Solarism's $649 LM1503 is this new company's first product, and its main selling point is its brightness, which is significantly higher than that of other LCDs we've seen. LCDs could use more brightness in some situations; they fade fast outdoors, for instance, or in rooms with lots of ambient light. But while the LM1503's brightness had its benefits, it came with a few caveats. Solarism's $649 LM1503 is this new company's first product, and its main selling point is its brightness, which is significantly higher than that of other LCDs we've seen. LCDs could use more brightness in some situations; they fade fast outdoors, for instance, or in rooms with lots of ambient light. But while the LM1503's brightness had its benefits, it came with a few caveats.
Sunglasses not included
Solarism attributes the LM1503's dazzling personality to the company's Advanced Brightness technology (ABT). The company claims this technology doesn't shorten the life of the backlight by burning it out too quickly, but as with all LCDs, the backlight will degrade over time. (Industry estimates put backlight life at 20,000 hours to 30,000 hours; measured in typical business hours, that's roughly 9 to 14 years.) According to Solarism's field tests, after five years, the brightness level should be at least half of its original level, which would still be brighter than that of other TFT LCD monitors. The LM1503 also has a better-than-average 160-degree (horizontal) and 120-degree (vertical) viewing angles. With its bright image and reasonably wide viewing angles, the LM1503 would make a good conference-room monitor, allowing most participants at the table to see the display clearly.
Even though we were warned that this monitor was bright, we were still surprised when we switched it on. Based on its brightness rating of 800cd/m² (candelas per square meter; a higher rating means a brighter screen), the Solarism LM1503 is about three times brighter than a typical LCD. But you can definitely have too much of a good thing; we had to turn the display down for comfortable viewing. In CNET Labs' DisplayMate tests, we tried the monitor at various brightness levels, always looking for the best possible display quality. Overall, we felt the LCD was best at 75 percent brightness. While some images looked best at 91 percent brightness, over time our eyes hurt when viewing the display at that level. At 100 percent brightness, eyestrain began almost immediately, and shadows appeared along the periphery of the screen. The colors, especially greens, suffered at 100 percent brightness, as well.
How bright is too bright?
Overall, the LM1503's display quality was good, but sometimes the brightness worked against image quality by revealing flaws. At full brightness, colors were fairly well saturated, but some of the detail was washed out. When we lowered the level to 85 percent, the color and the detail improved, while still providing a remarkable level of brightness. Unfortunately, brightness wasn't evenly distributed by the backlight; there was a very noticeable drop-off along the left and right sides, even when we reduced the brightness. This was especially apparent with white backgrounds. On the other hand, the extra brightness really helped while playing Quake III, which looked stunning, with well-defined game characters and backgrounds. The DVD A Bug's Life appeared vibrant and three-dimensional. The monitor's 40ms pixel-response rate is only average--other LCDs have 25ms or faster response rates--but we didn't see any significant ghosting or smearing with fast-moving graphics or video.
The LM1503 can serve well as a multimedia monitor. On the back of the display, you'll find an array of video- and audio-in connectors, including a VGA input, two composite-video inputs, an S-Video input, two sets of stereo-audio inputs, and a line-in audio input. The only thing we missed--and we were surprised, considering the price--was a DVI connector. Speakers are mounted on either side of the front of the monitor, and a headphone jack is located just under the screen. The built-in speakers are small and sound tinny, and at full volume, they emit a high-pitched whine. Unless you don't have room for separate speakers, you'll probably want better sound than these provide. A dedicated volume control also would have been nice.
Ease of use pales in comparison
The LM1503 may be bright, but it's not as user-friendly as it could be. The monitor ships fully assembled; the package includes a VGA video cable and an audio cable that connects to your sound card. But while setting up the monitor is simple enough, the documentation is barely adequate, consisting of little more than a basic introduction to the inputs and outputs, onscreen display (OSD) menu settings, and a list of precautions. No driver disk or CD-ROM is included, so we used the standard Windows Plug-and-Play driver.
The front-mounted, three-button OSD was confusing. The menu and the cursor buttons also function as selection buttons, and sometimes it was hard to tell which function was active. Menu settings were adequate and included the usual color, position, and fine-tuning controls, as well as selection options for the video inputs, the volume control, and the volume mute.
Mostly sturdy design
Overall, the construction of the monitor felt strong. You can swivel the display both horizontally (40 degrees left and right) and vertically (15 degrees up and 3 degrees down), though it takes some effort to do so. The display portion of the monitor was a little wobbly on its center support. It felt as though it might break if hit the wrong way.
Solarism's support policies for the LM1503 are pretty basic. The monitor has a three-year warranty, but it's valid for only the original purchaser. Tech support is a toll call and is available Monday through Friday only, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. The company's Web site is still new, so we didn't find any support info. A Solarism representative says more resources will be available online soon.
Light up your life
Solarism's LM1503 definitely makes a difference with its phenomenal brightness. Paired with its better-than-average viewing angles, it would be a good choice for those who frequently give presentations in bright rooms. And its multimedia inputs make it well suited for gamers or for kiosk use. We would simply caution that the brightness has its drawbacks in display quality and safety, so you should use the LM1503 with at least a little caution.
15-inch LCD image quality test
Longer bars indicate better performance
|The Solarism LM1503's overall display quality was good. At full brightness, colors were fairly well saturated, but some of the detail was washed out. At 85 percent brightness, the color and detail improved. Unfortunately, though, brightness wasn't evenly distributed by the backlight; there was a very noticeable drop-off along the left and right sides. This was especially noticeable with white backgrounds.|