We approve of almost everything about NEC's MultiSync FE991SB 19-inch CRT. The flat-screen tube rests on a solid tilt-and-swivel stand; has simple, capable onscreen menus; and looks sophisticated in its all-black shell. Plus, it displays colors accurately and comes with impressive support policies, as well as a helpful, readable manual, all for less than $400. But image quality counts most, and unfortunately, the FE991SB doesn't live up to its promise, particularly in displaying text. If spreadsheets and memos are your bread and butter, stop right here, and try the two-year-old Samsung SyncMaster 900NF instead; of the monitors we've reviewed, it's still the best for text. We approve of almost everything about NEC's MultiSync FE991SB 19-inch CRT. The flat-screen tube rests on a solid tilt-and-swivel stand; has simple, capable onscreen menus; and looks sophisticated in its all-black shell. Plus, it displays colors accurately and comes with impressive support policies, as well as a helpful, readable manual, all for less than $400. But image quality counts most, and unfortunately, the FE991SB doesn't live up to its promise, particularly in displaying text. If spreadsheets and memos are your bread and butter, stop right here, and try the two-year-old Samsung SyncMaster 900NF instead; of the monitors we've reviewed, it's still the best for text.
The eyes have it
Hooking up the MultiSync FE991SB to a PC takes little effort. The unit doesn't come with drivers or any special software; just plug the permanently attached VGA cable into the graphics controller on your PC, then flick on the power. Using the powerful DisplayMate Multimedia with Motion Edition, CNET Labs tested the FE991SB on a 730MHz Dell Dimension 4100 with an Nvidia GeForce4 Ti 4600 graphics controller and 128MB of memory. Using 1,280x1,024 resolution and 32-bit color at an 85Hz refresh rate, we at first observed a bright, attractive display with rich colors on the 18-inch (diagonal) viewable area. Of course, at that high a refresh rate, the image looked rock solid. The FE991SB's 0.25mm-to-0.27mm aperture grille pitch can handle resolutions of up to 1,792x1,344, though 1,600x1,200 is probably as dense as you'd want to go; at that resolution in 32-bit color, the FE991SB can refresh at an adequate 76Hz.
When we took a closer look at the screen, however, we began to notice weaknesses. Text seemed blotchy, and negative space (the areas inside curves and closed letterforms) appeared gray instead of white, even at ordinary 12- and 14-point font sizes. Also, when bright areas abutted dark expanses, the bright areas tended to bulge into the dark. That imperfect control, in combination with persistent moiré patterns, softened the display's detail, shading, and contrast enough to interfere with text and intricate illustrations. Colors, on the other hand, maintained their hues fairly well over a range of intensities; color shading and transitions in photos looked quite attractive.
Big is beautiful
Image quality aside, the FE991SB is a masterpiece. Though it weighs a hefty 50 pounds, the monitor swivels and tilts effortlessly on a sturdy stand and easily maintains its positioning. The coal-black case (a white version is also available) looks both understated and dramatic, and it makes the monitor less intrusive on your desk. You'll still need 18 inches of desk space to accommodate its long tail, however.
Thanks to the FE991SB's onscreen menus (which you access via the hierarchically organized buttons just under the screen), you can easily drill down to and adjust monitor settings. They also give you control over a wide range of geometric and color distortions. If you crank up your graphics controller to a setting that the display can't handle, the screen goes dark and posts an out-of-range warning--a marvelous feature since most monitors just let you fry the circuitry without notification. The NEC's dark glass and glare coating minimize the effects of reflected light, and when you want a better look at something that appears dark onscreen, you can push the SuperBright button on the front bezel--a particularly useful feature for viewing scanned photos. One more plus: the default brightness setting, which is plenty bright, is less than 50 percent of maximum; over the years, as the monitor's screen phosphors darken, there will be plenty of room to bump up the brightness.
Undying support (sort of)
NEC makes buying and owning the FE991SB anxiety-free. A concise, 20-page manual goes beyond that of most monitors, explaining not only how to use the onscreen menus but also the purpose of some mysterious functions (ever wonder what Linearity and Edge Lock mean?). What's more, the FE991SB's three-year warranty for parts and labor includes free, toll-free, 24/7 telephone tech support.
So do its superior features and tech support justify purchasing the FE991SB? If accurate color in a moderately priced display is crucial to you, this CRT may fit the bill. But if you look at spreadsheets and text all day, don't even consider it. Go with the Samsung SyncMaster 900NF instead.
Monitor image-quality test
Longer bars indicate better performance
|The MultiSync FE991SB might win a few beauty contests, but because its performance lurks at the bottom of the score chart, that's about the only area in which it'll prevail. In CNET Labs' tests (performed using DisplayMate Multimedia with Motion Edition), this display suffered from disturbing moiré patterns and, thus, received low marks in both focus and interference. Also, text looked blotchy and fuzzy on this monitor, even at common 12- and 14-point reading sizes. So although the MultiSync received an excellent rating in color quality and uniformity, we can recommend it to only people who never intend to read text onscreen.|