Many users reported the same problem, and while some were able to fix it using a beta Webcam driver (2.6.14) available on Asus's site, this didn't do the trick for me. I never did get the thing to work. And even if I did, I would have preferred to just use an external Webcam. I've never had trouble with a Logitech Webcam, and it offers a greater degree of flexibility for tracking your subject, a squirrelly toddler, for example. The Webcam integrated on the Asus PW201 offers only 60 degrees of vertical adjustment.
It's not all bad news, however, with the Asus PW201. Its scores on CNET Labs' benchmarks confirmed my anecdotal tests, where I didn't find a single weakness with the display, whether staring at text in a word processor or looking at digital photos, watching a DVD or playing an Xbox game. Tested at its native resolution of 1,680x1,050, the Asus PW201's score of 77 on CNET Labs' DisplayMate-based tests matched that of the more expensive, professional LaCie 120. The ViewSonic VX2025wm, however, also scored a 77, and it has a street price that's $200 less than that of the Asus PW201, which at the time of this writing, carries a street price of roughly $540. The Asus PW201 excelled in the brightness and contrast ratio tests, finishing a close second to the ViewSonic VX2025wm and the LaCie 120 on each, respectively. On all three tests, the Asus bested Dell's competing 20-inch wide screen, the UltraSharp 2007WFP. Like the ViewSonic, however, the Dell display can be found online for less than $400. As great as the Asus PW201 performed in testing, it's hard to recommend it over Dell's and ViewSonic's 20-inch wide screens when the price difference is so great.
Asus backs the PW201 with a standard three-year parts-and-labor warranty. Calls to tech support require a toll call. The troubleshooting section on monitors is pretty thin, but you can find lots of good information in the user forums on Asus's Web site.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
(Values in cd/m2)
(Values are a ratio)