Computer monitors with integrated TV tuners are real no-brainers. It's difficult to imagine anyone who, given the option of owning a TV-capable monitor, would opt for one without the ability to receive Match of the Day. LCD TVs can be marred as monitors by their comparatively low resolution, high price and questionable image quality. LG says its M203WA addresses these problems, but does it really cut enough mustard to steer demanding PC users away from dedicated computer monitors?
The M203WA doesn't break any new design ground, but it still looks the part. It has a thin black inner bezel surrounded by a thicker silver outer bezel, which should appeal to the masses -- most people have been conditioned to believe black and silver electronics goods are the pinnacle of design. (We know differently, of course.)
There's a pair of circular speakers sitting in the lower portion of the outer bezel. These are attractive, in an iPod sort of way, and go well with the circular stand, which itself consists of a silver outer circle and a glossier inner circle with an aluminium sheen.
LG has paid plenty of attention to the rear of the monitor, incorporating a sliding panel that secretes an array of ports. This cover is handy if you intend to position the screen near the centre of a room or anywhere messy cables could ruin your feng shui. Inputs include DVI, D-sub, S-Video and composite video, which is just about everything you could wish for, apart from HDMI. Round the back you'll also find a socket for an aerial, so the M203A can pick up analogue TV broadcasts.
Picture quality on the M203WA is a mixed bag. There's little to complain about on initial inspection. It has terrific colour reproduction, its 8ms response time is quick enough not to leave the monitor struggling with fast-moving scenes, and its widescreen aspect ratio is great for watching DVDs on. Its picture-in-picture mode lets you watch TV in one part of the screen while you surf the Web in another, which is a handy excuse for getting distracted from that all-important spreadsheet.
Specs-wise, LG says the M203WA has an above-average contrast ratio of 700:1, 160-degree vertical and horizontal viewing angles and 300cd/m2 brightness. Notably, the M203WA has a high resolution of 1,680x1,050 pixels, which is in line with standard standalone PC monitors, but much higher than many LCD TVs. We've seen similar-sized screens use resolutions as low as 600x480 pixels, which is fine for TV but utterly useless for PC tasks.
It's fair to say the LG M203WA has more strengths than weaknesses, but there are a few notable issues. Firstly, it requires a fair bit of tweaking before you can get the best out of it. Serious users will need to calibrate the screen on initial use or risk losing valuable picture detail. Unfortunately, as with most displays, the on-screen display menu used to adjust the settings is a pain to navigate through.
Once you've calibrated the screen things aren't exactly perfect, though. Demanding users will notice a loss of detail in extremely light or dark tones. The nuances of a bright cloudy sky or light-coloured garment of clothing may be lost in some scenes. Likewise, it loses detail in dark shades, which isn't ideal for night scenes.
One fairly significant gripe is the amount of time it takes to switch between input modes. Going from PC mode to TV mode can take all of 10 seconds, owing to the fact you have to navigate through the aforementioned on-screen display in order to switch. Finally, you may want to buy yourself some external speakers, as the M203WA's own 5W internal speakers aren't up to much.
The M203WA is a very versatile screen that's definitely worth investing in. It isn't ideal for graphic designers or anyone who carries out image-critical operations, but its ability to switch (albeit slowly) between PC and TV modes is handy, particularly at this price.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this review wrongly stated that the monitor has a component video input. It has a composite input.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide