- Review Price: £252.00
I think it’s fair to say that the 17in CRT monitor is almost dead, which in my opinion is a bit of a shame when you consider how long that technology has been around. Still, markets ebb and flow with new technologies and customer demand, and I suppose it was inevitable that these slimmer, more attractive LCDs have now become the dominant species.
Pricing has played a major role in their success too. Several years ago, LCDs were simply too expensive for many consumers, especially when compared to a CRT offering a similar if not greater screen resolution. However, as more and more companies began churning out LCDs, production volume, quality control and competition grew and prices have fallen considerably as a result.
So, the competitive price of one of Acer’s latest 17in TFT screens, the AL1721hm, came as no surprise when I managed to find it for sale at £251.53 (and that includes delivery). Now, some of you might say that’s still quite a lot for an LCD screen and indeed you can purchase LCDs with the same screen size for less elsewhere, but I am pretty willing to bet that they will not come with some of the features that the AL1721hm has to offer.
First and foremost, I personally would be reluctant to buy one without a DVI input, and that usually comes at a price. For the money, though, Acer has included a DVI-D port alongside the standard analogue D-SUB port, with cables for both kindly included in the box. This means you can enjoy a typically crisper image that the digital interface confers, and if need be, simultaneously hook up the monitor to a second PC using the D-SUB interface. That way you can switch between the signals, although I should point out that there’s no direct ‘Source’ button for this purpose and you’ll have to scroll through six menus in the OSD in order to reach the signal select option.
Another feature I look for is the LCDs range of movement. In this day and age with different body sizes, postures and working environments, flexibility can be a key selling point. In this respect, the AL1721hm offers both a 10centimetre height adjustment and 35degrees of swivel adjustment, both left and right.
That said, if you’re after a portrait orientation, the AL1721hm will disappoint as the extending neck and hinge only supports a 20degree tilt arc and no pivot function. However, Acer has to keep the costs down somewhere and a pivoting mechanism appears to have been the victim. At this price, the lack of a USB hub is also understandable, but to make up somewhat, Acer has fitted a pair of stereo speakers either side of the OSD control buttons that pump out a weak 1.5W per channel. These are linked up to your PCs audio output by way of a line-in jack mounted at the rear of the chassis. An audio lead is supplied for this, but once married up don’t expect startling fidelity.
As for design the whole unit is finished in an ivory white plastic, which some will either love and others will hate. Personally, the design is not as aesthetically pleasing or as well built as the Samsung SyncMaster 173P I reviewed before this, but I’ve seen worse for more money. The bezel is also narrow which helps to enhance the apparent size of the display area and in profile a panel depth of just over 5cm adds to the overall slim line appearance. With this sort of depth, Acer has had to keep the power supply external, so you’re going to have to find a home for the power brick. Cable routing was none existent too, and the sight of the cables dangling behind the unit are a disappointment.
On the front part of the fascia you’ll find a strip of dark plastic akin to that found at the end of a remote control. Behind this are five illuminated icons that give the user a guide to the functions of the vertically mounted buttons mentioned earlier. The first two are for adjusting the volume level as well as navigating through the various OSD menus, the middle indicates the power status, the fourth fires up the OSD and is used to activate or deactivate the various adjustment function, and the last is an auto-adjust button for automatically setting the screens position and clock and phase when an analogue signal is used. It also doubles as a menu exit button.
OSD navigation is quite self-explanatory, and the interface has been well designed and covers all the settings you’ll typically need. Notable settings include user-adjustable independent RGB channels as well as focus for sharpening up the screen when it’s fed with an analogue signal.
Now although there are some design features that I’d liked to have seen, I can’t complain so far, and I haven’t mentioned the performance of the panel yet. The AL1721hm uses a 6-bit, TN+ active matrix TFT-LCD with a decent response time of 16ms. Under tests using Displaymate, colour scales showed distinct colour blocks with no evidence of unevenness between each step despite the temporal dithering that is employed in a 6-bit panel in order to produce a full 16.2million colour gamut.
Greyscales were also very smooth, although there was some ever so slight evidence of banding in the 256-level greyscale test screens. As for evaluating our test images, I have to say that I was very impressed with the overall colour balance. Colour highlights were not over pronounced and the overall tone of the pictures was quite neutral. Skin tones looked true, and DVD playback was more or less smear free with only some slight compression artefacts when the scenes are dominated by similarly toned areas. Detail in dark sequences was also lost at default settings, but a boost to the brightness and contrast helped with this. The only real weaknesses were the viewing angles, which appeared to be narrower than the stated angles of 140 degrees in both planes. Contrast and illumination both fell dramatically at about 50 degrees from centre. However, at the end of the day few of us work at our screens at such a viewpoint and the Acer AL1721hm is certainly a fine display, especially considering its price.
Despite the narrow viewing angles, the AL1721hm comes complete with a digital and analogue interface, a height-adjustable swivelling neck, built-in speakers, good picture quality and a price tag that won’t break the bank.
Score in detail
Image Quality 9