Date: February 23, 2009
Author(s): Matt Serrano
It’s been quite a while since we have last taken a look at an ASUS monitor, much less one that we’ve been ultimately impressed by, so when we received their latest model, the VW266H, we couldn’t wait to tear it out of the box to see if things have improved with their line-up. Read on as we find out whether this TN-based monitor is a winner.
ASUS has a reputation for making quality products, but truth be told, we haven’t had the best experience with their displays. It’s not because they were necessarily impaired, they followed the trends of the industry and incorporated the same technology their rivals did. But they failed to offer something different, and the sub par image quality led their products to be tagged as mediocre, which was something I hoped they could improve.
In fact, after my VW222 review was published, an ASUS representative contacted me inquiring what changes they could make to better their product line. That illustrated dedication, and I looked forward to reviewing one of their newer models to see how it performed.
The VW266H is ASUS’ largest display, at 26 inches (or without rounding-up, it’s 25.5″). The monitor comes in two flavors, and this particular variant forgoes the inclusion of a web cam. Like most displays in its size range (under 30 inches), it uses a 1920×1200 resolution, what many manufacturers are starting to call “FullHD” (anything over 1080 lines of vertical resolution) in order to provide simpler terminology for consumers.
Aesthetically speaking, the display is nearly identical to the company’s other models. There is a silver accent that stretches along the bottom over the black plastic housing, which serves to camouflage the controls. The only other visible features are the ASUS logo on the front and back, the HDMI insignia on the bottom-left of the bezel, and the model number on the top-right.
The stand is the same included with the ASUS monitor’s we’ve seen before. The snap on circular base offers little in the way of functionality; tilting is the only feature ASUS allows. Unfortunately, the display cannot be heightened, pivoted or rotated. We would have liked to see a higher quality mount, or at least one made out of sturdier material, but it’s a small complaint overall, considering VESA mounts are supported.
There is a wire management system by way of the plastic clip on the monitor’s neck that helps keep wires collected and out of sight, which is always a welcomed addition.
Thankfully, ASUS decided not to skimp out on the number of inputs. DVI and VGA are included, but the VW266H also makes way for HDMI and component support. The (surprisingly good) speakers are located near the bottom of the display to transmit audio from any HDMI and RCA cables that are connected, but anyone without the need for the built-in audio can simply disable it from the display’s OSD.
The monitor’s pixel pitch is higher than most displays that share the 1920×1200 resolution, which may be a blessing or a curse, depending on the quality of one’s eyesight. I personally prefer monitors with higher density screens that provide sharper image quality, but some people do not notice or care for the difference.
VGA, DVI-D, HDMI, Component, RCA
The panel the display uses is in fact a TN panel, which offers reduced viewing angles in exchange for higher response rates (rated grey-to-grey in the table above). Because TN panels are better suited for fast motion, activities such as playing games would benefit, eliminating ghosting, but other panel technologies have matured to a point where the advantage is negligible.
The controls on the front of the VW266H include: Spendid/Exit (which select preset color profiles), Volume/Down, Menu, Brightness/Up and the power button. The OSD is the standard system seen on other ASUS monitors, identical to our previously reviewed VW222.
In the next section, we’ll review how the display preformed in standard desktop, cinematic, and gaming use, including our experiences with other input sources.
Because the VW266H includes HDMI and component inputs, many customers considering buying the monitor may wish to use other sources, like game consoles or set top boxes, with it to replace a traditional television setup. Therefore, we have revised our customary testing methodology to include experiences with various sources, noting any unforeseen compatibility issues and quality concerns.
The ability to multitask with high resolution displays is a blessing that is always appreciated. Windows can be organized and displayed side-by-side, without the need to minimize an application not in focus. The extra space allows more information to be visible at one time, which creates a more efficient work-flow. Not only can you have multiple web pages open at one time, but applications that utilize windows and panes, such as an image editing program, can be arranged to have the tools where you need them, and your project in a large, plain view.
Text proved to be very readable. However, because there is so much screen real estate, it is ideal to situate the monitor farther away from you, which may inconvenience users who have less physical depth to work with.
To test performance with cinema, I watched the widescreen DVD release of Saving Private Ryan, 720p TV show content, as well as 1080p trailers of Speed Racer and G.I Joe: Rise of Cobra. Similarly, the first disc of the Planet Earth series on Blu-ray was also viewed.
Though DVDs will never look as good as their higher resolution counterparts, I found the quality to be quite watchable. Yes, the image lacked sharpness and definition, and yes, compression artifacts were still visible, but in this case, because the display offers a duller image (thanks to the higher pixel pitch), the format’s shortcomings were masked.
The HD content, much to my dismay, was not represented well on the display. While motion appeared smooth (especially in Speed Racer and G.I. Joe), I noticed unusually high amounts of grain when viewing the movie trailers and the Blu-ray disk. For example, the first episode of Planet Earth, titled “From Pole to Pole,” shows penguins huddled together in the arctic winds. The scene isn’t the sharpest or the best looking of the series, but when the movie was paused, the animals appeared as a grainy blob of black. In my opinion, the monitor doesn’t do the content justice, leaving HD video almost looking like it was shoot with a budget camera.
Left 4 Dead, Team Fortress 2 and Track Mania United Forever were used to test the monitor’s gaming capabilities. All of the games were tested with an 8800 GT and v-sync enabled.
For me, gaming was very enjoyable. Although we already established that the image quality isn’t the best, the monitor’s size does benefit the overall experience, making games more engaging and allowing room for less powerful graphics cards to render graphics at acceptable frame rates. However, if you’re looking for detail and sharpness over sheer size, a smaller display, such as a 24″ monitor, or the Lenovo 22″ L220X we reviewed last year would fit the bill. Similarly, if you have the power, a 2560×1600 30″ display would also suffice.
Because games are in constant motion, I did not notice the grain as much as I did with video. I will admit, however, that the problem may be more apparent with certain slower-paced games, such as an RPG, or games with a static background, like an RTS, but I do not think it will have a huge impact.
The monitor was used with two additional sources: an Xbox 360, using the component input, and an HD set top box, using the HDMI input.
The Xbox 360 looked amazing on the monitor. There were no problems with the component input. The dashboard was crisp, and games looked like one would expect. Fallout 3 and Geometry Wars 2 played and looked exactly how they would on a normal television screen, with the exception of the horizontal black bars on the screen.
The VW266H did very well as a television replacement. There is 1:1 support, meaning that the content can be displayed with black bars on the top and bottom of the screen to preserve the aspect ratio, but this may cause a problem for a small percentage of users. For example, if the 1:1 mode is used and your set top box is displaying HD content in 720p, the video will only display in a 1280×720 box in the center of the screen, and SD content would appear even smaller. To remedy this, the set top box must support some form of upscaling, and some older, less intuitive models tend to hide the options.
Keep in mind that the tuner (both digital and analog) and IR receiver are included, so a computer monitor will never be a perfect replacement.
The built in speakers sound decent overall. They certainly aren’t amazing, but they proved to be more than enough for occasional TV watching. An S/PDIF output is included, so it is possible to output the sound (transmitted via the RCA, 3.5mm, and HDMI input) to a receiver, but this functionality was not tested.
We’ve chosen DisplayMate for Windows, well known for its industry-standard testing capabilities and calibration options, to do the bulk of our benchmarking for our display reviews, because it offers an enormous amount of tools and testing patterns to help insure accurate results, no matter the type or quality of the display.
We also used tests from tft.vanity.dk because their tests can be effectively used across different platforms, and offer their tools free for anyone to use. We encourage readers to take the time, if interested, to see how their display performs using these tests.
Our benchmarks will test the following categories:
In the future, we will incorporate calibration tools to measure Delta E values (the difference between requested color values from the computer and the values represented on the display) as a hallmark for our accuracy benchmarks. In the meantime, we will continue to use “by eye” tests to compare displays, as we still feel this method to be accurate enough to justify a consumer-made decision.
The VW266H we tested had no issues with build quality. No dead or stuck pixels were found, and the unit was well put together, with no creaks in the plastic housing. ASUS provides a three-year warranty and a “free pickup service,” which is always worth considering when making a purchase.
Some calibration was needed out of the box, but tweaking the brightness and contrast settings eventually left me with a decent looking image comparable to other TN panels. I have never cared for ASUS’ color presets, so I did not use them after I cycled through the choices for the first time. However, if you choose to use them, the display provides quick access to switch them on-the-fly, so it isn’t necessary to go through menus to get to a particular setting.
The contrast ratio was not impressive, to say the least. TN panels are 6-bit, meaning they can only display 262,144 colors. When I used the testing patterns, I found it impossible to discern between 0% and 3% white (essentially black versus a very dark grey), and 100% versus 93% white. Some banding is also visible when a gradient is displayed,
Backlight bleed was virtually nonexistent, much to the display’s credit. There is a small discrepancy in the uniformity near the top and bottom of the screen, but it is well inline with the other top performers I have come across. This aspect of the monitor is in the same category as individual defects, so other users may not be as lucky.
I’ve harped time and time again about TN panels and their poor viewing angles, but to my surprise, I did not find the VW266H to be as annoying as some of the other monitors I’ve used. I honestly do not know what, if anything, ASUS did to the monitor, but I find it actually.. bearable. The image quality still goes south, as you would expect, when the viewing angles changes (especially vertically), but the effect isn’t as pronounced as the VW222, for example. With that said, other reviews online have still complained about the issue, so I could be breathing in swamp gas for all I know.
The response time is very fast, leaving no ghosting during regular use and formal testing. There was very little trailing evident, so the monitor is recommended for gamers. Although I was not able to test for input lag in this particular review, I never noticed any.
ASUS is a company that isn’t necessarily well known for their monitors. I would say they tend to follow the pack, which is why their display offerings aren’t traditionally at the forefront of the business’ image. This puts reviewers in an awkward position, because we are forced to compare many respects, such as color representation and image quality, to already set standards. But just because it may not be the best does not mean the product is necessarily bad.
Many features, such as the inputs and S/PDIF output, are included, and I feel little was left out. ASUS could have went the extra mile and offered a USB hub on one or both of the monitors in the 26 inch range, or a higher quality stand with more features, but I’m not entirely convinced they are features most budget conscious consumers believe they have to have.
The image quality is really only adequate, which means professionals should obviously look elsewhere, but the display does well with fast motion. Being able to have a huge display along with the ability to turn graphics settings up makes the display a great choice for gamers.
My biggest complaint was the quality of video on the display. The grain effect hampers the experience with high definition video that would otherwise look amazing. If you’re a video buff, the grain and the lack of contrast makes the display one to avoid, but if you only watch DVDs and video on the web, its faults can easily be ignored.
The cons notwithstanding, the monitor’s best attribute is its price. The VW266H can be found online for around $340, making it an excellent deal if you have enough space. Compared to other budget displays, this is certainly one to consider.
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