The IBM ThinkVision L170m 17-inch flat-panel display is a little like one of Henry Ford's early cars -- it's simple, reasonably affordable, and comes in any colour you want, as long as it's black. The black look keeps the L170m visually compatible with IBM's ThinkCentre line of desktop personal computers, but IBM's decision to make the L170m an analog-only LCD limits its usefulness. The lack of a digital signal connection is forgivable because the L170m is designed primarily for business use and not for high-end graphics or multimedia purposes. Less forgivable is the L170m's complete lack of adjustability. We like displays that are adjustable, especially those designed for daily office use. They should rise at least two to four inches, swivel easily, and pivot as well. Unfortunately, the L170m does none of these things. Instead, it attempts to woo you with tinny-sounding music from its pair of built-in speakers or, for the more discreet, from one of its two headphone jacks.
The IBM L170m has two distinctive design features that set it apart from the competition. One is the pair of wedge-shaped speakers that inhabit the vertical planes of its chunky, 1.25-inch-wide bezel. The speakers slope forward like a pair of robotic ears, giving an odd cast to this otherwise staid-looking display. The speakers are controlled by a dedicated on/off button and a large purple-blue volume dial located above the L170m's control panel. The other interesting design feature of the L170m is its wavy control panel. Located on the bottom bezel, the L170m's buttons have a distinctive curved shape that makes them easy to locate and use to bring up the on-screen menu, adjust brightness, and autoadjust the display's image quality.
The hardware setup for the IBM L170m is easier than for most LCDs because it comes with a single analog cable and an audio cable already connected to the back of the panel and neatly threaded through its neck and base. However, once you've connected the cables to your PC and plugged in the power cable, you still have to use the included CD-ROM to install drivers and run an image-optimising utility called Auto Setup. Thankfully, running Auto Setup is a relatively simple matter of launching a screen test pattern and pressing the Auto Adjust button on the control panel. If you change settings, such as brightness or contrast, you can return the L170m to the Auto Setup settings anytime by pressing the Auto Adjust button, unless you have changed your screen setting mode (resolution, refresh rate, or colour quality), in which case IBM recommends that you run Auto Setup again.
The IBM L170m is very stable, which is good, and almost completely immobile, which is not so good. The L170m cannot be raised beyond its height of 16.2 inches, and its nearly square base doesn't swivel, although it does slide easily on smooth surfaces. The L170m tilts backward 40 degrees and forward 4 degrees and can be detached for mounting on an IBM Radial Arm or other VESA-compliant arm or wall mount.
Even for a midpriced business LCD, the IBM L170m is low on features. The built-in speakers that give the L170m its distinctive look are the sole extra. While they are adequate for following the audio on a training module or for listening to bits of streaming media on the Internet, their sound quality leaves much to be desired. Like most 2-watt-per-channel speakers, they have a tinny, high-pitched quality that makes extensive music listening unpleasant.
Aside from doing well in the all-important text sharpness category, the IBM L170m turned in a mediocre performance on CNET Labs' DisplayMate-based image quality tests. At its native resolution of 1,280x1,024, the L170m's text is dark, sharp, and easy to read. Like most LCDs, the L170m can't produce a true black, but it also can't produce a normal range of shades of dark grey. Instead, it reads dark greys as black. In the higher intensity, or whiter, end of the greyscale range, the L170m bleeds red into the grey, tinting the test screens pale pink.
Colours produced by the L170m are generally bright and solid, but its inability to produce fine shadings of colour made flesh tones in our test photographs appear indistinct and muddy. The L170m also failed to redeem itself in our DVD and gaming tests, although it wasn't noticeably worse than many other 17-inch LCDs with a 16ms pixel response rate. Shadowed areas in backgrounds lacked detail, and large areas of solid colour revealed noticeable pixel noise.