ViewSonic's Phattest Thin Panel




Price: $699.00

Specifiactions: Display size: 17.4 inches diagonal; resolution: 1280 x 1024; brightness: 220 cd/m2; contract: 400:1; viewing angle: 160 degrees horizontal and vertical; warranty: 3 years; weight: 18.7 pounds

Pros: Image doesn’t flicker like a CRT; wide viewing angle, high contract makes it easy to view; small and easy to move around; has dual analog inputs

Cons: Included portrait-mode software not for Linux; doesn’t have digital inputs (but other ViewSonic models do)


Flat panel displays are expensive, but worthwhile. If you spend a lot of time in front of your computer, flat panel displays present better images, and take up far less desk space than traditional monitors.

If you haven’t switched your desktop to flat panels, the ViewSonic ViewPanel VA800 is an excellent choice. Only two features stop the VA800 from being a “five-penguin” display: first, the only software for tilting the screen into portrait position is for Macintosh and Windows. Second, this particular panel only accepts analog VGA input and doesn’t have an option for direct digital connections. If your PCs lack digital connections, the latter shortcoming may be irrelevant, and ViewSonic does offer several monitors with digital inputs. However, the VA800 does have two VGA ports, so you can connect it to two computers, like a laptop and desktop, and switch between them without a KVM switch.

The screen itself is a 17-inch diagonal display, with a resolution of 1280 x 1024 pixels. As with all LCDs, it’s important to run it at exactly its maximum resolution. The screen is clear, bright, and rock solid, even though the refresh rate we tested was 70 Hz. With a CRT, you really want a refresh rate of 90 Hz or higher to get rid of flicker. LCDs simply don’t flicker. Unlike other LCDs, this model can handle video images without streaking.

Our two test units arrived in perfect condition, without any bad pixels. The screen’s controls are reasonably intuitive, with an “Auto Tune” mode that’s great for bringing the image into alignment when changing display resolutions on X Windows.


Physically, the units are a wonder. The company says that the VA800 weighs only 18.7 pounds, which is a far cry from the 50+ pound heft of 19-inch monitors.

Beyond the bright flicker-free screen, the screen’s two best attributes are its wide viewing angle and small footprint. You can read the screen from very far to the side (ViewSonic says that it’s a 160 degree field of view both horizontally and vertically), which makes collaboration with other people easy. By comparison, many other panels have a viewing field of only 100 or 120 degrees.

Its footprint is minute: the panel itself is 15 inches high x 18 inches wide, by only 3.5 inches deep. It comes on a 12 x 8.75-inch base, and telescopes to different viewing heights.

ViewSonic happily advertises that the panel rotates on the base into a portrait position, and indeed it does. But as mentioned earlier, you can’t use that because there’s no software support for that feature. (The Macintosh/ Windows software bundled with the LCD is called Pivot Pro, from Portrait Displays, Inc.) But beyond that, the monitor’s perfect.

Fashionable Accessories

If you want to accessorize well, here are two great complements to check out. First, Benwin’s BW2000A satellite speakers are inexpensive ($29.99), look like LCD panels (they’re only 0.5″ thick), and sound great, unless you crank the volume, in which case they buzz. See http://www.benwin.com.

And if you want to save the desk space, Kensington sells a monitor arm that will connect to the flat panel’s industry-standard VESA connector for $144.99. Kensington also offers a $99.99 unit that hangs the flat panel on a cubical wall. See http://www.kensington.com. ViewSonic sells a regular wall mount kit for $99.95. See https://store.viewsonic.com.

Bottom Line: Buy

Linux Magazine’s buying advice? The ViewSonic ViewPanel VA800 is a flat-panel display that’s bright, clear, and offers about the same viewing area as a 19-inch CRT monitor — but is a fraction of the size and weight. It’s highly recommended.

Alan Zeichick is principal analyst at Camden Associates. You can reach him at zeichick@camdenassociates.com.

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