So often, jumbo LCDs disappoint us with their subpar image quality or their exorbitant prices--not so the Planar PL191M. This 19-inch monitor features a useful S-Video/TV-tuner option. Plus, it boasts an attractive list price of less than $800, whereas many 19-inch LCDs, such as the NEC MultiSync LCD1880SX go for at least $1,000. And did we mention its seductive stuck-pixel policy? If you want a large LCD that delivers excellent picture quality, you can't go wrong with the PL191M. To date, only the 18.1-inch Princeton SENergy 981 provides superior images. The 19-inch Planar PL191M sports an average-looking design. It's slim and sleek like most LCDs but not as eye-catching as the Sony SDM-V72W and the Apple Studio Display. The unit we reviewed was black, with four adjustment buttons and two small speakers embedded along the bottom edge of the display. The same model is also available in white and silver.
The PL191M sits on a sturdy, round base, and the signal and power cables attach easily to the back of the display without requiring any cord feeding or removal of tricky plastic panels. Unfortunately, the PL191M has a limited range of motion. You can tilt it forward 5 degrees and back 20 degrees, which is a tolerable vertical range, but you can't swivel it from side to side without moving the whole base. To its credit, the display has a wide 170-degree viewing angle; even without the swivel function, you can easily have people gather around your desk to view your latest PowerPoint masterpiece.
You can attach the PL191M to your wall, but Planar doesn't include a mounting kit. The company's Web site lists several third-party choices, however.
The Planar PL191M offers a 1,280x1,024 maximum resolution and a max refresh rate of 60Hz, which is standard with a digital connection. The monitor's onscreen-display (OSD) controls, which consist of four buttons along the bottom panel of the display, let you adjust a limited number of settings, depending on your input choice. For instance, if you're using the analog input, you can tweak such elements as screen size, horizontal/vertical position, and clock timing (an improper clock setting will result in vertical bands across the display). Using the digital signal, you can adjust only settings such as the OSD position, as well as brightness and contrast; everything else is either preset or adjusts itself automatically when you change the resolution.
However, that lack of precise control is a boon because the OSD controls themselves are somewhat confusing to navigate. The OSD consists of two horizontally placed function buttons and a pair of adjustment buttons marked by plus (+) and minus (-) signs. The left function button brings up the OSD, the right scrolls through the various submenus, and the left adjustment (-) button selects a function within the submenus. We much prefer it when LCDs have a dedicated Select button; it makes the navigation process more intuitive.
The Planar supports a wide range of connectivity options. It's both Mac and PC compatible, and it has analog and digital inputs (analog cable included, digital cable optional). There's also a 1/8-inch audio jack so that you can connect the monitor's speakers to your PC or your CD/DVD/CD-RW drive (cable included). You can also make the PL191M into a USB hub using its one upstream and two downstream USB ports. If you want to use the PL191M as part of a home-theater configuration, you can add S-Video and TV-tuner inputs (with a $100 accessory kit), then hook up the display to a VCR, a DVD player, or a television. Only a few LCDs in this price range, such as the Envision EN-7500, offer a built-in tuner.
Thanks to a fast, 15-millisecond pixel-response rate, the PL191M did a great job playing DVD movies. The picture quality was quite crisp, with no visible shadowing. The display also scored very well on CNET Labs' DisplayMate-based performance tests. Text looked crisp and clear down to very small font sizes, and the focus was evenly sharp from edge to edge. The display showed a nice range of grays that increased uniformly in intensity from black to white. There was also an extensive, subtle range of color hues (thanks in part to a high 500:1 contrast ratio), and colors looked bright and accurate in Photoshop, as well as in Web photos and graphics.
In all, the PL191M's scores that pretty much trump those of other large LCDs we've seen of late. So far, only the Princeton SENergy 981 outperformed it on CNET Labs' tests.
LCD image-quality test
Longer bars indicate better performance
The Planar PL191M's three-year warranty is standard for LCD monitors, but it also includes the backlight (some display manufacturers offer shorter coverage for the backlight). The company's stuck-pixel policy is excellent; Planar will replace a monitor with three or more nonresponsive pixels. Some vendors, such as Princeton Graphics, are just as generous, while others, such as Envision, are stingier. You can reach toll-free phone support from Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. PT. Planar's Web site contains updated drivers for download, FAQs, and an e-mail tech-support option. When we asked a simple question of the e-mail tech support, it took them three days to get back to us. However, their personalized reply was very courteous, and they offered an interesting solution to our problem, along with an assurance about the warranty and replacement policy, should the solution prove ineffective (it worked, however).
By contrast, the Planar's included setup CD isn't much help. According to the menu, it contains warranty information, a quick-start setup guide, manuals, data sheets, and FAQs. The latter three items, however, were all for other Planar monitors; there were no manuals, FAQs, or data sheets for the PL191M. The only software beyond the monitor driver is a copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader. Be prepared to search the Web site if you run into immediate problems.