Cleanly designed and simple to use, the EN-8100e won't confound LCD novices. During setup, we didn't even need to consult the two-page diagram for help. The screen worked instantly when we plugged its built-in video cord into our 730MHz Dell Dimension 4100 test bed.
The monitor consists of a dark-charcoal-gray bezel perched on a silvery gray pedestal. The top edge rises 17.5 inches above your desk. Sadly, the pedestal doesn't telescope or swivel, so you can't position the monitor precisely. Also, the screen feels a little unstable when tilted all the way back (about 25 degrees). Fortunately, thanks to this LCD's 160-degree vertical and horizontal viewing angles, you can leave the screen in one position and still see the image well enough when you stand up at your desk or roll your chair off to the side. Buttons for operating the onscreen menus (including Auto, Brightness, Contrast, Menu, and Power) run in a line near the bottom of the bezel, where they're easy to reach.
Four screws hold the panel and pedestal together, which means you can easily remove the pedestal and attach the panel to a wall bracket or an arm. (Envision doesn't sell the necessary components, but you may be able to find them at stores such as Ergotron.) As for screen size, 18.1 inches seems just right for the EN-8100e's native 1,280x1,024 resolution; this combination offers enough pixels to really see what you're doing yet doesn't compress them so much that you have to squint.
Envision hasn't equipped the EN-8100e with any extras, but most buyers won't miss them. The monitor comes with no speakers, but your PC probably has better speakers than most LCDs. The EN-8100e also can't double as a television tuner, but most LCDs lack such capability, and a CRT would probably give a better picture for such purposes. You might miss the DVI interface, which allows for digital video, rather than analog. Some LCDs look better on a DVI signal than on analog, though we can rarely tell the difference. Overall, the lack of bonus features doesn't detract from the product, but there's not much else here to really wow you.
As for fine-tuning, this LCD's basic control features are less confusing than many we've seen. In particular, the menu-control buttons (Auto, Brightness, Contrast, Menu, and Power) drive the onscreen menus without ever launching submenus. For example, the Color 7800K and Color 6500K settings, which alter the LCD's color cast, are separate items on the main menu instead of two subchoices in a color-temperature menu; similarly, Red, Green, and Blue are separate items on the main menu. Such a design makes it impossible to get confused about what menu or what level of the menu hierarchy you're in. However, one menu--DOS Mode Selection, for optimizing the screen when running under DOS--breaks the one-item-per-menu organization, and we couldn't decipher it without a call to Envision. More confusing, the menu's label is vague at best; it looks like a window with two choices labeled 720x400.70 and 640x400.70. Still, that's the only exception to an otherwise fine design.
On CNET Labs' official test bed's 128MB Nvidia GeForce4 Ti4600 graphics controller, the EN-8100e delivered an impressive performance. Small type and spreadsheets appeared almost free of the gray shadowing that can make text so unpleasant to read. Photos and illustrations exhibited fine detail, and despite the monitor's relatively low brightness specification, colors looked lively and saturated. On some of the DisplayMate tests, however, including the 7:9 Point Shape Visibility, colors bled very slightly into adjacent pixels. DisplayMate's geometry tests revealed no distortion in shapes or when objects abutted other objects.
But the EN-8100e let us down somewhat on DVDs. We know our test bed's graphics controller can jam through flawless video, but despite the LCD's fairly fast 23ms pixel-response time, video looked noticeably shimmery--not bad for an LCD but not as clean as it would appear on a high-quality CRT such as Samsung's SyncMaster 900NF.
LCD image-quality test
Longer bars indicate better performance
The Envision EN-8100e scored slightly above average in CNET Labs' tests, which are based on DisplayMate Multimedia with Motion Edition. The text appeared sharp and shadowless, even at small fonts. Shapes looked smooth and properly proportioned, and skin tones were right on target. In most of the grayscale and color saturation tests, however, CNET Labs observed some oversaturation and murkiness.
Even with a monitor as uncomplicated as the 8100e, we expect vendors to provide adequate printed or onscreen information about their products. Envision's support policies excel in some areas and disappoint in others. For example, the 8100e's box contains only a 2-page diagram. If you need more information, you can download a 22-page manual from Envision's Web site. That's a big file over a dial-up connection, and you'd better hope that your monitor problem doesn't prevent you from seeing any screen image altogether.
Worse, Envision, like too many LCD vendors, doesn't replace panels with defective pixels until the number of defects gets pretty high--at least five dead and/or five stuck pixels, up to a total of eight. So if your display has a few prominently placed dead pixels, you'll just have to live with it. Be sure to shop at a store that lets you plug in your monitor before you buy it.
On the bright side, Envision backs the EN-8100e with a generous warranty that covers the whole panel, including the backlight, for three years. Better still, the company's tech-support policy lets you call support on a toll-free line (Monday through Friday, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. PT) for as long as you own the panel. In our tests, we had to try several times to reach Envision's tech support during business hours, but once we got through, a friendly technician gave us quick, appropriate responses to our tech questions.