Small yet sturdy
The Compaq monitor is more attractive than most competing displays; its two-toned silver and carbon-gray casing is designed to match the distinctive stylings of Compaq's new Evo product line. The display is also sturdy yet compact. At 14.2 by 14.1 by 7.3 inches (WHD), it should fit easily on even the most crowded desk. And lest you think that small size means shoddy construction, the TFT5030 weighs in at a hefty 15 pounds--almost 40 percent heavier than the physically larger Gateway FPD1510. Maybe it's too sturdy; when we tried to tilt the screen up or down, it took so much force to budge that we were afraid it might break. It didn't break, but the hinge was unnecessarily tight.
The TFT5030 is easy to use from the moment you lift it out of the box. Our review unit arrived fully assembled with both VGA and DVI video cables. The printed documentation consists of a simple setup brochure, as well as separate booklets on safety and worldwide warranties. Only two illustrations are provided; one indicates how to remove the plastic panels to install the video cable, and the other indicates how to connect the video cable to your PC and the power cable to your wall outlet. You'll find a more detailed user guide on the supplied CD-ROM; it contains step-by-step information on setting up the display, adjusting the controls, and maintaining the monitor. The CD-ROM also includes the monitor's driver, a utility that adjusts the monitor's sleep mode, an application that optimizes the monitor's display colors, and a program that guides you through the menu settings.
What's on the menu
You can access the onscreen-display menu via three front-mounted buttons. They lead to a full set of controls, including image-position settings, color-temperature settings, and power modes. The monitor recognizes whether the active connection is analog or digital and automatically adapts the menu selections to suit the type of connection (with a DVI connection, many of the image adjustments aren't needed). We had just a couple of problems with this useful set of controls; the buttons are recessed and a little hard to press, and because there are only three buttons, you often have to back out of one or two levels of the menu to exit the system.
Fast, flexible, and future-proofed
The Compaq TFT5030 has many display capabilities you won't find on less expensive 15-inch LCDs. Let's start with the 20ms pixel-response rate, which is the fastest we've seen. This rate makes the TFT5030 especially well suited for computer animation, video playback, and state-of-the-art arcade games. We tested the TFT5030 with the fast-moving DVD The Matrix, and it showed none of the ghosting or smearing that you often see with slower pixel rates. We were also impressed by this monitor's exceptional 170-degree viewing angles--both horizontal and vertical. Lower-cost LCDs have narrower viewing angles of 110 degrees or 120 degrees, which is adequate when directly facing the monitor but not when viewing from the side. You practically have to position yourself behind this monitor before the light level begins to drop off.
Other features ensure you'll enjoy the TFT5030 for a good, long time. It has a brightness rating of 300cd/m² (candelas per square meter; a higher rating means a brighter screen); even in bright indoor light, you shouldn't have a problem seeing what's onscreen. The TFT5030 also features Sharp's patent-pending ASV (Advanced Super View) technology; Sharp claims ASV enhances viewing angles and minimizes the effect of defective pixels. Most importantly, the TFT5030 has both analog (VGA) and digital (DVI) connectors. Few current graphics cards have a digital connector (analog is the standard for traditional CRTs). LCD monitors are already digital and have to connect via analog and undergo a conversion process, which tends to compromise display quality. But chances are good that your next graphics card will have a digital connection, promising a purer, sharper image from your LCD. If you want to keep your display for a long time, buying one with both analog (VGA) and digital (DVI) interfaces will see you through the standards evolution. But don't just take our word for it; our test results proved that digital is better.
The power of digital
The digital difference became clear when CNET Labs used the DisplayMate suite to test the Compaq TFT5030. Using the digital connection, we enjoyed sharp-looking text; rich, well-defined colors; and good overall display quality. When we switched to an analog connection, however, the quality dipped. The TFT5030 showed somewhat fuzzy text and even some noticeable image noise, which we were able to eliminate by manually adjusting the phase setting. Also, color photos looked consistently paler with an analog connection. Obviously, if you want to get the best display quality out of this monitor, you should use the digital connection.
Compaq's attention to quality in the TFT5030 extends to its service and support policies. The company backs the display with a good three-year warranty (a few companies offer five years, but others offer as little as one) that includes the backlight. Tech support is toll-free and available 24/7. Compaq's Web site is very helpful, providing a terminology glossary, downloadable drivers and manuals, and FAQs.
You get what you pay for
The TFT5030 costs about $250 more than the least expensive 15-inch LCD monitor we've tested, so it's hardly a trivial purchase. Think of it more as an investment. Its many strong features and good digital display quality will make it useful both now and in the future--something the less expensive 15-inch LCDs currently available can't guarantee.
|15-inch LCD image quality test|
Longer bars indicate better performance
|We tested the Compaq TFT5030 using its digital connection and enjoyed sharp-looking text; vivid, well-defined colors; and overall good quality. Connected via analog, however, colors became pale, and text looked a little fuzzy.|