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The BenQ FP 231W is a half-baked multimedia monitor. It has composite and S-Video inputs and a 23-inch-wide screen that's conducive to movie watching or working with multiple windows, but it lacks the task-specific brightness and contrast settings for games, movies, and text that we've seen on most other multimedia displays. What's more, it lacks the Portrait/Landscape pivot function that many multitasking professionals desire. It has a picture-in-picture (PIP) window that you can enlarge and adjust, but there's no quick-launch key for it--you have to go through the onscreen menu. Though the $1,499 BenQ FP231W's performance and image quality are good enough for basic productivity work and watching videos, it's hard to overlook its shortcomings when the Dell UltraSharp 2405FPW offers more features and an extra inch of viewable area for $300 less.
Sensibly designed but not necessarily attractive, the FP231W's narrow, silver 3/4-inch bezel puts the focus where it should be: on the screen. No buttons distract the eye; they're hidden behind the bezel on the left side. The neck, a solid, dark-blue plastic cylinder within a cylinder, is easy to raise and lower from 5 inches to 10.25 inches off the desktop; though taller folks will appreciate this setup, this monitor may be too tall for some. Although you can't pivot the display, it's otherwise fairly adjustable; it tilts 30 degrees back and 5 degrees forward and swivels 45 degrees to the left and right. The long parabola-shaped base is stable--essential for a large, top-heavy monitor. The back panel hosts easy-to-access digital and analog signal connectors, composite and S-Video inputs, a power input, and one upstream and one downstream USB 2.0 port; digital, analog, and USB 2.0 cables come with the monitor. A plastic hook on the back of the neck corrals the cables well enough to keep the cords out of sight. Atop the display sits a USB port that BenQ intends for use with a Webcam. The adjustment controls and two more USB 2.0 ports are located along the left edge of the display.
For a multimedia display, our dream configuration of image-adjustment controls includes menu-navigation buttons such as arrow keys, enter and exit keys, a button to switch between inputs, a button for image type/quality presets (video, text, Internet), and a button that launches the PIP. The FP231W has the nav buttons and an analog/digital-input switch, but none of the others. Instead, it has something called the i-key, which works with a test pattern (included on the installation CD) to calibrate the monitor. It's a nice feature, but we don't think it's important enough to merit its own button. Apart from the software, the i-key doubles as an autoadjust button.
The BenQ FP231W performed well on CNET Labs' DisplayMate-based tests. We tested it at its native resolution of 1,920x1,200 and noticed some compression near the extreme ends of the grayscale, meaning the display would abruptly shift to black or white, leaving out a few steps of dark or light gray. We also saw some extraneous color in grayscale screens, which indicates color-tracking errors. The FP231W's color performance was quite good, but the color scales showed an abrupt fade to black. With a 16-millisecond response time, it's not the ideal display for a hard-core gamer, and its subtle color errors make it a dubious choice for graphics pros, but it's up to the challenge of displaying Office documents, Web material, and video. Text looked crisp; colors on Web sites looked vivid; and DVD playback was quite smooth, without much visible background noise.
BenQ's three-year warranty for the FP231W covers parts, labor, and backlight. If your display breaks during the first year, BenQ will replace it within 48 hours and pay for shipping in both directions. Toll-free phone support is available Monday to Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. PT. BenQ offers drivers, FAQs, and knowledge-base articles on its support Web site.