Quick! Name that one piece of PC hardware that will automatically garner the most "oohs" and "aahs" from enthusiasts and casual-users alike. No, it's probably not the glow-in-the-dark water cooling system or bright LEDs shining from the multiple fans in your windowed case. The quickest path to glory is buying a brand new, flat, large, widescreen monitor. Just like the centerpiece of the living room is that 50" plasma that you installed last Christmas, widescreen monitors are the "in" thing for many PC users; whether they be a hardcore gamer, aspiring novel writer, or something in between.
With such demand for a product like this, it's only natural that numerous companies have entered the fray in an effort to grab some marketshare. However, the sheer number of affordable monitors these days begs the inevitable question: Which one is right for me? This line of questioning is not too different than the confusion often heard when conversing about HD television sets. Plasma, LCD, DLP, anyone? We'll start by breaking down the basics regarding what make an LCD monitor an LCD monitor, and then get to the specifics about today's model from HP, the w2207, an affordable 22" monitor with some extra bells and whistles that set it apart.
CRT (cathode-ray tube) technology has, more or less, remained unchanged in the past decade. Based on a contraption of magnets, tubes, and electron-emitting beams they have retained their larger, bulkier stature, typically taking up a good chunk of desk space. Until recently, they were generally less expensive than their similarly sized LCD counterparts. This disparity seems to have evened out a bit as more and more larger-sized LCDs are released at prices that are much more pleasant to the eye and the wallet.
LCD (liquid crystal display) monitors use a more sophisticated version of the display technology found in digital watches; a fine mesh of tiny crystals displaying different colors when electrified. As a direct result, LCDs are thinner, lighter, and much more energy efficient. By using pixels that are either on or off, they reduce the eye strain and fatigue suffered by some CRT-users, caused by the screen refreshing at 60-80 times per second (otherwise known as the refresh rate you see in your display properties).
For most users, LCD monitors work perfectly within the typical realm of PC activities; writing documents, viewing photos, or surfing the Web. However, early models suffered from slow pixel response time leading to ghosting and streaking in fast-action gaming and video. Quicker response times (the w2207 boasts a 5ms reponse time) should all but do away with that concern. HP's BriteView screens and 1000:1 contrast ratio should also lead us to some primo display goodness, but let's take a look at the outside construction and features first.
|First Impressions and Features|
The lw2207's arge, brown box arrived via Fed Ex on a Monday, stating "the computer is personal again" and adorned with various pictures and features of the display. As such, there's really no disguising what's on the inside: a large and possibly expensive monitor. Indeed, the Fed Ex deliveryman was relieved that we were around to accept the package as he was "wary" about leaving such a package by the door and walking away.
Inside the box, the monitor was held down tightly by a combination of plastic straps and stryofoam. Included were a warranty and support guide (covering the monitor for 1 year), a software and documentation CD-ROM, a note with instructions on how to upgrade the MyDisplay 1.2 software, a power cable, a USB cable, an audio cable with green-colored audio jacks, and a analog video cable (although our box did not include one, a DVI-D cable should also be included). The straps are quickly removed by folding back the flaps without requiring the use of any sharp instruments. Popping the last strap caused the w2207 to pop up, accordion-like, unfolding into the approximate shape and form of a tray. Partially used for protecting the screen and partially just good placement, a quick setup guide came taped to the front of the monitor. Installation, as the guide's map clearly shows, is decidedly simple: unfold the monitor, attach the green-ended cable from the audio out of your PC (typically also color-coordinated green) to the jack underneath, connect the VGA or DVI video cable, and plug it in.
The styling matches HP's current line of systems, comprised of silvery-blue and black plastic. Adjustments in height are accomplished by pushing down or straightening out the stand. There are no adjustments to point the screen to the right or left other than simply turning the stand itself. Unlike the 30" model from HP that we reviewed in the past, the w2207 does rotate from landscape to portrait mode. In order to do so, however, the monitor needs to be closed down, nearly back into its original position, rotated, and then straightened out again. If attempted while upright, the corner of the faceplate will not clear the base or the desk it sits upon. Alongside the stand are two curved plastic shapes, used to corral cables and reduce desk clutter. The base itself is wide and slightly indented, providing room for a keyboard, especially the slimmer versions typically included with a system directly ordered from HP. Should you prefer, you can even mount the W2207 on a wall like a LCD television, creating even more room on your desktop.
A row of buttons adorns the lower right edge of the w2207 and other than HP's logo, there's nothing else that breaks the glossy front surface. While the BriteView glossiness definitely adds to the overall look of the w2207, and seemingly makes photos and movies even more vibrant, it does also tend to increase glare from light sources behind the user. Recessed in the upper plastic casing, the power button glows blue while active, and a dull orange while in sleep mode, gently alerting the user that the monitor is still turned on. The button seemed a tad unresponsive, as we needed to give it a centered push in order to make sure it was actually on or off. The monitor quickly enters "sleep mode" when not picking up a signal, which we actually found to be a nuisance when working on a system that we were troubleshooting.
Connectivity is direct and simple: choose from either a 15-pin VGA connector or DVI. Based on its size and price, we might have hoped for S-Video, or even a second DVI port at the least. Directly to the right and left of the video inputs are a USB connector and audio jack. The w2207 satisifies more than one need in this regard, as it can be used as a two device USB hub, allowing the user to plug in two USB 1.1/2.0 devices into ports placed along the left side. The audio input also allows music or other sounds to play through the tiny speakers built into the w2207.
Management has, by far, the most options of any monitor we can think of. Volume Control is used to raise or lower the volume on the built-in speakers, but these are way too weak for anything other than system sounds, and one would be better off buying standalone speakers rather than settling for the ones in the w2207. Not to mention that it seems that a more direct control of the volume, even by a simple dial, would be much more intuitive and a quicker solution than pulling up the OSD, going to management, selecting volume, and hitting the plus or minus buttons. Other, more useful choices, include OSD positioning and transparency, allowing the menu to be moved out of the way or made see-through, and toggles for enabling power-saving mode and/or the power status LED.
|Software and Accessories|
The CD that ships with the w2207 comes with an online manual - basically a PDF file that you view in Adobe Reader that covers installation and adjustments. While this isn't necessarily an issue, in so long as the user knows they must have a PDF viewer installed, a printed Owner's manual would have been most helpful during trouble-shooting, especially in the case where something has gone wrong, there's no picture at all, or this is your only PC. The CD also contains INF and ICM files, a quick auto-adjustment screen that requires no installation, and HP's own MyDisplay software.
MyDisplay is a customized application meant to calibrate and change other settings for the w2207, but after reading about various gripes concering early versions on CD-ROM, we went ahead and downloaded Version 1.3 from HP's website. Unfortunately, there are still some issues with the application. Some sections simply give you a page cannot be displayed message when clicked on. Worse yet, one of the calibration techniques stopped working after a few attempts, so instead of seeing grayscale numbers all we got were black and white backgrounds. The only part that seems to work fine are the quick settings options, where you can choose optimized settings for watching movies, playing games, or viewing photos, but this can be accomplished using the OSD as well, and ultimately we doubt people will change this setting each time they perform a new task. For now, we of the opinion that users would be better off skipping the software and using a better calibration/settings tool, if needed.
The box of Easy Clip accessories allow you to customize the w2207 by attaching photos, post cards, headphones, and, in a nod to to the Volkswagen Beetle, a flower into a vase installed onto the edges of the screen. The collection of accessories includes two clips or photo holders, a headset stand, and a flower vase (which could double as a pen holder). While definitely not a necessity, the set does add some value by customizing an otherwise non-alterable commodity, as well as providing a means to collect items normally found strewn around one's desk.
HP also provided us with a 2 Megapixel Webcam, sold separately, yet conforming to the same clipping technique as the box of Easy Clip accessories. The camera is small and light, and blends in directly with the silver and black motif of HP's current line of monitors. It supports video up to a resolution of 800x600 (see important caveat below) and takes still pictures as high as 1600x1200 using a small button found on top. Ideally, although it comes shipped in a more universal wide-clip mode, the Webcam should be converted to use the EasyClip adaptor and plug its USB cable directly into the open USB ports alongside the monitor's edge.
Once the drivers are installed, and the device plugged in, the outer ring glows blue and video and stills can be natively recorded in Windows. Our initial efforts provided some mostly grainy and blurry videos, however. The Webcam can be focused manually by spinning the dial around the lens, but we found this to lack any real precision. So, we set off to install the applications that come with the Webcam for fine tuning the input.
The webcam's bundled software includes ArcSoft Video Impression 2 and HP Photosmart Essential. The online manual suggests that the Webcam can be controlled by using either application, but the HP Photosmart Essential application we launched did not seem to have any settings we could alter, nor did it match the screens shown in the manual. Video Impression 2, on the other hand, is an application that allows the user to custom-tune their webcam settings, and record movies or make slide-shows out of still pictures. With Video Impression 2, we were able to click on an Advanced Settings tab to get to some settings that would correct these deficiencies, but only when recording at a resolution of 640x480 or lower (the tab is completely missing when set to 800x600, thus rendering this setting mostly useless).
In the Advanced Tab, the user can select from a few options such as Face Tracking, where the camera attempts to stay focused on the user's facial features (and works well, we might add, once the tracking speed is raised from the default speed of '1'), manual zoom controls, smoothing the background, as well as 'mask', which can be used to hide one's identity - a necessity for those reports to secret government agencies. Fine tuning the shutter speed was the most helpful, in that it really quickened the frame rate and did away with a lot of the motion blurring, albeit with a darker overall video clip.
|Image Quality Testing|
We put the HP w2207 through some color and text reading diagnostics using Everest Ultimate Edition from Lavalys. Everest's Monitor Diagnostics provide a few key test patterns that allow us to evaluate various aspects, such as color accuracy, and uniformity. We ran through all of the screens, and captured a few that had points of interest.
Lines drawn on the screen were crisp and clean, and like most LCDs, were perfectly vertical and horizontal from edge to edge. The text was decidedly sharper along the middle and bottom of the screen, and a bit fuzzier and harder to make out at the top when viewing white text against a black background. In reverse, black text seen against a white background was "smudgy", with a grey translucent bar that ran along the entire first row of text. Grey shading in the contrast test took on a bit of a purple hue as well.
The HP w2207 uses the same high-gloss technology found on its laptops that enhances contrast and gives a deeper, richer image. However, the default brightness and contrast settings are set too high, making colors garish and harsh on the eye. Once these were lowered manually to a much more comfortable setting, we ran the screen fill tests. The screen is noticeably darker or cooler along the top, and lighter along the bottom, especially as we looked into the corners. Blacks are deep, and are not bleached out as much by the backlighting as seen on some other monitors. The color palette screens and calibration tests are vibrant, with very little bleeding, and are really enhanced by the Brightview treatment.
Unfortunately, as we stated earlier, we weren't able to make much of the screens in MyDisplay for any comparison, but the sample family photo included in that application showed excellent clarity and separation of the colors used. We were also happy to report that we did not encounter any dead or stuck pixels during the course of our testing.
No one watches or plays test patterns for hours on end, so we had to move on to some real-world, multimedia performance testing. We downloaded a 1080p video clip from Microsoft's WMV HD Content Showcase site. Scaled to full screen, these clips really showcase the hardware that is processing and displaying the output. Additionally, we watched Frank Miller's '300' on DVD and played through the opening of mission of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. - Shadow of Chernobyl to get an idea of how well the w2207 performed in these scenarios.
HD Video/DVD Playback:
We first viewed Frank Miller's '300' using Cyberlink's PowerDVD 7 with and found that the image was good overall, but noticed that the sharpness that was apparent at lower resolutions was somewhat lessened when viewed full-screen. Colors seemed a bit more subdued as well, although that appears to be more the style of the movie than a shortcoming of the monitor or software. There are plenty of scenes involving difficult lighting sequences, including the fog of war or clouds that were represnted correctly without any banding or streaking. We also didn't notice any ghosting during the action scenes due to the quick response time of the w2207.
If we had any concern about the muting of the colors in '300', these were quickly allayed while watching the dolphin scenes from Microsoft's HD Content Showcase. The screen captures above simply can't convey the feeling of watching it live on the w2207 - it's almost like actually being there, swimming alongside the camera. Partly great color reproduction and partly a side-effect of the Briteview screen treatment, the blueness of the water ripples and sunlight streams through the water without any artifacting or other undesireable effects.
Our first step in testing S.T.A.L.K.E.R. was to set all the graphical settings to their max settings and then put the in-game resolution to 1680x1085. To accomplish this, it's necessary to have a video card with enough horsepower to render all of those graphics, and our 7950GT was just barely up to the challenge. We played through a few screens with brighly lit skies, then a bit more cloudy as if a storm approached, and finally into the darkness of a tunnel. In each scenario, we didn't notice any ghosting, especially during fast-paced action scenes and enjoyed the crisp graphics and definition - it was quite possible to make out each brick in a wall or each branch in a tree without any blurriness. Playing games, especially shooters, at widescreen only helped further absorb us into the gameworld by giving us a larger field of vision.
Outside of any specific testing, we were able to sit and use the w2207 for everyday activites, such as writing our notes and surfing the web. While we found the custom movie setting to be a bit bright for our eyes, using Text or our own customized setting was much more comfortable and didn't cause any undue eyestrain. The glossy screen made colors much more vibrant and colorful while viewing webpages, although there is an issue with the glossiness allowing a bit of glare from rear-lit sources such as lamps or televisions that are distracting, especially with darker screens. Scrolling, whether it be in Notepad or Firefox did not cause any motion blur with the text, and we found we had a wide angle to view the screen from without any loss in clarity.
|Summary and Conclusion|
Performance Summary: The Hewlett Packard w2207 is a quality display that performed well throughout testing. It's high-gloss BrightView screen makes colors more vibrant and dark black seemed deeper than usual. The glossiness helps to add a different dimension to watching movies or viewing photos. The monitor's Widescreen aspect is also a plus, and if you're not watching your movies or playing games at 16:9, then just what kind of a techie are you really?
The HP w2207's attributes help distinguish it from an ever-growing crowd of suddenly affordable high-performance, relatively large, widescreen monitors. The Briteview screen coating certainly adds a bit of "wow" factor. And it really adds a different dimension by bringing out colors without sacrificing clarity. The quick response time (5ms) does away with the ghosting and streaking of LCD monitors from not too long ago, and combined with a widescreen aspect, makes gaming on the screen a great experience.
HP has also introduced a line of accessories compatible with the w2207 that allow the user to customize their desktop in a unique way. The EasyClip accessories can be put up or taken down in seconds, without any permanent effect such as sticky residue from other add-ons. Plus, if your in the market for a Webcam, HP offers one of those too which also clips on the same way and gave passable results.
Of course, no rose garden is ever complete without a few bugs. HP's MyDisplay software needs some more work in our opinion. It has few screens that can be accessed properly and doesn't instill confidence. The w2207's built-in speakers are tinny, lacking any punch, and are at best a means to make sure your PC's sound is functional before pluggin in standalone speakers. Input connections consist of only VGA or a single DVD-D, while their larger monitor boasted of three digital inputs. The real kicker is the warranty, or lack thereof, however. For a $360 investment, we feel that Hewlett Packard could do better than the single year of coverage provided.